We are extremely glad that you have taken the time to give this interview to AGENCIA, we know that you are really busy, both Alfonso and are very interested in talking to you about what you do. Let us get into it right away, the first question has to do with what we were talking about before the interview, why do you like technology and especially fabrication?
Well, it all started in college, I was very influenced by Zaha Hadid and all these architects that 5 or 10 years ago were doing something new, I was really interested at first on the aesthetic aspect, not on the code or algorithms. I wanted to enter this world and start designing like this, but I did it in a very superficial way. Then I worked at Michel Rojkind’s office for a year and there I began to see the process in a more thorough way, how the work is done work on real projects with different objectives. Later, I became even more interested because I did an "internship" at MAD Architects in Beijing, China. I realize that they no longer used AutoCAD, everything was in Grasshopper and other types of software that in Mexico are not very common. The reality is totally different in Mexico as we have talked about it, the tools are different the as well as the architectural language.
I started to get into it more and more, however I was more into the digital part, specifically into digital fabrication. However, in the last three years I began to research more about where these technologies are going, not so much just to learn a software, not only for the technical aspect, which is what almost everyone does, they get into Grasshopper and that’s it. Instead, I decided to do it in a more complete and profound way.
I said to myself: I like this, but I want to know, what is it for? Where is it going? What is the path and what is its objective? Then the first thing I did was to get into the Creative Code for Design at the Centro Diseño, Film and Television University in Mexico City to learn about this subject, I also started to buy books related to the topic and started reading about different people and their practice like Neri Oxman, Philippe Block and the relationship with materials everything referring to carbon fiber structures, light structures, and I staredt to see their application, not only the code, but about this new language. I was fascinated by it, and to top it off, I read a book "The Robotic Touch" written by Gramazio Kohler, he talks about where robotics is going and all these technologies, which served me as an introduction to all the digital fabrication part aimed at the process automation. What is the advantage of automating a process? Beyond costs, the idea of optimizing a solution.
I decided to start looking into different master's programs such as MIT, Harvard, UCL, ETH Zurich, and many others, but each program has a different character and objective, there are programs that are incredibly involved in building systems, innovation in manufacturing, assembly, and there are others that are a little closer as approach to mobility. This search was the beginning of my development within technology.
Within fabrication, we can say there are two schools: one of higher technical level, "high tech", like robotics-assisted fabrication and construction. On the other hand, there is a group that seeks for a "low tech" fabrication with a more critical aspect about that level of "high tech" fabrication. These seek a level of democratization of the processes and apply them in a different way, that is, that the process is not in a higher level, but it is much more focused on the problem of the reality of the context, such as the housing problem. ---How do you see this dichotomy? In a personal sense, what will you do in your practice when you return to Mexico? How do you see that relationship between high fidelity and low fidelity?
I think both are super valid, each one of them responds to a different manifesto and context. I think that's the key to understanding this and being sensitive to the context, this is what Fabio Gramazio, Mattias Kohler, Philippe Block and Benjamin Dillenburger want to communicate to the market. They are different methodologies, but if we look at them thoroughly, they all come from the same root, looking for the most optimal solutions for design and construction. All this interests me a lot, in 2019 I won a scholarship for the Atelier of Norman Foster Foundation and right there I had the opportunity to be tutored by Manuel Jiménez García and Xavier De Kestelier among other characters from the world of technology such as Archim Menges, Claudia Pasquero, etc.., everything they say is totally true, that is, the fundamentals of which they talk about, how automation will reach the highest level to replace the workforce, but that will also be suitable for almost the entire population in the near future. On the other hand, we have the argument that "high tech technologies" are not necessary to create autonomous languages. The "high Tech" technologies have all the tools and mediums, I think both are incredible, because from these extremes all the intermediate possibilities arise, however, both are innovating our construction systems only with different tools.
Each one within its level of technology can perform up to a certain level of detail which is what Benjamin Dillenburger is working on, Digital Building Technologies at ETH Zurich, this is to go beyond technologies, they thoroughly study the subdivision, the important thing is the power of optimization, from making lighter slabs, lighter materials, with the use of certain codes and on the other hand and study optimization using geometry.
Return to Mexico is going to be my goal, I am currently in Spain just for a while, learning to be more sensitive with the Mexican reality, sensitive to the market, to the economy. Curiously enough, when I was doing my thesis, I did some interviews with great Mexican architects, and I asked them if they were interested in using digital fabrication most of them answered no, which I did not expect. What are the processes you need, what kind of knowledge is required in Mexico? Perhaps this applies to the engineering market, but not in architecture. It is not common to see programmers in architecture, another important thing is that the Mexican labor is very cheap and of very good quality. So why do you want a robot if you have people who can do things to you very well.
