by Jincy IypeAug 17, 2020
The land of white beaches, the musical tradition of Mariachi, ancient stone Mayan temples and delicious tacos - Mexico brims with colour, culture, promise and potential. What design practices define the future of the country? In this chapter of Made In:, a series that looks inward to celebrate native design from all over the world, architect Fernanda Canales brings us the best of native product design from Mexico, reflecting on the role of conscious and intelligent design in reshaping the economy.
According to Canales, who is noted for her strategic and volumetric structures, Mexican design is characterised by its simple, surprising and sensual forms. “We have observed from our history clever ways of using simple shapes and detailed ornamentation in design and architecture here; strong and caring hands that have turned scarcity into luxury, and transformed rough materials such as stone into organic elements,” she says. “As an architect working in Mexico it is impossible not to be influenced by the loud traditions of craft, and the magical way simple materials are converted in unexpected ways, in buildings, textiles, ceramics, and even landscape. From lava rock to cactus or even bones, every element in the country acquires a poetic dimension when integrated in design.”
At the core of native Mexican design there is wit, humour, culture and sensuality. – Fernanda Canales
One of her most illustrious works, Casa Bruma (Bruma House) questions the archetype of a house and organises different spaces around a central courtyard, to harness maximum natural light from morning to noon. The ‘exploded’ holiday home is composed of nine isolated, dark blocks of varying heights, placed with respect to the existing on-site vegetation. Another one of her stunning projects is the Open Museum Tamayo Pavilion, created for Design Week Mexico (2018) as a space of reflection and rest. The vaulted, warm toned Terreno House (2019) is developed around four bricked courtyards, presenting intended contradiction in its open and secluded planning.
Canales explains that many young Mexican designers are coming up with clever, creative and imaginative works, and that made it demanding to curate just five names for Made in Mexico. “The designers that I have selected portray diverse tendencies, but reveal strong traditional knowledge and skills of hand crafting, with a deep understanding of transforming simple materials and ideas into complex, rich and sustainable objects.”
In no particular order, here is her selection of designers and works that are a ray of hope in reviving a post-pandemic economy.
Isabel Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo
Studio LANZA Atelier was founded in 2015 by architects Isabel Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo, their works a union of concepts and diagrammatic synthesis. Abascal and Arienzo approach furniture design with the same ferocity employed in their big scale architecture projects, and build structures with the level of detailing associated with product design, experimenting across spatial themes, simple geometries and basic materials. “We understand design as a constantly fluctuating process which is subject to various forces, a mature yet malleable element,” explains Arienzo.
“We like to work closely with the people who execute these pieces - carpenters, blacksmiths and marble workers. We constantly learn from their experience and let their knowledge inform our design process,” says Abascal. “We love using wood – sustainable and versatile, with a wide range of local Mexican options like the reddish pink tropical Banak wood or the creamy brown Ayacahuite, a native Mexican and Central America soft to medium-hard wood. We create pieces that modify themselves to fit and relate to each other,” adds Abascal.
“We are in a constant pursuit of finding and contributing to the world’s beauty in a process of blurring the lines between architecture and industrial design.”
The wooden Steps Table tests limits of the commonly accepted height of a table in its playfully unique and sloping design. A cascade of plates, cutlery and glasses extend to the ground while people sitting at the highest end seem to float! The modular Folding Chair, as the name suggests, can be folded into a square and hung on a wall. When unfolded, these remind one of colourful Plasticine Monopoly houses.
The Lunch at 4 and Rounded 4 Couples table probe the relationship between the table and chair. “The furniture gravitates between the ‘activated-by-the-user’ state where the pieces are separated from each other, and the ‘inert state’ where they fit back as one, solid piece,” they explain. The Symmetrical Chair stands on four legs that sit within the real world and another four that fit into the ‘Upside Down’ (ala Stranger Things). Its shape subverts the logic of a chair, allowing it to be used in three surprisingly different ways.
Working in the arts, engineering, architecture and product design, Ariel Rojo, Managing Director, Ariel Rojo Design Studio (ARDS) and MX Reloaded, is driven by the 4Rs – Reuse, Repair, Recycle and Remanufacture.
“Knowing how to live, dream, share, and take care of each other, as well as our environment, must be the intent of design and society.”
“At ARDS we use long life materials such as polymer concrete, ecological and certified woods, recycled aluminium and copper. We also believe in handmade, collaborative work with local craftsmen and artisans, working in a happy, cohesive manner,” says Rojo with pride.
The electrostatic paint finished Alma outdoor furniture range comprises armless benches, tables and chairs made from 100 per cent recycled aluminium, melting construction waste, soda cans and other aluminium by-products. The resulting material is lightweight, with a reduced environmental impact and has a longer life due to its increased resistance to corrosion. Created for the outdoors, Rojo’s off-white Boca chair is anchored to the floor, and is made of high-strength polymeric concrete, in the shape of a swollen, deformed ‘O’.
