by Pallavi MehraAug 07, 2023
Clad in black stone to elicit visual connections to the volcanic landscapes of Pedregal in Mexico, ERRE Q ERRE arquitectura y urbanismo has created a spiralling ethnobotanical pavilion in Mexico City’s Bosque de Chapultepec park, to serve as a landmark bridging the park and its relation to the nearby shore of a lake. The project, titled Centro de Cultura Ambiental Chapultepec, is the heart of a sprawling landscape design venture that creates whirling impressions on the park’s terrain. As a new ecological node that brings together culture, landscape, and architecture under its wing, the project has been subtly absorbed into the area’s natural setting, its gentle form hugging the sloped topography of the park, and embracing an amphitheatre at its centre.
As part of the Master Plan "Chapultepec Nature and Culture," which is being spearheaded by celebrated Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco, the project commenced with an architectural competition, conducted by the Government of Mexico City in collaboration with the country's Federal Government, which selected ERRE Q ERRE arquitectura y urbanismo’s proposal as the winning entry. Envisioning the park’s environment as an urban forest to promote biodiversity, the design draws from the terrain, diverse landscapes, and vibrant ecosystems that constitute the Valley of Mexico Basin. Channelling the characteristics of grasslands, wetlands, temperate forests, and the vegetation of the Pedregal region, the project utilises these references to create immersive landscapes, with winding paths that cut through them, fostering continuity with the outline of the banks of Lake Menor.
Described by the Mexican architects as 'Biocultural Walks,' these aspects of the landscape architecture follow concentric spiral paths through the course of the park, to bolster pedestrian connectivity between different segments of the urban green space. Said to be one of the largest such parks in the country, the Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the capital’s proverbial "lungs," enriching its urban sphere, the lives of its residents, and the quality of life they are privileged to experience. All tours throughout this essential green pocket in the city start at different points along its periphery to meet at the centre of Centro de Cultura Ambiental Chapultepec, where the structure is both a literal and spiritual nucleus for the park’s functioning.
Organically divided rows of plantings delineate the agro-ecological zone of the venture, which also conforms to the spiral geometric design language followed by all the project's components. Introducing an element of permaculture to the project, this section of the design features rows of rotating crops, boxed in by stone walls that outline divisions in the landscape. Irrigation here is made possible by a system that harnesses gravity through a master channel from Menor Lake, which is connected to other secondary channels, fitted with manual gates to maximise efficiency of operation.
Spanning 90,000 sqm, the project serves a dual role as both a convergence point for culture and an open public space that fosters interaction while also offering a venue to host exhibitions, events, and other activities that marry culture and ecology to promote their visibility in the city. Combining the ambience of an open-air space with a public forum or plaza, the space around the structure is also given new meaning through this endeavour in cultural architecture. The drastic alteration in the makeup of the site’s purpose—from a space for vehicular parking to a venue promoting environmental preservation and culture—is indicative of the firm’s bold ambitions for the project, with the pavilion’s graceful curving form as the centrepiece of the development.
Bermed into the slope of the land bordering the lake, the structure’s façade design exudes heaviness and a naturalistic touch by virtue of its stone cladding, firmly grounded in its context both texturally and stylistically. However, the geometry of its plan and the structural design supporting the 2,000 sqm roof assembly, with its sloping, partially conical profile, serve to lighten its visual load. Propped up on angled metallic members, which buttress its semicircular form against the ground, the building’s design language is mildly reminiscent of traditional dwellings seen in the region, particularly in relation to the roof structure.
Despite this, there is a distinctly contemporary architectural flair that pervades the design from any angle, maintaining its identity as a marker of the changes occurring in Mexico City at present. The existing vegetation on site provides the perfect buffer between the building and the lake, and also helped screen a set of volcanic stone steps which have been placed to define the approach towards the pavilion. Beyond this, the amphitheatre-style space with its circular stage embraces the pavilion, invoking the transition from open landscape to built form, while also filling in the role of the spiral’s point of origin.
Light, low-maintenance, versatile, and concise in its impact on the setting, the architects share that one of the parameters guiding the project was the goal to minimise its carbon footprint, through the careful selection of materials and construction technologies to ensure that it adhered to the master plan’s aim of fusing the “natural and man-made, old and new, and the architecture and landscape,” as mentioned by the architects.
The pavilion’s interior is austere and open, with the supporting members adorning its ceilings like structural ribs, Further bracings between them produce a variety of patterns across the upper bounding surface of the space, which is replete with textures of board-formed concrete. The flooring echoes this, making use of grey tiles. Both of the curved enclosing walls of the structure are lined in clear glass, maintaining visual continuity between both sides of the site. Provisions for multiple uses as a space for performances, exhibitions, seminars, demonstrations, and other events are built into the space's multifunctionality, elevating its dynamic and adaptive program. As the man-made heart of the city's most important urban forest, this low-lying addition to a former expanse of bare concrete highlights the need to regreen cities, in a bid to address climate change and degrading urban living conditions, through the creation of biodiverse pockets that breathe new life into them.
Name: Environmental Culture Center
Location: Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico City, Mexico
Year of Completion: 2023
Area: 90,000 sqm
Architect: ERRE Q ERRE arquitectura y urbanismo
Lead Architect: Rafael Ponce Ortiz
Project Partner: Juan Ansberto Cruz
Design Team: Rafael Ponce Ortiz, Margarita Gorbea Angeles, Cesar Ávila, Oscar Díaz Gaspar, Abigail Esparza, Diego Bueno de la Paz, Valerio López Acevedo
Landscape Engineering: Juan Ansberto Cruz Gerón, Psj. Paola Patricia González Ordaz, Fabiola Alvarado, Gerardo Tapia, Eduardo Santiago, Perla Flores
Vegetable Proposal: Secretaría del Medio Ambiente, Rodrigo Canjay Torres, Pamela Vélez, Fortino Acosta
Engineering and Environmental Design: Alejandro de Alva, Amado Ríos, Edgar Ojeda Sotelo, Oscar Ramírez, Coral Rojas Serrano, Javier Cuauhtémoc Blancas Ponce
Geometry and Structural Design: Eric Valdez Olmedo, Axayacatl Sánchez
Museography: Adriana Miranda
Promoter: Gobierno Federal / Secretaría de Cultura, Gobierno de la CDMX / Secretaría del Medio Ambiente
Project Coordinator Chapultepec Nature and Culture: Gabriel Orozco
Coordinator of the Public Architecture Competition: Ernesto Alva