Colectivo C733

Ana Miljački speaks with members of the Mexico City-based group about the tumultuous nature of collective practice and a shifting paradigm in civic architecture.

Recorded October 23, 2023.


In 2019, Gabriela Carrillo, Carlos Facio, and Jose Amozurrutia, together with Erik Valdez and Israel Espin, assembled into an architectural meta-collective under the name of Colectivo C733. They had concocted this name as a code for the first competition they did together with a letter and numbers each standing for specific words: Collective, or Cosmic, Logic, Efficiency, Economy. The name stuck, as did the practice of collaborating across their individual studios on fast-track public projects across Mexico. In the last four years, C733 completed over 35 small projects including sports and education facilities, markets, community centers, and cultural buildings, many of these in vulnerable areas of Mexico and for SEDATU, the Mexican Secretariat for Agrarian Land and Urban Development. The most visible works among these are the Matamoros and Guadalupe markets in 2020 and 2021, respectively, the Nacajuca Music House and Tapachula station, both in 2021, the 2022 San Blas pier, and the 2023 Eco-Park Bacalar. Their works have been recognized in Mexican, Pan-American, and Ibero-American architectural biennials.

About I Would Prefer Not To

Conceived and produced by MIT’s Critical Broadcasting Lab and presented with The Architectural League, I Would Prefer Not To1Herman Melville, “Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street,” The Piazza Tales (1856). tackles a usually unexamined subject: the refusal of an architectural commission. Why do architects make the decision to forfeit the possibility of work? At what point is a commission not worth it? When in one’s career is it necessary to make such a decision? Whether concealed out of politeness or deliberately shielded from public scrutiny, architects’ refusals usually go unrecorded by history, making them difficult to analyze or learn from. In this series of recorded interviews, I Would Prefer Not To aims to shed light on the complex matrix of agents, stakeholders, and circumstances implicated in every piece of architecture.


Transcript lightly edited and provided for reference only. May not accurately capture all aspects of the conversation.

Oct 23, 2023

Ana Miljački 00:20
Hello, and thank you for tuning in. I’m Ana Miljački, Professor of Architecture at MIT and director of the Critical Broadcasting Lab. And on behalf of The Architectural League of New York and the Critical Broadcasting Lab, I welcome you to our architecture podcast series titled, I Would Prefer Not To. This episode is supported in part by the Graham Foundation. I Would Prefer Not To is an oral history project conducted through audio interviews on the topic of perhaps the most important kind of refusal in architects’ toolboxes, refusal of the architectural commission. By definition, the topic of refusal stays hidden from public scrutiny, and thus also hidden from history. Withdrawals of this kind tend not to leave paper trails, and are not easy to examine or learn from, and yet, the lessons contained in architects’ deliberations about and decisions not to engage are politically relevant and urgent. decisions to not engage a commission or types of commissions, or commissions with certain characteristics inevitably forfeit potential profit, placing other values above it, at least momentarily. My guests in this episode are Gabriela Carrillo-

Gabriela Carrillo 01:32

Ana 01:33
Carlos Facio-

Carlos Facio 01:35
Hi, thank you so much for having us.

Ana 01:38
And Jose Amozurrutia.

Jose Amozurrutia 01:40
Hello. Thank you, Ana. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Ana 01:44
In 2019, this group of architects together with Erik Valdez and Israel Espin assembled into an architectural meta-collective, under the name of Colectivo C733. They had concocted this name as a code for the first competition they did together, with a letter and numbers each standing for specific words: Collective, or Cosmic, Logic, Efficiency, Economy. The name stuck, as did the practice of collaborating across their individual studios on fast-track public projects across Mexico.

In the last four years, C733 completed over 35 small projects, sports and education facilities, markets, community centers, and cultural buildings—many of these in vulnerable areas of Mexico—and for SEDATU, the Mexican Secretariat for Agrarian Land and Urban Development. The most visible works among these are the Matamoros and Guadalupe markets in 2020 and 2021, respectively, the 2021 Nacajuca Music House, the Tapachula station, the same year, the 2022 San Blas pier, and the 2023 Eco-Park Bacalar. Their works have been recognized in Mexican, Pan-American, and Ibero-American architectural biennials. Members of the collective run their own practices that are recipients of different accolades as well. All of them are graduates of UNAM, and many of them teach architecture at this public institution in Mexico City. So Colectivo C733, as you might know, we usually start these conversations with a discussion about the most memorable projects you have refused, or had to say no to, or if that has not happened yet, by imagining how it might happen, and on what grounds, and then we will zoom out to everything else that characterizes your collective work. So, whoever wants to start on the most memorable project?

Gabriela 03:51
I can start. Well, thank you. Well, I want to speak about a couple of projects I had worked on that I usually say why and why I didn’t deny them. And I would like to finish very briefly with the projects that I am denying today, or the things that I don’t want to do. So the first one was when I started my partnership with Mauricio Rocha. It was 2012, and we were meant to design the Museum for the Cinema in Mexico City. And that was a very tough job. It was for me my first stage like being a partner in this office. There were two elements that were very important and significant. One was, again, a public building, federal government, low budget, and a very short period of time to develop the project. And the second was the vulnerable, emotional values of this being some work done by my partner’s father. So that was a big struggle. And I suffered it. It was the first time I faced working for federal government projects. So that means understanding, as designer, how vulnerable we are, working, because of the rules, because of the system itself, it’s very unsafe, the way we act. And because we act with love with passion with emotion, we usually fail. But it happens a lot. And the second project was some project that took me to a very fine and nice ending, and had to do—I’m sorry, I’m speaking, of course, on my individual background, on my own, not on the collective voice.

