by Anmol AhujaAug 17, 2021
Founder of AZULIK, SFER IK, Enchanting Transformation, and the creative leader of Roth Architecture, Eduardo Neira, more popularly known as Roth, is a self-taught architect navigating through the immensely dense landscape of today’s architecture: one that finds its definition, more often than not, in concrete, steel and glass. Unbound by mathematical geometry in the form of “habitats” he designs, his creations follow the geometry of nature. His architecture succinctly belongs to the soil, the earth, and as a strong believer in the wisdom and power of the hand that creates, sculpts, and builds, Roth seeks to bridge where we came from, and where we are going, through a harmonious string lined with the pearls of ancestry, handicraft, nature, and the power of creation begetting them. Through his ventures, including AZULIK, an eco-resort in Tulum, and the Ancestral Smart City, he seeks to reconnect man to nature and its infinite, ancient yet everlasting wisdom. In a conversation of candour, Roth talks with STIR on his journey so far, his projects, inspirations, and the impact he seeks to make in the world of architecture and design through his cross-disciplinary creations.
Edited excerpts from the interview:-
Anmol Ahuja (AA): What is your first memory of a great building or architecture, and how did it initiate your journey into the craft?
Roth (R): The first moment closest to architecture occurred to me when I was 12-years-old, when I accompanied one of my friends to his father's atelier and saw him in front of his canvas, motionless, with his paintings in his hand. He looked at me, curious, trying to understand what I was doing, observing his painting for so long, apparently doing nothing. I would never forget that image of the gentleman, the painter, who was also an architect: "For me that image is the Rosebud of Citizen Kane".
AA: Please tell us about your very first project? Did it ascribe to your distinct style?
R: We have learned that the creative process is about letting the shapes flow. Observing, learning from difficulties and solving challenges creatively. My first approach to architecture was born in an unpredictable way: out of necessity. We had to remodel the dome of the AZULIK hotel in Tulum and the circumstances forced us to come up with creative ways to find solutions that would give us height and not impact the environment. Then, collaboratively we found a way to do it manually, and merging all the ideas together, we achieved a structure for the dome that integrated sacred geometry and craftsmanship.
AA: What inspires your philosophy of representing the man-nature relationship through your works and emulating natural architecture? Do you subscribe to Animism?
R: In our projects, we seek to respect all the beings that came before, to honour the forms of the soil, to coexist with the trees. And we are inspired by the shapes of nature: dynamic, irregular, asymmetrical and harmonious. We want to propose a way to approach life, to come out of the caves in which we have enclosed ourselves and explore our creativity without destroying, by uniting, collaborating.
Similarly, in the field of architecture, our aim is to take out the man from the cave, physically and conceptually speaking. Architecture has a critical responsibility in the future of human beings. The particle "ar", which is also shared in the word art, means to unite. And that is our purpose in architecture, to unite what was separated; to return all people to nature. To stop thinking of ourselves as isolated beings and become aware that we are part of a millenary system with its own wisdom.
AA: Could you shed light upon your choices of material in your projects, in keeping with that equation?
R: We pursue to develop a new generation of concepts, materials and construction techniques for each project and at the same time a new generation of ways of living, relating, reconnecting, healing, loving, enjoying and taking care of actions with meaning. For this reason, we work with organic materials that avoid environmental impact; in our constructions we respect the relief of the soil and do not use machinery even though this means greater challenges and efforts.
The particle "ar", which is also shared in the word art, means to unite. And that is our purpose in architecture, to unite what was separated; to return all people to nature. To stop thinking of ourselves as isolated beings and become aware that we are part of a millenary system with its own wisdom.
AA: You mention a manifestation of ancestral wisdom in all of your design processes and projects. How does something like wisdom, passed down through generations, find its way into something physical, like architecture?
R: Ancestry is involved in everything we do, even if it is not immediately visible, sometimes it is in the creative process and in the recovery of the techniques with which we build. Our architecture, for example, has been considered as a textile architecture, where the structures do not have columns and on the contrary, are supported in a woven form, as if it were a basket. This woven approach, linked to the textile, has everything to do with the ancestral legacy of the native communities that in weaving built their own narratives and interpretations of the environment; behind the architectural structures there is also the hand, the hand that weaves when building, since we do not use machinery and we do everything manually, handcrafted.
AA: Tell us more about the ancestral smart city project, its intent and the experience of designing it.
