by Jerry ElengicalJan 17, 2023
Since the 19th century, the concepts of architectural conservation and restoration have travelled through many directions of thought. From John Ruskin and William Morris’ anti-restoration movement to Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration works, the past has seen both sides of the movement. Ruskin’s beliefs of restoration as an act similar to the attempt of raising the dead and Morris’ concerns remain a topic of discussion. While the concepts of conservation revolve around different parameters and principles across the country, depending on the geographical, historical and cultural adaptations, the core has always remained in keeping alive the old and reviving the past. In the el Bosque de Chapultepec or the forest of Chapultepec in Mexico City, on the banks of Lago Mayor Chapultepec is an old modernist structure reflecting the iconic exploration and experimentation of modernism that emerged in Mexico in the 60s. Originally designed by Leónides Guadarrama and Alfonso Ramírez Ponce in 1964, the building took shape with an immense asymmetric hyperbolic paraboloid ceiling in concrete architecture.
Anchoring its presence in the modernist architectural propaganda the style of the building extends a familiar nod to the philosophies and design approaches of Mies van der Rohe and Félix Candela. However, the modernist manifestation of the 60s underwent a renovation in 1998. The renovation led by Javier Sordo Madaleno transformed the spatial quality of the building to offer more opportunities to incorporate new functions. Though the project was initially perceived to contain different adjoining spaces together, the renovation segregated the spaces to accommodate more private functions. This realisation and understanding of the history of the building paved way for Mexico-based architectural studio Naso to reprogramme and renovate the existing building to its initial past and glory. Run by CMR and OMR, Lago|Algo is perceived as a cultural centre. With a new public programme emphasising contemporary art and sustainable food, the project aims to regenerate the second section of Chapultepec Forest. While presenting a new function in the old shell of the building, the new centre rests at the juncture of public space and the nature of the park.
Building on Ponce's 60s architectural vision that “architectural structures that are resistant due to weight are a clumsy accumulation of matter. There is nothing nobler from an intellectual point of view than resisting due to form,” the re-programming does not interfere with the original form. While contemplating the intervention associated with the project, the architects have reversed the later interventions and brought back the initial structure, all the while adding a new yet distinctive layer of the 21st century to it. “Lago|Algo is an autonomous and independent project, conceived as a platform to get closer to the green lungs of the city, a place of encounters with nature, with the history of modern architecture, with the arts and culture, with sustainable cuisine made from the local ingredients and flavours sourced from our waters and our lands,” states the cultural centre.
Rethinking the relationship with public space, the project emerged during the pandemic and reimagines our current situation. With an intent to transform private to public, exclusive to inclusive and social to culture, the new phase opens an icon of modern Mexican architecture to the public for them to experience it in a new outlook. Presenting two separate identities, Lago|Algo functions differently depending on the need of the visitor. Lago stands for the history of the building and has a workspace, a cafe, and a conscious restaurant. Conceived by Micaela Miguel, the restaurant stays aware of the origin and processes of its produce and addresses a sustainable perspective of living. Algo is a cultural venue led by OMR which aims to reflect on human's role in the future of the earth through arts and culture. Exploring the themes of memory and time, conflicts of our contemporary society, the fragility of the ecosystem, trauma as a portal for healing, and crisis, Algo’s first exhibition titled Form Follows Energy presented more than 45 pieces by 27 artists.
Abiding by the necessities of the past, the restaurant design of the 90s added new spaces adjacent to the original structure and divided the original space into three independent areas. Though the change in spatial planning was important at the time, it meant that the visitors were unable to appreciate the complete hyperbolic and paraboloid ceiling. The intervention by Naso reinstated the spaces to reflect the quality of the shell structure. While showcasing the free-standing structure of the building, the Mexican architects opted for an open plan that also enabled the spaces to be flexible for distinctive exhibitions. Through the integration of ground levels and low walls, the spatial limits between the spaces have been reimagined. Recovering the previously fragmented ceiling, the architects also ensured to connect the spaces visually while separating them physically.
“The aesthetic language of our project shows the crudeness of the original structure affected through time together with architectural features of the subsequent renovation. It strips back and shows all its elements with the intention of generating a pedagogical space where it is possible to appreciate the distinct constructive processes of the building and its ceiling. At the same time, the ceiling plainly shows the different scars that expose the traces of the multiple spatial partitions that were generated by economic, political and social forces throughout the history of the building,” share the architects. Amid the continued arguments of how architecture restoration adds new layers to the history of a building, for architectural structure that are in ruins, it’s a chance to find new meanings and identity. For such structures, a new layer can cast a shadow on its past extending a hope to revive a lost identity. While conserved heritage structures may not require an intervention, for the architectural remains of history, lost in time, restoration and renovation is a second chance.
Client: OMR, CMR
Architects: Naso, México
Area: 3750 sq.m
Location: Ciudad de México, México
Design Team: Beatrice Kretschmer, José Ignacio Vargas
Landscape Design: Planta Diseño Botánico
Furniture design: Rituales Mx & Taller Nacional
Construction Team: Fernando Páramo, Atilio Canfalonieri