The Ula Light Santa Clara line consists of five different handcrafted copper lamp models, a partnership between Ula Light, Ariel Rojo, and the artisans from Santa Clara del Cobre region. “This green material makes for a precious resource for designing circular products that not only powers the local economy, but creates products with longer lives,” informs Rojo. He has also developed a new collection of wooden products in a 100 per cent sustainable and Mexican production, in collaboration with the local artisans in Calakmul, Mexicos’s biggest biosphere reserves with more than 700,000 hectares of jungle.
Industrial designer Joel Escalona is all about pushing the limits of contemporary, functional design through everyday objects such as faucets and fans or limited edition furniture. He is the creative director of furniture brand BREUER Estudio, and Taller Maya, a design brand working with artisans from the Yucatan Peninsula, committed to promoting the talent and potential of the Mayan communities.
“Everything one does as a designer has to have a reason - every line, every colour, every shape and material has to be justified.”
The Laws of Motion limited edition collection features pieces combining materials such as oak, marble and metal, while referencing five forms of motion - acceleration, force, gravity, movement, and velocity. Unadorned, light and dark wooden seats, tables, stools, shelves and decorative pieces from the Noviembre collection manufactured by BREUER invite one to explore form and function through simple geometries and slow, clean lines.
The theatrical Bodega series, composed of a credenza, a dresser and a cabinet, carries shadows created with marquetry of thin sheets of wood in different shades, layered over each other, as if they were in constant, sluggish movement. The pieces draw from chiaroscuro, or cellar art, a contrast technique of light and shadow used by Caravaggio, one of the most renowned Italian painters in history.
Centeno is the creative director of Estudio Marisol Centeno, which specialises in textile design, and is also the founder of Bi Yuu, a Mexico-based brand focusing on producing high-quality rugs, driven by experimentation, quality and sustainability. Inspired by the origin of materials and the beauty of colours in their purest language, her rugs skillfully merge artisanal and industrial techniques within its organically dyed, coloured threads.
“Design provides solutions and experiences in a multisensory language, shrouded in splendour and functionality.”
“Designers have a profound responsibility while creating objects – to begin with, they are ‘creating’ – where nothing existed before, now something takes space. So that object has to be essential and useful,” says Centeno. She was commissioned by the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum to create a textile for its permanent collection, Nature by Design. The woven piece is titled C22H20O13 (the chemical formula for carminic acid) and explores the enduring legacy of the cochineal insect from which the crimson coloured, natural dye carmine is derived. “The tapestry's design uses intersections of colour to narrate the movement of the molecular structures of carminic acid as it changes its alkalinity and acidity. These variations in its pH allow the cochineal pigment to take on different colourations, such as red, orange, and violet,” explains Centeno.
The modern Pitaya collection draws heavily from a ‘tropical paradise’, in the organic and wild forms that characterise the Mexican region.The purple and red hued Anhelo Collection was conceived with the Good Weave organisation, on a trip to Nepal and India, in an attempt to learn their culture and process of textile production. It is also influenced by the late 1960s, with references to the Mexican vernacular architecture and indigenous art of that time.
Juan José Nemer and Mauricio Álvarez
AD HOC was founded in Mexico in 2014 by industrial designer Nemer and architect Álvarez, focusing on interior and furniture design projects. Nemer and Álvarez employ natural raw materials such as wood, stones and metals. “We combine automated and industrialised techniques with artisanal methods, and every single piece of ours is detailed, hand-made and hand-finished,” says Nemer.
“The people, the culture, the heritage and traditions, the colours and richness of nature – we seek beauty from our country, and it never fails to inspire us.”
Their Roots Collection draws from the wealth of Mesoamerican culture – the clothing and accessories of warriors, like animal skin shrugs, shells and colourful plumes. These pieces seek to bring Mexico’s pre-hispanic past into the contemporary present in the form of subdued wooden, plumed furniture using endemic Mexican fibres such as zacatón, lechugilla and ixtle, and combining them with raw iron sheets, steel, walnut hardwood and clay. The Rodarte High Stools are fashioned out of one solid piece of wood and then carefully hand-carved, inspired by the age old techniques of traditional Mexican handcrafted toys.
Their Huixcolotla Collection is inspired by the tradition of Papel Picado, an expression of Mexican folk art. “In its perforated oak wood form, combined with brass, iron work and chopped leather, we have sought to invoke Mexico’s history and culture in a modern sense,” says Álvarez. “In order to go global, you have to start local,” they reiterate.
Curated by Amit Gupta and Pramiti Madhavji, STIR X Script presents Made In: an original series that features curated selections of product designers across countries, showcasing modern, sustainable, home grown design.
SCRIPT – A Godrej Venture
Combining beauty and intelligence, SCRIPT, part of Godrej Group, makes multifaceted furniture and accessories that are luxurious, interactive and refreshing. Furniture that cares for the smallest details, the planet, as well as the user. The brand’s products are purposeful and aesthetic, designed entirely around and for the user, to give them a fluid living experience that SCRIPT calls ‘Freedom of Living’.
Know more on www.scriptonline.com