by Jincy IypeSep 20, 2022
Since 2017, the Mexican architects at RootStudio have been intervening to rescue libraries in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, Mexico. A matriarchal society, the city of Tehuantepec is well known for the traditional dresses worn by the women of the city. The iconic Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo was also said to be inspired by Tehuana women which is evident in her personal style and art. Beholding these cultural significances, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec is an integral part of Mexican history and heritage. RootStudio’s reconstruction of the Gabriel López Chiñas Library encircles these values and a need to preserve them for generations to come. In Juchitán de Zaragoza in Oaxaca, the library remained an embodiment of the past years, in layers, creating a physical and experiential archive of history.
Over the span of two years, RootStudio breathed new life into the Gabriel López Chiñas Library by restoring the original structure, removing the recent additions which suffered significant earthquake damage, and accommodating new spaces which introduced contemporary design principles to the building. The main elements of the old structures that underwent restoration were adobe walls, tropical wood logs, and stick (morillos y biliguanas) roof. Morillos y biliguanas is catalogued by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) as part of the heritage of the municipality in the region of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. One of the main intents of the Mexican architecture studio was to retain the traditional elements and practices that were visible in the original architecture of the structure.
Through the process and construction of the project, João Boto Cæiro and Fulvio Capurso’s studio emphasised reviving the vernacular style of the typology. Harmonising the original structure with elements of contemporary architecture, the new municipal library accommodates more functional spaces for the public to indulge in. The project, thereby, revitalises the old structure into a space of art and culture for the 21st century. The architects share, “For RootStudio, sustainable architecture involves detailed analysis of the conditions of the terrain, the use of endemic materials and elements, thereby reducing environmental impact and harmonising with the setting and its climatic conditions.”
In order to understand the planning of the typology, the studio researched extensively to consolidate the original layout and structure. Following this, they accommodated new spaces including—an auditorium, a computer room, and outdoor areas, shaded by trees. Though these new spaces unfold inspired by the elements of contemporary design, in the fusion of the new with the old, architects at RootStudio ensured that they prioritised the existing elements responsibly and respectfully. The front of the building houses the library, collection, reading, and children’s rooms. The back of the building is connected by a wide corridor leading to a central courtyard and the new audiovisual rooms, an auditorium, administrative offices, toilets, and a smaller courtyard.
RootStudio intervened in the restoration by standardising the old construction methods. The facade design takes shape in the yellow earth, salvaged from excavating the foundations. The material palette has white lime paint in the interiors and white mud brick, creating a sensation of spaciousness and a luminosity that enhances reading. The metalwork used in the project is a reproduction of the patterns of textiles from the Isthmus. The brocade technique visible in the clothing of Isthmus of Tehuantepec is as famous as Mexican ethnic haute couture, which the fashion world witnessed in the last few years. While translating the patterns and forms of the textile designs into the renovated design of the library, the architects also presented an integral identity of the location through its architecture. The metalwork contrasts with the red bricks, tiles, and colour palette made up of serene white and earthy tones.
“At RootStudio, incorporating art into buildings is a constant, as it provides an opportunity to establish an aesthetic manifesto. On this occasion, the artists José Ángel Santiago and Sabino Guisu were invited; the latter in charge of the design of the forged metal grille of the courtyard and a poem in neon by López Chinas,” share the architects. Furthermore, the furniture was also designed for the spaces using local wood.
With sustainable building methods, meticulous restoration, and the recovery of traditional construction techniques, the reconstruction of the Gabriel López Chiñas Library is an addition to RootStudio’s vision to create responsible architecture. Hotel Flavia in Oaxaca was another example of the same philosophy. However, while oscillating between brutalist architecture, regional architecture, and more, the only constant for the Mexican architects seems to be designing entities that remain embodiments of their beliefs in sustainable and responsible intervention.
Name: Gabriel López Chiñas Library
Location: Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, México
Typology: Public Space, Library
Client: Municipality of Juchitan de Zaragoza /Oaxaca, Mexico
Built area: 1067.108 sq.m
Site area: 1650 sq.m
Principal architect: Joao Boto Caeiro, Moises Cruz Jerónimo and Iván Díaz Arellano
Design year: 2020
Completion year: 2022
Civil and structural engineer: Josue Hernandez
Collaborators: Sabino Guisu (design steel door)