It was during the reconstruction period, you know, that Mexico suffered two big earthquakes that happened, there were terrible earthquakes that we faced. And it was a big question for me how to answer as an architect in this vulnerable condition, me being a mother of a kid, where I want to show him the values of empathy, of feeling and understanding community. And I wanted to do something. So we created a program called Reconstruida MX. And we faced this idea of reconstructing houses with vernacular systems. I need to say, I work for one whole year, every weekend, visiting these communities, I place a lot of effort and emotion there. And I wanted to create a sample, just something very simple, that people could construct their own projects and rebuild their own houses with the system. But I needed a sample. And it failed. Because I went two weeks on vacation because it was my 40th birthday. And when I came back, my client, which was not my client, of course, the women I had worked with, she said, Sorry, architect, I reconstruct the way it was meant to be done. I took away everything that you had left. And I just thought I had failed. I cried, I blamed her, she cried also, it was a complete disaster. But I just want to close [by] saying this intervention, that this big failure, which for me was a big headache, and it broke my heart. I thought, I invested so much time, I lose so much time being with my kids for doing this. And I think that big failure took me to a big opportunity, which was creating this RX program which is a research and seminars studio where I had worked for the last five years with Loretta Castro in UNAM academical program. And that program couldn’t have happened if I haden’t done that project…

Ana 08:19
Without the failure?

Gabriela 08:20
Yeah, exactly. That’s it. On my side. Who’s next?

Jose 08:25
I would say that as young architectural office, both Colectivo733, and our own office, TO, we haven’t said no to many commissions. Even though I would say that we have learned to value very much the time we have to make a specific project. So for Carlos and I, we have, for instance, said no to many jobs that actually, we started doing as an office, like small projects in the city that we still see with a lot of excitement, but then once you have in the balance the personal time, your personal mental health and everything, just start turning down certain commissions that not necessarily have these political or social constraints. Actually, it’s more like, where do I want to focus this very valuable time that we have together as a team and then go into that? So, I would say that we have more experience in turning requests around like sometimes we’re given certain circumstances that we say, of course, this is not possible, or we don’t agree with this. But we’ll always try to turn things around in terms of program of materials of time, budget to make it a reasonable and sustainable project for us and for the environment and for the people that is, the project headed to so I’m sure we’ll go into many examples of these projects, some projects that had one direction, one that could be a political direction, but we turn that direction the other way around. I’m thinking of a couple ones. But we can go into detail in a little bit.

Carlos 10:22
For sure, I was actually, I wanted to talk about the Eco-parque situation that I think has to do a lot with the last thing because Jose was saying, the original program, the request of our client, in this case, the Secretary SEDATU, was to make a building there. And that was our first refusal, or denial, was like, this is impossible, we cannot do that here. And the risk was very, very high, because for us it was like the most incredible place on earth to work in and was like, but we need to say no, or we need to say something different and take the risk of losing the job. And in that case, we took that risk. And actually we failed because the project dies in the middle of the process, and then resurrected, because of the I don’t know, there’s a lot of a people involved in these kinds of projects, and the good things of having not not just our team, but the authorities involved are very committed with high values of, I don’t know, environmental values or ecological in this case. They struggle and they say, let’s fight for it, and resurrect it and then dies again because of another institution. And for the third time resurrected. We call the project Lazarus because it was almost like an impossible thing to do. And I think that it’s a good example that in architecture, it not just the intention that matters, but the intentions interweaving with other institution and people interested.

Ana 12:36
I’m compelled maybe to ask you, maybe there’ll be room for an addition to this, I’m compelled to ask you if you think there are differences in how you handle or would handle a refusal in the context of your own practice versus as part of C733, which you said so nicely in Spanish, but I’m going to keep it translated for the moment.

Gabriela 12:57
Si siete tres tres! C siete tres tres, I’ll say for you.

Ana 13:02
Thank you. Are there, this is really a question of, Are there different values or mechanics that guide the collective than guide the individual offices? And maybe I’ll tag on the question about, does the collective enable something that your individual practices don’t? Those are connected questions.

Gabriela 13:24
Yeah, I would love to start again, let’s go around. So I think, yes, I started talking about my own decisions. And I think it’s important to talk about them, because it’s who we are, what makes to happen that the collective will exists, you know, it’s like, our own reason for the colectivo existing was a matter of accepting a proposal, which was a big disadvantage for us, as designers in all meanings, you know, like, the request was to design a competition in two weeks, to do it without being the owners of the project somehow, because we were going to do that competition for UNAM, that we were meant to design something in three months, and to build it in three months. And then that this building was supposed to arise to a budget that was very tight somehow, in a very complex community. So everything was against us. And the last issue was that this building was, it was not going to be ours. It was going to be repeated in all Mexico. So that could be something you would, you should, or you might think you should deny. And I think because I wanted to start talking a bit, talking about myself, practice and I think now TO, Jose and Carlos, will emphasize a bit more on, well, Jose mentioned a bit about their own work. I think what this, we decide to work on the collective was because of that request. So that request was, the answer was no. If we were meant to participate as an independent office, because everything was against us. And the only alternative we could say yes to that was because we were meant to be together. And when you’re asking that question, is very tricky. Because in our own office, we can accept to do maybe some things, of course, others. I think, especially, I think something we share, is that the values we share are the same values. And when we pursue behind architecture between, behind environmental, social issues, all of that is the same spirit. So the main core of who we are, is behind that. So when we are behind these public projects, it’s kind of tough for us to say no, because we all believe in the dignity, in dignity, and quality of the space as a value, that should be something for everyone. It’s something that not only the ones that have money deserve, it’s something that could be done not with big budgets. It’s something that we believe in. So that is something that put us together on this, on this piece of, of minds being together. And I think that is the reason we had done this, even though it happened a lot of times that we’d say we can’t do this anymore. We are exhausted, this is ridiculous. Like Carlos is like, it is stupid to do this again. But I think I would say that.

