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La Fábrica de Hielo


Mexico City, Mexico City, Mexico

September 2023


Aisha Ballesteros, Benedikt Fahlbusch, Javier Sánchez (Architects)


JSa: Israel Silva, Isaías González, Juan Pedro López, Roberto Ledezma, Francisco Martínez (Project team), Hector Margain y Asociados (Structural engineering), Genfor Landscaping, Tepetl (Landscape design), Isla Urbana, TIM - Tecnologías Integrales Medioambientales, Caliza (Self-sustainability systems)




Rafael Gamo, Jaime Navarro, Acervo Histórico Fundación ICA


In 2020, almost three decades after the factory ceased operations and was abandoned thereafter, a local architecture studio would resolve to make it their new home. Transforming it into a manifesto of regenerative design where solar power, rain harvest, on-site water treatment, and vegetation, achieve a symbiotic reciprocity between the building, its landscape and their users.

As such, The Ice Factory operates as an off-grid, self-sufficient ecosystem. Offering a model for retrofitting sustainable solutions that eliminate the reliance on municipal water and energy sources. More than any other environmental element, saving, preserving and improving the quality of water has the potential to help mitigate the severe water crisis in Mexico City, and other similar contexts.

The preexisting structure on its part, called for a sensible intervention that would uphold its memory as part of a ‘historic present’. The program, and therefore the project, would be born on site; the result of an instinctive process of evaluating what could be preserved, resolving what had to be restored, and finding the potential for appended reforms. Often involving à la Matta Clark processes to reveal the coarse tectonics of the building.

The factory would then be divided into two areas: a dynamic ground floor for a public program, and a private upper floor for focused work. Both integrated as part of a cloister that completes the new program with a porticoed pavilion to the south of the property, and a garden of endemic vegetation that provides cohesion and serenity to the complex.


The Ice Factory is located in the former industrial neighborhood of Atlampa, north of downtown Mexico City. A region initially conceived and developed as a manufacturing hub during the first half of the XX century, due to its favorable geographical location around the northern access of the national railway system.

By the 1980s, the preceding industrial outskirts of the city had been swallowed by the urban growth of the capital, and Atlampa was eventually surrounded by smaller-scale residential neighborhoods like Santa Maria la Ribera and ambitious social development projects such as the Nonoalco Tlatelolco Urban Complex. This new unforeseen geographical condition encouraged the progressive abandonment of the region in favor of a new industrial perimeter in the surrounding State of Mexico, and the outsourcing of low-cost labor abroad.

After the 1985 historic earthquake, the urgent need of housing for the hundreds of families that lost their homes, encouraged the demolition of some of the old neglected factories and warehouses to build high-density social housing. This hasty redensification has implied, however, a tension between the new residential settlements and the industrial remnant; producing a severed urban fabric, circumscribed by the lack of public space, the scarcity of local businesses, the insufficiency of services, and the absence of efficient public transportation.

In this context, The Ice Factory advocates towards the revitalization of the region through its adaptive reuse to preserve the region’s memory and industrial heritage. A tacit commitment for a socially sensible redevelopment that might usher a new harmonized urban fabric.


The confluence of architects, designers, artists, students, academics, even chefs, among many other colleagues who constantly enrich the exchanges that take place at The Factory, contribute towards a shared bond based on recreation. Perhaps approaching that which artist Hélio Oiticica best described as ‘creleisure', (or crelazer in Portuguese), in referring to the harmony of conditions that propitiate culture as part of everyday genuine, candid, uninhibited living.

The Ice Factory thus has been, not only a place for the practice of architecture, but also a community site for its teaching and discussion. A vehicle willing to share itself as a case-study for a range of activities guided by its aspirations of sustainability and regenerative design. Conceivably, some of those activities will inspire other projects; some will merge into new collaborative ventures; and others will be realized, with a hope to transcend beyond the borders of the academic framework and the Factory itself.

Today, people meet in the kitchen while brewing coffee or flipping a quesadilla over the griddle. Some enjoy the melody of the birds while eating a snack from the orchard before resuming work. Others exchange ideas as they meet in between work stations, or while they run their fingers through the bushes in the gardens during a phone call. On the background, a guest group of students passionately works on a workshop galvanized by the features of the building. Everyday activities that now frame the lively ecosystem that so far has simultaneously intertwined practice with teaching, recreation and discourse.

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