Long before setting the cornerstone of any new building, Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao (b. 1972) studies the geographical and social landscape. This multidisciplinary exploration of culture allows her structures to emerge and thrive organically in a given environment whilst also fulfilling their functional roles with maximum efficiency. Even the most geometric designs seem to grow out from their surroundings.
The Ventura House, for example, is a series of pentagonal blocks with sweeping views of Monterrey, Mexico. It sprouts out of the hillside. Contrasting with the raw concrete are wooden walls, floors and accents. Large planters hang in the atrium. A light, sensitive touch tempers the heavily muscular, brutalist-like shell. Rather than removing all the trees from the foundation site in a densely forested area, Bilbao carved out space for them, enclosed within glass to contemplate or allowed to grow thanks to a hole cut in an overhang.
Passionate about providing shelter for those in need, Bilbao has created a flexible prototype to help address Mexico’s severe housing shortage crisis in which millions of homes are needed or overpopulated. She has created a low-cost housing system that can be expanded for a growing family and adapted to the seven climate zones across the country, thanks to varying spatial arrangements and materials. Concrete blocks form the core of these buildings, whilst wooden pallets and other lightweight materials take over the surrounding rooms. It’s part of a government commission under a programme that subsidises half the cost of homes and provides the remainder as credit so that people with low incomes may purchase them. Bilbao’s units tend to be larger than most other social housing projects. Natural, urban and even interior landscape are critical in these designs.
Often shunning expensive materials, Bilbao also seeks out local hand labour to bring blueprints to life, including for the vacation home of artist Gabriel Orozco that put her on the map in 2006. Observatory House is located in a remote seaside area near Puerto Escondido. Some of her creations have even incorporated the ancient method of rammed earth, for adobe-like walls made out of a compressed sandy mixture. In Mexico City, Bilbao has devised a lit path to ensure that women are able to walk home safely.
She has been at the forefront of rising Mexican women entrepreneurs after decades in the shadows. Bilbao, Fernanda Canales and Frida Escobedo – who built a “woven tapestry” of concrete tiles with a mirrored ceiling and a triangular pool of water for last year’s Serpentine Pavilion – are now amongst the country’s most celebrated architects. The exhibition is part of Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s third instalment of The Architect’s Studio, which focuses on some of the most innovative designers addressing challenges with sustainable and socially aware practices.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk 18 October – 16 February. Find out more here.
Lead image: Tatiana Bilbao Estudio, Villa Ventura, 2011. Image: Iwan Baan.