Jose 17:03
yeah, yes, I totally agree with Gabriela, I think it’s like looking at both faces of the same head, like our private work with our offices and the public work with Colectivo. Which doesn’t mean that as private offices, we wouldn’t do also public works. But the effort and the energy we put into these public projects as a Colectivo is very special. And it’s usually fed by this strong passion for architecture. But of course, knowing that our country has this vast need for working with public space. And, of course, we’re on the surf board of the public construction that is going on in the country right now. And it’s been very intense. And many times, when this energy comes and happens, we call it “at the third period” or “the third quarter of the day,” the third time, which is at night, we gather, we meet and we have a good time, but it’s been intense. So sometimes we say like, okay, let’s slow down a little bit. But being four or five partners and for offices the timing is very good. Because sometimes, some projects are more intense, and some partners are looking more into it. But other partners are a little bit further back, but then we’ll come together but we’re always in touch. So even though some of us, for whatever reason, steps a little back then the team is accompanying us, so it’s very nice to be part of this family, we call it a family now. And of course, if we didn’t have for instance our private work, we wouldn’t be able to properly support the other one because of economic reasons. So it’s a balance.

Carlos 18:59
And I will say that it is a kind of auto-destructive democracy because we are five and we are always like passionate five but someone at one point is like throwing in the towel and okay, this is too much, but the other four or the other three are like come on let’s do it just for the last time and yeah, that’s always happening in this five member collective. But I think it is a good thing because sometimes when they ask us to, I don’t know, to have a meeting or something we are always like this kind of animal of…

Ana 19:39
Multiple heads?

Carlos 19:41
multiple heads—that allows us to respond in different situations and also, I think it is important to understand that in a team, like in a band, we have all different qualities and like to understand the difficulties or the advantage of everyone, it’s, I think, it’s an important thing.

Ana 20:06
I have a couple of questions coming up that are about the mechanics of the collective or just sort of to understand a little bit better how it works, but so, it collects three or four offices. And I was wondering if that means that everyone who works in your offices, three, everyone who works in those offices is occasionally also part of ColectivoC733? And how many are you then?

Gabriela 20:33
We don’t know anymore! It is very crazy, because it is true that we started the five of us together at night. And with 1 former student that I had, which was really good, and that’s the way we did the competition, and then these days, we believe this is sustainable, it’s the only way to make it sustainable. Because you know, when you have these huge, the projects are not huge, but this amount of work in such a short time, you need to invest. So now it’s difficult to say the number of the collective because we believe that not only all the members of our offices have been in and out, we have even members of the team that had to say, Please take me out, I can stand it anymore. Or others that say please, I want to be part of this. I want to taste that. And now they’re stuck there. We also have partners in all lines, you know, in Mexico, it’s fairly strange to have a commitment to develop these scale projects. Because they’re very small, you know, the budget is very small. So they barely hire architects. So imagine, like, designers, landscape architects, all these specialists moving around, it’s almost impossible. And now what we had done is that we had a great team that, all the, a lot of offices of landscape are involved. I mean, not a lot, but at least we had worked with three or four. And we are, we used to work frequently with one of them. And we need to say he’s our partner right now, he works in very terrible times without any money. And he’s always facing like, he’s there, and his team is there. So, and that happens with the light designers. And that happens on all ways. So it makes it sustainable, because if not, it would be impossible, what happened is that small offices like ours, could become broken, and I mean, are broken. Some of them, I need to say, this program has more than 1000 works done in the whole country in just three years. So it’s a lot of work. And that almost 450 studios, design studios are being involved in this program. So it sounds a lot for us. But a lot of work is happening in the country. So on that sense, I think right now it’s really this, it’s really difficult to say how many we are, and of course, how many we are now, how many we have been in different stages of the colectivo. And how we have evolved from virtual world because a big part of our team became huge when we were in the pandemic. And now how it is in this hybrid world.

Ana 23:51
Maybe we can talk about the kind of mechanics of making decisions in that fluctuating sort of world. In one of your emails, Carlos, you said that three members of the collective constitutes the minimum democratic number. And I’m wondering how you make decisions, or are there protocols for them, for the principals, I guess, is how I’m gonna call you for a second of collective but also in general, with this fluctuating number of people working.

Carlos 24:22
The key word is flexibility because, also talking about the number of people working and so on. It’s always like the sensation that you need to embrace the, I don’t know, the complexity of every single decision. And for us, yes, it works like a democratic system. But also, I think we have a lot of trust in each other because we know very much each other since childhood. Some of us, well, and from working together, years ago. So when we have to make a decision, at some point, we just like, let go the decision to this trust in the other one.

Ana 25:15
Yeah, do you have to decide together? And then you delegate some others? Or is everything…

Carlos 25:24
Yeah, exactly. We used to make the initial decisions together in this third time, because, I was talking about, at night, and—

Gabriela 25:34
Every week.

Carlos 25:36
Every week, but then at some point, we took a lot of decisions within the constructive progress of the building. So in that point, it is important always to be aware, everyone has this like commission, in some, I don’t know, the structural theme, the landscape theme. So we distributed the decisions in that way. And yeah, we trust each other.

Jose 26:07
Yeah, I would probably just stress on that, that I think all of us have a strong set of values in common, as Gabriela was saying, we all believe very much in the power of architectural language. And as soon as, we have this ongoing chat, it’s probably one of the, like, it’s an archive, it’s very powerful. Like, all the chats we have for each project are very interesting, because they have all the decisions sometimes taken together, but in the distance. And it’s a very organic process. Even though of course, we sometimes organize the leadership of the project. And we each of us have a project or, for instance, Erik Valdez is always looking at the structural design, and the cost, that the projects are within cost. And he has this very bull thinking in towards technical aspects. He’s also very sensitive for conceptual decisions. So we all take part in all kinds of, in all the decisions that that give shape to the project, and I would just say it’s very organic, and this virtual communications makes it happen more fluently.

