by Anmol AhujaJul 27, 2022
In Mexico City, streets are named after authors, professions, plants, geographic features, virtues, and famous literary phrases. Mar Tirreno 86 is a residential block at the intersection of streets named after the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Black Sea. Commercial premises, a garage, a home with pedestrian access and a courtyard from different periods existed and were adapted locally on the same plot—all in a poor state of construction to be reused or conserved. The folded and window-less facades of the new housing block at Mar Tirreno 86 stand in contrast to the neighbouring buildings, which are flat and have large openings at intervals barring their structure. The block aligns with all the margins of the plot, and its mass, at first, seems to be a simple extrusion of this limitation. Two pedestrian pathways surround the north and northeast edges of this mass.
As we turn the sharp corner, walking from Mar Negro to Mar Tirreno, the surface folds in on itself, and we encounter a set of steps that lead to a raised internal street. It is the primary circulation spine of the project designed by Mexican architecture firm Frida Escobedo Studio. From here, 10 duplex apartments are accessed on either side. The design of the street is based on Mexico's working-class housing from the 20th century, which makes it easy for people to meet each other and get together on the internal street.
The architects, in their statement, explain this typology, “We opted to divide the dwelling units between two separate volumes, a decision inspired by the ‘vecindad', a common working-class housing type in Mexico dating to the turn of the 20th century, in which family dwellings are arranged on one or both sides of an open-air, private corridor-like patio.”
Designed by the studio led by architect Frida Escobedo, it was completed in 2018, the same year that the firm’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, in London, opened to the public. We can draw parallels between the layered spaces that unfold as you move through both projects. The rhythms of the Serpentine Pavillion's surfaces, which are made by weaving cement roof tiles, seem to mirror the patterns of the custom-made concrete block courses in Mar Tirreno 86. In both these projects, by folding surfaces, many scales and varied quality enclosures are created. These surfaces, created by stacking repetitive modules, help order the degrees of vision and privacy of these enclosures. The first impressions of solidity dissipate by moving between these enclosures.
Leaving the surfaces unpainted from the outside, like in Louis Kahn’s Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, the concrete blocks mediate the scale of the four-storeyed mass with humans to create a relatable experience.
In an attempt to “challenge the organisational limitations of the vertical housing block”, the architects imagined the apartments as “multi-storeyed patio houses”. The houses are internally composed for each duplex unit to have an internal courtyard or terrace, piercing through both its levels. These semi-private terraces get filtered light and diagonal views through slits in the concrete blocks that make up the outside surface. This gives the project a sense of unity.
They explain, “Rather than relying on balconies to provide private exterior space for the residents, we instead opted to fold the housing units inward to form a series of quiet, sheltered terraces that mediate the interior and exterior in a more ambiguous way.”
From the internal street, we can walk right into five apartments. On this level are the living, dining, and utility rooms. Internal staircases connect to the two or three bedrooms above in every unit. Also, each of the other five apartments has its own or shared set of stairs that lead up from the street. All spaces, screened by the mediating surface, are designed to be silent, even meditative, living environments, looking away from the bustling city. Light filters through and self-shades, creating numerous and ever-changing strokes of shade and shadow. The role of the ornament gets re-interpreted through this performance. Elegantly explained by Frida Escobedo Studio, “Light and shadow ripple as they move across the surface of this concrete veil, producing dazzling effects throughout the day.” Folding, used as a design operative at various scales, in Mar Tirreno 86, helps amalgamate its form, structure, material, and ornament.
Name: Mar Tirreno 86
Architecture: Frida Escobedo Studio
Primary Author(s): Frida Escobedo López
Contributing Authors: Héctor Arce, Valentina Merz, Carlos Hernández