R: We see in ancestry the possibility of finding a route that will serve us to guide the way to the future, we recover the way of the original communities to organise themselves, to establish forms of contact with nature and to interpret it, and of course, the wisdom of the hand that creates.
Faced with the urgent need to ask ourselves about urban development, increasingly destructive and fragile, and the inevitable crisis that we humans will have in terms of population growth and spaces disconnected from the natural environment, we have developed the concept of the Ancestral Smart City as a space in which we will generate cities in a sustainable, collaborative, open sourced and crowdsourced way, where technology is linked with ways of organisation inspired by ancestral communities: with respect for nature, collective collaboration and preservation of the environment.
This is how AZULIK and byRoth (our interdisciplinary creative group) join forces to participate deeply and significantly in the "Industry of Survival": all the multidisciplinary efforts that are required to shift towards a new paradigm and a new perception and consciousness.
The purpose of AZULIK as an organisation is to reconnect people, and therefore, tribes with themselves, with others and with the environment. We are founded in three main columns: ancestry, art, nature. We are a tribe. And as such, we create architectural projects. We are also involved in fashion, ceramics, macramé, jewellery, blown glass, and hospitality, among other initiatives. Our little tribe is at the same time worldwide, the human tribe. This year we will start working with an open-source initiative and a crowdsourcing dynamic that will let us work together to find the urgent solutions that our world needs.
AA: It is obvious that art: its curation, collection, and display, plays a very important role in all your designs and architecture. Do you think your “spaces for art” are essentially art itself?
R: Art is a fundamental human need - the oldest known objects are not a farm implement or a tool, or a weapon, but a work of art, such as the Venus of Hohle Fels. Art is an essential human need to heal, unlocked from the cave. With our spaces, we seek precisely to bring man out of the cave and create places that awaken creativity. Within the way we build is the manual process, and art too requires the wisdom of the hand. We integrate ourselves in the jungle for a while and enduring the humidity and the mosquitoes we enter in connection with what happens there. We always come out comforted, renewed with peace, calm and with a more holistic vision of things because we connect with the origin, with the source, with the sacred. That is also the highest purpose of art and of all religions and native peoples.
AA: Owing to your architecture and design emulating nature, there is a certain timelessness to the form of your buildings. However, is timelessness an aspiration during the course of designing? Does it also, paradoxically, carry over to the timeline of your projects?
R: In relation to time and our presence in the environment, our constructions have also been called habitable sculptures or ephemeral architecture, because it changes constantly. Because there is always something new and because our intention is not to impose ourselves but to coexist, to adapt to time, to circumstances and to the environment. With this in mind we think about the future of cities and our trajectory as humans as closely linked to nomadism, ever-changing and dynamic in time.
AA: All your designs have a decidedly elemental inspiration. Is there something distinctly human that inspires you?
R: I believe, and I sincerely believe it: that those who will guide us in reconstructing life, will be precisely those who do not have all the concepts and algorithms. This conceptual theoretical information comes from the past and from what we have learned, but those who are discovering themselves, those who have the wisdom of the hand, in contact with the moment, with the earth, with the materials, with the essential, are better able to open the way and to give birth and to create. Because what we build has to be from the earth. The ceramics, the work with clay and macramé.
Then, those who have the ability of the textile and the ability of tillage, are the ones who I believe will be able to free us. They are the skilled ones to make channels, to connect with the wisdom that is latent in nature and that we have lost the ability to be channels of, while they still hold it.
In architecture, we learn that the creative process is not about getting in the way, but about moving forward in uncertainty, letting obstacles grow. Always in the moment, in the instant. No plans, no urgency. Presence is more important than the plan.
AA: What do you think is the ultimate purpose and responsibility of architecture?
R: In architecture, we learn that the creative process is not about getting in the way, but about moving forward in uncertainty, letting obstacles grow. Always in the moment, in the instant. No plans, no urgency. Presence is more important than the plan. The mind creates the problems and the solutions are below, in the heart. We build to integrate with nature and we believe that the same path will work in times of unpredictability such as the ones we are facing today. We are ‘thinking’ about how to reinvent architecture as we are ‘doing’, because in our constructions, we do not make plans, we improvise on the spot.
We expect, the thought-pattern of life to create the semiosis altogether, to construct by dreaming in conjunction with all beings, with profound and absolute respect for those who came before us: trees, plants and indigenous communities. We expect that from the conjunction of these networks, of plant, animal and human intelligence, a harmonious idea will emerge that will allow us to establish ourselves in that environment temporarily without destroying what was pre-existing, to co-create spaces of coexistence and elevation.