Gabriela 27:30
I would like to add something, sorry, Ana, which is I think it’s important is that something, that Carlos mentioned, it was not the first time we had worked together, we have a very, very important background in many different ways together. I mean, it’s been, Carlos, Jose, the five of us, we have a big history behind. And in fact, we all know our virtues and our big, big defects. So that had also, going back to the trust issue that Carlos mentioned, the confidence that we have is, we had learned to let go a lot, and that is something we were maybe not used to, or maybe in our private work is, really different, talking about that those differences, that you usually don’t want to let things go and you want to take care of everything. And in this case, we need to start from the very best, main point, which is we’re doing public work. If you don’t let the public work be and understand that what you’re placing there is something that would be transformed and would change, if you didn’t start from that, we would be already in a missed starting point, you see. So we need to start from that. And to understand that process, that we need to create very powerful, important values that, I think, and I always have said our collective work is one work. It’s just like, it’s something that we had been evolving. But the principles are the same, you know, and we can talk about each different project and the values of each different project. But they all share like a main ground, a floor, which was the only thing we could do because of the time, because of how you were usually in a project for five years, and in this case, for these three years, we had done 35 projects. So at the end, it’s how you keep evolving that.

Ana 29:43
I was going to ask you a few more things about the collective office and its mechanisms, but maybe it’s useful to go where you just went, Gabriela, which is the way in which values, collective values, translate into architectural decisions. So you offer us words like cosmic, logic, efficiency, economy in the name, and I’m curious if you can talk about the way that these values, or what they mean for your treatment of the site, material, labor, and the users.

Carlos 30:19
So the name, started like a joke, almost. We were all making this contest of the market. And one of the things we needed to do was to put code on the slide…

Gabriela 30:44
The board.

Carlos 30:45
the boards.

Ana 30:46
On the entry?

Carlos 30:47
Mhm. And they asked us to put one letter and three numbers. We were like, wondering about the name. And Eric was talking about Eladio Dieste and Felix Candela all the time, because we were trying to do something very efficient and very, I don’t know, constructed in different times. And he said, well, Eladio Dieste used to say that architecture should be efficient, logical, economical, but economy in a Cosmical way. And Gabriela said, oh, we need to make that our name, the C of cosmic, and the logic, and the double three, it was almost like a joke. But I think it resumes a lot, the values we have in common, to think always in that direction, because we care about the logical, and the efficiency of something and the economical, but I think the cosmic worth, it is sometimes the need, it’s not a very straight, I mean, some are, I don’t know how to say it, the need could be also a beauty or another necessity of the human being.

Ana 32:18
This is why I’m asking how these values, where do we look for them in the, or how do we see them in the treatment of the site, the materials you use, the way you imagine labor?

Carlos 32:31
In the construction, we seek it all the time, and we try to make always a relationship with a site and the people and the culture involved. And I think there’s always a possibility to engage that kind of values, when you work with that kind of topics, you’re always like, appealing not only to the most logical and practical things to resolve, but you’re appealing also to another more metaphysical or another more of, in this kind, or in this world, magical or cosmical because you’re seeking like a poetry spirit or something that is related with a inner sickness of the human.

Gabriela 33:20
Hahahaha, I think I can add to that. I just, I mean, being very practical, we found out all those two values, which Carlos is talking about, which are like the metaphysical cosmic, ones that we pursue in architecture, which in this case, to understand how to develop these public buildings. We had the strategies and I think that strategy has constructed most of our work as Colectivo, you know, like, it started understanding, Okay, we have two places, we have a land that floods, what do we do, we have a machine, move earth, and that is a very pre-Hispanic way of acting and transforming territory with a minimum sources. The second one, we need to cover big shapes, and small ones. What do we do? How’s the lowest and the minimum size of the beam to have that? Could it be a big horizontal beam? No! No way, that is impossible. It needs to, it needs to carry water? No, it is gonna be very expensive. It’s a big effort of the momentum, you know? So what do we need to do? We need to work with geometry. So geometry is a big, big friend of our work and that’s why Eric is like the best ally and we call him our Master, you know, because he has other eyes and we have maybe the eyes of the space and but he has like a geometrical way of working with compression, tension.

And of course, we have, like, these ideas, but he’s always saying no, it’s too small, to come on, we’re always struggling, going back and forth. But it’s geometry at the end. And then the last one, which I think is like, I think two last ones, which is vernacular values, local values, which have been forgotten in public work, because they are poor, or because they are nonsense, or because we need to do modernity, which is concrete. That is one, and the other one, which is doing something that we were not asked to do. And that is something that it happens, especially with, what the example that Carlos was doing on the Eco-parque, you know, like, they asked you to develop something. But then when you arrived, when you understand the site, when you talk to the local people, when you understand that many things around are happening, like migration, floods, not having water on the site, who’s gonna take care of having a social infrastructure? A cultural center, if they don’t have water in their houses, you know, it’s like, but you need to take a look around. And that is something that I think had, I don’t know, had flood that energy, and then when we place all those things together, I can say, every and each of these of our project attaches and targets those issues in the same way, with different ways, of course, but that is the same strategy. I don’t know if I’m missing one, Jose or Carlos. But I think…

Jose 36:45
So adding to what Gabriela just said, well, the first one is very important to stress, the topographic work with a public space, because it’s not only working with subtle movements of land to generate places to sit, to generate a subject, to generate flow, to generate accessibility, from the public to the private, this continuous space from, like, when you’re outside in a square, in a plaza and you go into a public building, you’re still outside, but then that breaking the boundaries between interior and exterior is something very important in our work, because we believe that public space has to be public, like all the way through to the very interior of the building, until of course, you need some privacy, but we work a lot with that layering of space. And also probably stressing what the mix of the vernacular with geometrical comes into a blend that we believe is very strong for public work, because in a way, we’re trying to shift or change the material paradigm, because public construction for governments usually are like, they have to last for 100 years. So it has to be concrete and steel. But then when you convince them to work with local artisans, the bamboo, the coconut tree, the palm tree, the, like the palapa, no, the traditional palm tree leaf? Well, you’re starting to make changes that go back in roots with public constructions. So we strongly believe in those blends, and of course, listening to people, we have come to realize that the process is very, very organic, until the key of the building is submitted. As a team, we know that many of the things we imagine we thought sometimes are totally changed during the process of construction, because you always have to be listening to the circumstances. So I would say that we try to be listeners.

