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Q&A: Frida Escobedo

Words:
Isabelle Priest

The designer of this year’s Serpentine Pavilion, which opens on 15 June, explains why architects learn to build fast in Mexico City

Frida Escobedo: 'Before I knew it, I'd been practising for seven years.'
Frida Escobedo: 'Before I knew it, I'd been practising for seven years.' Credit: Ana Hop

Tell us about Mexico’s architectural spirit

It is a centralised country but there are many voices. A new architecture is emerging though that is raw and primitive.

What do you mean by primitive?

It might not be the best word, but in the sense of referencing the past; certain geometries and materiality. Mexico City is in a constant state of unfinish. Architects can’t rely on expensive materials.

Is the new architecture brought about by social change?

Yes. The emphasis is on doing more with less and to ensure buildings age well. It is about taking responsibility for public money, not something that usually happens in Mexico. Here the political context is very fluid. Architects need to build quickly because changes of administration cause live projects to stop. Oaxaca Cultural Centre is an example of that strategy – simple form, one material, completed on time.

Tell us about you

I didn’t have a relationship with architecture before my studies, I always thought I would use it to move into design. The practice started out through a collaboration with Alejandro Alarcón, who got a commission to extend his mother’s house, then his grandmother’s and a friend’s. Before I knew it, I’d been practising for seven years. You need to move in different ways to in Europe. I've never worked in another practice and you learn early on that the full spectrum of architecture includes research.

Explain your Serpentine Pavilion design

Pavilions are a condensed form of experience. The idea of it being in the park and then sold was an interesting problem. Hence the design is not materially contextual – roof tiles are universal. Another aspect was the idea of a public space within a public space, like a Russian doll. The courtyard concept came from Mexico.

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Why do Mexicans like courtyards?

Mexicans have a complex relationship with public persona – a duality. They are warm and social but also closed. Families are tightknit and people depend on their family ties. The courtyard is introspective and at heart of the intimate space. I recommend reading The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz to understand the Mexican psyche better.

What else you are working on?

We are very busy, with nine people working on 13 projects, including hotels, housing and a cabin. We are also doing a research project about contemporary ruin and a sculpture for the Jardin des plantes d’Orléans, France.

What would you like to work on next?

I’m happy with the scale of the office but I like public space projects like those we have in San Francisco and Miami. You have to guess whether they will be successful, but when finished, you can see how people move around for yourself.

What distinguishes your architecture?

If anything, we don’t treat art, design and architecture as different things – they are all spatial practices.


 

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