Carlos 38:56
Yeah, so I wanted to say that, what Jose was saying it’s probably the most hard part of our collective work, because it’s always among all these rush hour and delivery times. And one of the things we truly believe is to always put the weight on the decisions, I mean, to be aware of the weight of every single decision that applies to our team decisions, but all as well, to the decisions in the works. And sometimes to do that is to provoke an empty space or to provoke a silence to be able to be aware of that kind of, I don’t know, signs. For instance, in Nacajuca, we’re always trying to promote these kinds of vernacular and local materials because they have a lot of wisdom and knowledge within, but for instance, in Nacajuca, we put a new specification for the wood because we wanted to promote wooden structures for the ecological theme. And they told us, but this is not possible because of the times. And so we try to provoke this empty space or silence. And to force a little bit the decision. At the end, they say, Well, that’s a possibility to use these kinds of woods, that it’s local, and it’s better because it’s more flexible. And that kind of thing doesn’t happen if you, just like, very stressed and try to solve the things in the most rapid way. So sometimes to step out and try to make this void. It’s the most difficult part of our colectivo.

Ana 40:59
In the conversation itself, you mean?

Gabriela 41:02

Ana 41:03
In the conversation with SEDATU?

Carlos 41:06
Yeah, well, but I think in the decisions, also of the things we are working, I mean, when we are designing an idea, a concept, we’re always like making circles. And sometimes we need to step away from the canvas a little bit, and try to listen and to be aware of something that the site or the culture, or the client, or your partner is trying to say no? Because it’s always very, in a rush.

Ana 41:39
I have a whole lot of questions still. So…

Gabriela 41:50
Go go go go!

Ana 41:52
Maybe this one, maybe this one sort of relates to some of the things that you’ve been saying, but your work together is characterized, in my opinion, by beautiful, repetitive elements or by powerful single section extrusions. And all of the major works with the exception of that sort of boardwalk or the park have been roofs. And I want to talk about, or have you articulate, what kind of element in architecture is Roof for you?

Gabriela 42:27
Wow, Ana!.

Jose 42:29
That is a good question.

Gabriela 42:32
We don’t understand! we don’t understand what a roof means anymore. We have deconstructed the face of roofs because the only roofs that we had done till now are places to walk over. Or our places which are paths. Were designing now white paths. And that’s our buildings, sand based, So just white paths of white sand to work through, and our ceilings are not ceilings anymore.

Ana 43:09
I’m interested in the ground too.

Gabriela 43:11
Yeah, I know. I mean, our ceilings are not ceilings anymore. We had, they’re landscape, they’re facades, mainly, they are infrastructure, because they are meant to harvest water, or to move water in a specific way or to move light. And I wanted… I mean, I love your question. And I don’t want to move on, maybe Jose can face more that beautiful question of yours. But I just want to say that, we are facing a very important moment in architecture now in our country. Because till now all the public work that we had faced, had air conditioning that’s failing, because there’s no money to have it work, to keep it working. This modernity that we had faced which has humidity all over because it rained so much and there’s not enough money for maintenance. And at the end, I think our ceilings, our movements of earth, and all of that had become all of these, you know, paths, infrastructure, sites, sightseeing, ports, to see, they don’t want to be ceilings, or maybe we don’t want to understand that word ceilings anymore the way we used to.

Jose 44:40
Yeah, I think roofs are environmental tools. They are cosmic tools. They are tools, symbolic tools, cultural tools. And we have seen it and explored with them in many ways in that direction. And yeah, adding on the environmental quality of, of our work, I think that’s the most important probably reason or asset behind many of the shapes or architecture we have designed because we are aware of the strong impact architecture has in an environment. So all these lightweight structures are very low impact insects that arrive to these places, seek to leave, like, not a great trace. And sometimes they become, as Gabriela says, like, like a strong pathway. So the building is underneath, but they’re part of the landscape. So it’s all, I think we’re dealing with many qualities of architecture that we’re all very compelled by. And every time we come to a site, we just, we feel inspired by it. So it’s never stop. It’s non-stop, this.

Gabriela 46:03
I think, also, Eric had suggest us many things, you know, many paths because, I mean, we’re never happy with the final end, I remember when we were designing San Blas, we came to the idea that oh, San Blas is a port. So we had seen a lot of beautiful ships of wood. And this was like the image of the very important part of San Blas. So the memory starts there. And we were thinking, and as I was saying, we were dealing with this idea of, let’s, let’s attach these tensors. And do these, we call it Viacable in Spanish, which is like this beam that works in compression and in tension at the same time. And we work with the idea of working with, with wood ships, and placing a big wood element. And we were saying, Eric, we need a wood structure there. And Eric was like, You’re crazy. We’re not gonna do it. And of course, he is a partner in crime and the best one, because he took us there, you know, like, he helped us and we match our ideas in a way. And suddenly, the first answer is like knives over you. I remember, I don’t know, if you remember, guys, these knives, like…

Jose 47:24
Very aggressive structure.

Gabriela 47:25
Itching your head, very aggressive, because of the tensor and that, and it’s a very subtle, but at the very time, a very quick work, Eric works in models, in physical models. So he sends us all of them, and we are taking these decisions. So I think every, every ceiling is also a provocation. I need to say that because it’s not only an answer, it wants to become a provocation, for, a specific provocation for the site. For the wills, for the motions of the wind, many things happening around.

Carlos 48:06
In a way it’s always like a statement, in the first project we developed, Eric came to us with the idea that we need to build in two times at the same time, the masonry and prefabricated structures in other site, and we are always struggling with the regulations. Seismic regulations and wind regulations. And it is a pity because in Mexico, we tend to increase the amount of protection, security in every single earthquake we live, it’s always increasing, not like in Japanese architecture or Chinese that they’re working with articulation or something like that. We’re increasing all the time. And when Eric came with this really thin structure, but related with the idea of geometry, and the collective effort of every single beam, and every single column, we were like, wow, this is, this is saying something about the structure, but it’s also saying something that we wanted to say about the rain harvesting, and it’s putting the material in front of you. So we started to understand that it is always an opportunity to say something or even sometimes to remain, or try to avoid another thing. I mean, it’s always like a posture.

Ana 49:49
More questions, so this one is related and you’ve already begun answering it, but the ground in your projects is different, but also always formally activated, and the roof, I would say, is always in the service of the ground. So let’s talk about the ground. What does the ground do?

Carlos 50:09
Of course, well Gabriela said something in advance, And I think it’s very related with our tradition of pre-hispanic architecture. And the confirmation of the territory with tiny actions. For us it’s always like the opportunity to develop something with less effort in probably the most symbolic or most, the project who speaks better of this theme is Tamulte, which we were asked to develop each part of, a mound of Earth, the plot was very large, and we had this very small amount of money. So in that case, we were working in Tabasco, which is in a very extreme weather circumstance, with flooding and other things that kind of happen, very common in the next years. And that kind of actions allow us to, yeah, to work with that. Future Events.

Ana 51:17
Future environmental events?

Jose 51:19
Yeah, maybe just to complement that idea. I mean, of course, in Tamulte, as Carlos expresses, all the project was to move land, to move the ground to make topography, to avoid the fields, the soccer field, the baseball field to flood with slight topography changes. But I would also like to probably talk about the underground layer that we deal a lot with, that sometimes you can’t see. And that is sometimes culturally and socially and politically difficult, because how are you going to submit a construction that you can’t see the construction and that is underground. For me the best example that, where we took a decision in this way, and that has a lot to do with the ground level is in the Bacalar square, the plaza Bacalar. Where, as in many towns in Mexico, they call them magical towns, because, it’s a name they give them to draw tourism in. And of course you have this background of some Colonial Spanish constructions, and they try to make it look pretty so that people come. But we’re saying like, come on, Bacalar has a strong ecological problem, let’s make it an ecological statement here. So all the work that we made on the Square was a series of filters of gravel and vegetation, that make the water, the sewer water that comes out when you have like, floods goes into the lagoon. So if you have more wetlands in the border, and in the town that catch the sewer water, then you’ll be able to clean more, if everyone did this along the shore of the lagoon, then we’d be protecting more of the lagoon, we took that image of the magical town away. And we kind of convinced the federal authorities of course, and convincing the local authorities was more difficult. But to make this series of wetlands, so many people don’t see that, but it’s very important. And it’s also part of our work. So it’s not only the ground needs, the underground and the work with the water and the mixture of the water in the ground. And it’s very interesting.

Gabriela 53:37
And I think it has to do also with something that we, had that, and we had taken the decision because the other day someone asked me, you hate immediacy, no? Like taking immediate, like immediate decisions and all of that, and you’re always blaming that. And what you’re doing here is being, like, being part of that, of the very immediate answers. And I said no, I think, for example, when we started all these projects, we started our research from another background, which is not necessarily urban space, or architecture, or the means that we know. We start maybe from history, memory. Other times, for example, working in Bacalar was working with a biologist, which, she was our leader and she was like the one that gave us mental health to say, okay, we can work and decide because at the first moment, we didn’t want to do anything, or every action, like, the Tamulte stuff had to do with a guy that we’ve worked with, that, he had this app to see how the world is gonna evolve with this climate change. And so I think we had been surrounded by very particular voices, and that has taken us away from this idea of building. And I think this has to do with something we had to ask ourselves that, What does architecture, going back to, what does public architecture means in the 21st century in this scale, in these small towns, for us is, what does architecture mean in this very chaotic world we had inherited and we had created and we are accomplices of. What do we need to do?

Ana 55:33
Let me ask you that question, now, back. So you mentioned terms like public infrastructure, appropriation, and there’s certainly formality and form to every intervention that you have, that I’ve seen to your name, right. But let’s talk about how you see the role of architecture and by extension of an architect, of the architects, in the various vulnerable sites in which you’ve been operating.

Gabriela 55:58
We are not sure Ana!

Carlos 55:59
Yeah we are not sure haha.

Gabriela 56:00
we are sure, because we are always working so quick, and even though we’re trying to work with the communities and socialize the project and be there and to hear all the voices and to understand all the issues and working all these very different hands that we have. It is very tough. You know, like, in San Blas, I remember, we were designing these, and we were thinking, Oh, yes, we want a playground, like with waves and shapes evoking that. And we have all, most of us have small kids. So we love this idea of understanding them. And suddenly, when we can finish the project, the skaters came and said, You did a very bad, terrible skatepark! And we said, that was not a skate park, you know? but we’re dealing with the images that people have in their minds of what things mean, or has happened before. So we’re fighting a bit over that. So it’s a very difficult role. Because I remember myself crying, again, I’m saying, Ah, we forget, we forgot the skaters! And at the same time, saying, but well this is beautiful, at the same time, you go and see the kids moving, going up and down, playing, rolling. And having it with a different purpose, with the purpose that we were imagining, because they were dying, if not. The skaters, it’s very tough.

Ana 57:37
I’m hearing playground that works as public infrastructure,

Gabriela 57:40
it’s a playground.

Ana 57:40
But sort of, you know, there’s a certain way in which these projects read, and I feel like this is not something that you are unsure of, they don’t feel unsure, the projects. When I, when one looks at them from afar, at least in images, they seem very, very clear about what they are accomplishing and delivering to these different sites. So I’m imagining that this comes with a kind of definition of what you think architecture ought to do, or does in these contexts.

Jose 58:16
Yeah, of course, we have a strong belief and faith in architecture as a social agent, social changer, right? Because we know how the before and after of a public space, regardless if it’s our project, or maybe another good project, or like when you come to these sites before they are improved. Well, of course, you get to see like, this power of Architecture and public space. But the complexity comes in how people use and adapt the space and how they digest this new, powerful change in their community. So even though we have made this strong effort, as Gabriela says, of being always listening, and always grasping these needs, and putting them in the project, regardless, if we have already submitted the project, we think, or I think that as a whole system, this goes way beyond architecture, this goes to the study of the site in that SEDATU does because we receive this study of the site and we go to the site once or twice, but I think there’s a lot of work there, of anthropological work that needs to be done in advance that probably for the next set of projects that hopefully might come or we don’t know, but for the next generation of public projects, I believe there has to be a stronger work with community beforehand. I would say the most successful of our projects, not in terms of architecture, but in terms of how the community has used them are the result of a strong community involvement in in the project, like in Tapachula, station, and even Tapachula market, which was very difficult because it took two years to open, now starting to flow. But the voices of the community have been taken into account. So I think that those processes that go sometimes beyond what we are hired for are the most important ones, are the ones that need to be looked into a little more as a system between SEDATU, the federal government, the community, the architect, I think that’s the most complex part of our work.

Gabriela 1:00:38
But I do think we had suggested to, we had suggested to change programs, even though SEDATU at the one of the eco-parque. We said, We are not going to do a building here. And, that is something that I think we took a risk. I remember the moment where we talked to our client, we are proposing an observatory of the mangrove, the lagoon and the stars. And he told us, Oh, you’re so romantic, but at the end, he knew, and now you see that eco-parque, we got some pictures, because we think, we don’t, we don’t need to leave them like that. We want to come back and see how they’re living to understand, because we know, we’re gonna learn from that. And now the eco-parque is filled with people, you know, because we think we did a very democratic scope. That was what we achieved, to do the less, but the less that we did was to place a dock for the community that they didn’t have before. Because the Bacalar lagoon is for private interests, because it is owned by the hotels, and you need to pay a lot of money behind that. And I think those actions for us are the ones that push us, you know, like, Let’s do intensity, like, let’s place 100 trees, because they’re taking all the precious wood of those trees, or in in these land lets to a wetland to clean the water of the river. I mean, those actions is, now we asked ourselves, what does architecture mean? I mean, for ourselves, it has been a big transit of understanding that.

Carlos 1:02:32
As well, we believe that there’s always another road to take. And it’s probably not the best decision we made at some point. But for example, when we made a project for a clinic in a very small town, well, it’s Ayaxoutla Morelos, we finish the project or very important part of the project. And then because it was a town of 500 people or something like that, very small town, and they don’t have a good clinic, they say, we just can feel sick until Monday at 2pm because there’s no doctor, there’s no good clinic. And we made this project for the clinic. And then when we spoke with the doctors, because it’s not only SEDATU, but in this case, it was related with the Mexican Institute of Health, and we need to present the project to a bunch of doctors who said, This is the worst clinic I’ve ever seen. It was like, come on, it can’t be that bad! And they say no, it’s terrible. And we said, well, we’re not doctors, but we have been patients. And I think this is good because you’re facing a garden. And no, you can’t put the garden because all the pollen of the flowers is gonna… But then you can put another level here to see the… Nonono you need to put a box with air conditioner because it’s more safe. And it was like a total failure. And in that case, we said, well, let’s throw in the towel. You’re not having your clinic. Because we made a project but we were like struggling trying to explain that why that was good. But that was very close.

Ana 1:03:15
No exceptions.

Carlos 1:04:18
Yeah, exactly. So then we thought well, if we don’t have the flexibility to propose another clinic maybe, related with ours but different, maybe it’s not our, our best idea of of this building, but it’s going to be much better for this town to have it and probably the project will be canceled if now in this precise moment, we decide to step away. And it was, that kind of difficult decision, okay, but let’s do it, but let’s try our best, but this is not gonna function as we plan. But in that case goes ahead and probably will be very, very used by the community.

Jose 1:05:22
It went forward. And the project is now now used. So that’s what I meant when I said that we, were more used to turn conditions around than saying no. In Mexico we have a saying or at least like if you ask someone, Hey, do you know how to do this job? Most Mexicans will say yes. Even though, because there’s this drive for work, right? There’s this resilience, there’s this, we always say Yeah, well, I’ve never made it but fake it till you make it right? But there are many examples of that sort where we just turn commissions around.

Ana 1:06:21
More questions! So I borrowed fast track from your own description to characterize the nature of some of this work. But I’m interested in various ways that you think about temporalities of the work. On one end, while I’m also very curious about SEDATU, so, and when I think, when I say temporalities, I’m imagining you considering the kind of, the timelines of use, the timelines of materials that you’re involving, and as well as the kind of fast track nature of the construction of these projects. So I thought that it would be useful to talk about what it means to work for this agency. And my instinct is that the question of time and SEDATU are somehow consequentially related. There is a kind of a timeline of fast construction, but also timeline of environmental lifespans of these buildings, and of their use, that are somehow connected in a way that would be useful for all of us to get a sense of.

Gabriela 1:07:30
I would like to start saying, talking about time, because that is a big question that a lot of the authorities we had worked with had asked us. And it is very interesting, Ana, but time is very relative in some conditions, for example, in terms of, when we arrived to Calakmul, and this is very interesting. In Calakmul, there were three buildings done with concrete, white, air conditioning, and buildings to survive. You know, like, these buildings that could stand everything, because they were done with modernity. The rest of the houses were made of wood, and steel frame, like very simple, small houses, that for sure, maybe a hurricane, or a big rain could take off. But what happened is that these three big structures, which were the main museum, there was a site Museum, the market and the Municipal Palace. There, they were all kind of abandoned, you know, like, they were abandoned, because it was impossible to inhabit the museum because it had floods everywhere, like, aguateras, I don’t know how to say, but water running all over the building, because it was with a ceiling that never had like, the imper thing for the rain, then the air conditioning didn’t work, and there was no money to repair it. So it was unbearable to be inside. So the big question we ask ourselves is what this time means, you know, like, time to last like a rui? Or to be there without any purpose. Time to be like these houses that they need to refurbish every maybe seven months, but they have the local materials, they give hand labor to the people, local people, and it’s a material that you have them. So it is interesting to ask ourselves, what does time mean in this world we live in right now. Now, I think when you see these communities, for us, the main issue was, let’s work with wood and maybe create this steel frame that is, that will support maybe the main forces of a hurricane or of a rain but then, if it rains or we have, we will have the clay, we will have the wood. And maybe if it gets bad we can, they can work and do it in the seven next years and replace it. But it will, it will last in the amount of time that maybe the money you invest makes sense, and not the one that doing these type of buildings, of modern buildings at the end will die, because to take them off means to throw them down. And to start from zero. I think that there is from where we start. And we always say in Mexico City, the local material we have is the gravel, the gravel, because we have earthquakes, and we have gravel all the time. So we can build with that. And it’s our local materials. We don’t have palm, we don’t have bamboo. But on the sites that we have, for the price that you do, we need to ask that, and we know how all, how buildings in the government instances work without any money, without any budget. And let’s think do we want to invest in painting in white something, or we want to invest it given labor hand to a community of producers of bamboo for a second stage of the building?

Jose 1:11:24
Yeah, I would like to probably answer your question, Ana, both of your questions about temporality and SEDATU in one single answer, because I believe luckily, SEDATU, and by saying SEDATU, I would talk about Roman Beyer, the head of SEDATU who has been our our client, our counterpart in all these projects, I would say, that our projects would not have been possible if we hadn’t had this dialogue with our counterpart or client that is open to make decisions regarding materiality and temporality in a site specific way. So, of course, it has been different in many projects. And, of course, the government always says, let’s try to make this project so that it will last 50 years or 100 years, even though we know climate change is arriving in so many critical situations throughout the country. So having this situation, we have been able to take that decision to different places, like the Bacalar eco-parque or right now we’re working in Tulum also at a national park. So a lot of the materials were pushing to work with that are local are not, are more ephemeral than of course, if you work with like, a tile or some other kind of roof. But at the same time, they’re way more generous environmentally, with a footprint and also inside for the comfort within the building. So I would just like to say that we are lucky that there are no strict guidelines saying that everything has to be this way or that way. It’s always open for a conversation that has to do with the site and the quality of the project there.

Carlos 1:13:24
And I would like to add that, in these cases of low maintenance or zero maintenance, there’s always a component of trying to involve the community not just for the labor, and to raise the economical situation of every community, but also to try to involve the community in the construction of the building itself. So that generates like a hope, at the end. Because they’re going to feel in a way more commitment with a building that, if it’s constructed by other hands, by other materials and with low maintenance and or zero maintenance. There’s no material that can last. So if you choose a material, that it’s very related with the people there, it’s probably it will be last more.

Ana 1:14:24
It has a better chance.

Carlos 1:14:25
Yeah Exactly. Thank you.

Ana 1:14:26
Let me zoom out back to the kind of the logics of the office for the last couple of questions. I know we’ve been going for a long time, but that’s also having three voices on this. So this is, you know, for me, it’s interesting as long as you can stay. So do you have any procedures in place by which you expose this collective office, or your respective offices, to the realities of running the office and do you invite them to think collective about the commissions that you will take and maybe the specific projects, will and will not take?

Carlos 1:15:05
Well, it is a very good question, Ana, because depends in every project and we have asked for different situations, but our team and the way they work, it’s the main cause that we are still alive at this point, because they’re just an incredible team that we have been formed, like in community we, when Gabriela said we started in the pandemia, the pandemic and the beginning we were all in zoom meetings, the whole group began to, how do you say, decantar…

Ana 1:15:49

Carlos 1:15:50
I mean, we have been working as a group in different scales and numbers and situation with a lot of people. And at the end, the ones who remains are, we think, the most incredible guys and girls who are always proposing incredible inputs for the five of us. Sometimes they actually can see things more sharply than anyone here. So yeah, for us, it’s important to always trying to make this whole group involved. We are always like working in our houses, then in our offices, then when we have the necessity to bring the whole group together to discuss one thing, we make a reunion, but it is always very flexible, very flexible system.

Gabriela 1:16:45
I just want to say that they are all involved, because they had a commitment with what they are doing, and I think that is a big strength for us not to say no, you know, because it’s not only that democratic voice that Carlos mentioned, when at least three of us say yes, we need to do this. It’s also the strength of a very important teamwork that we have developed. And went when we felt Oh, no, there is no chance they say, Yeah, let’s do it. Or, for example, we are not paid the supervision on site, we’re barely paid the project. So, but we already understand in the economics world, which is a big issue, you need to know, like, we don’t ask for budgets for our specialists or like that, we just say we have this, do want to work it? And as Jose was saying that these words, in Spanish, which would I don’t know if it was Jose or Carlos, it is like, it’s the paquete, you know, it’s like the whole package, and you need to consider, you can work with that, this is the money we have. And in our team it’s pretty much the same. And what we have is in the economical, we had designed a strategy again, so we can have enough money to follow up the construction and to be on site, which is something that for public work in Mexico is, it’s impossible to think about that. And we can manage that. And it has been a very important part of our results. I think. And, and we have involved in that our team. Right now, we have a couple of, now one of our partners is going to live to the last of our projects. And we have two architects living on the site. And they are like, you know, we believe in what we’re doing. And I think that’s the main idea. If not, we work so much, so many hours, if you don’t believe in what you’re doing or accomplishing, it would be very tough, I think.

Ana 1:16:53
I think we can stop there. So, Colectivo C733, Thank you for talking to me today.

Carlos 1:19:09
Thanks to you.

Ana 1:19:10
And listeners, Thank you for listening to this episode of I Would Prefer Not To. Thank you Ana, thank you Julian.

Jose 1:19:18
Thank you so much.