This is where Molly Claypool's message in her book Robotic Building: Architecture in the Age of Automation comes handy, it is not about replacing the human being, but about creating more equitable and inclusive frameworks for the production of design.
I agree. I see that you have had some collaborations with Manuel Jiménez García. How important are the collaborations for you?
I love them! However, there are very few architects with whom I can really collaborate. I like it because you learn more, I love to get together with people who know more than me, who can give me something new, but above all it is interesting to try to work with people who are completely different than me.
Sometimes I like to be collaborating on projects with people who are not architects, that is, I have a foundation, I created it because for me altruism and social issues are especially important. I love it because I am collaborating with a trader, a politician, a lawyer, etc. In this way I learn about other types of perspectives,you also begin to see how other people think. For example, in projects with a politician, or with a fashion designer, you realize that their interests are totally different. I got a master's degree in CENTRO in Mexico City which is a design college focusing on visual communication. I loved it because we were two architects and the rest were media graphic designers, textile designers. It is very much like there are other codes to solve other types of problems on another scale and with a different point of view.
The truth is that every day I learn more, and in the future, I would like to continue growing and collaborating. I do not think that architecture can be done alone, it is something that I neither do alone nor based on traditional hierarchies. Right now, I am working with Anton Garcia-Abril and Debora Mesa at Ensamble Studio, and I love it. I have not been there long, but I feel like I have been there for years, because for them, all of us working there are equally important and we all need to be aware of everything, this gives you the importance of responsibility. No matter who takes the credits, just try to get the best, which is not something simple because these professions are very self-centered, for all these reasons it is important to collaborate in a horizontal system.
In reference to this topic about interdisciplinary collaboration and interdisciplinary work. Do you think that this contributes to the expansion of the architect's agency both culturally and professionally?
Sure, completely. I consider that architecture is the art of creating experiences. It encompasses both making city and making furniture, we are people who must be interconnected. It is something fundamental because making a city is something extremely complex. You must understand society, its mobility, its psychology, to understand and improve spaces, when you manage to do this, you feel different. When we only find ourselves in a circle of only residential architects you will not understand your context better.
I also believe in diversity, I have been in many places, I have lived in 4 different countries, very radical ones, such as Mexico, Switzerland, China and now I am living in Spain. Some of these places I loved others not so much, but even those I did not like, I learned a lot because you see another culture, another language. Even in architecture, in each place they use different softwares, other workflows. This is super important for us as architects because we are a truly diverse discipline. So, our practice is quite complex because we have so many flavors and colors, that is, it is very difficult to specialize.
Through my professional experiences and even since I started college, I began to see that there were three fields in architecture. First the creative part i.e., design. Second part is reality, what could be built. Third part is business, which is also important. Because who are you going to design for? who are you build for? and you have to give a price to things. However, on the one hand, I feel that those who do the business feel superior, because they handle the money and bring customers, those who build feel superior, because they know the tools. But also, those who design feel superior because they make a difference, those are the ones in the media, in the magazines. I think that none is more or less important, it should be a horizontal model.
In fact, there are many subspecialties that are forgotten or that are considered outside of architecture like marketing. I worked for Michel Rojkind as director of communication, for him this is a part of architecture. You do not have to build to be an architect, you can be a designer, an architectural photographer, make models, an urban planner, or do visualization. But if you want to do everything from renderings, the branding, the design, the structure this is too much, you must know how to do it to be able to delegate the work, it is always better to collaborate, that’s where the magic comes from.
Speaking of academia, this is one of the issues we have addressed at AGENCIA, something that really concerns us. We have thoroughly reviewed the curricula of almost all architecture schools in Mexico, in doing so you realize that there is a big problem as to what is considered technology. Basically, in most of the programs, technology is considered only what belongs to construction technology, not digital technology. The definition of technology is much broader including digital technology. I think this is where all the problems about the technological backwardness in Mexico come from. There is no digital support for the design studio, coupled with the disconnect that exists with theory. How do you see this problem within the program, the relationship between technology, theory and design that could create a much more interesting network and raise the academic level?
Unfortunately, they are completely divorced, I experienced this at the Universidad Iberoamericana, but it is similar at all universities. Experiencing this brought me a great disappointment. However, I think the Ibero is trying to change and be more inclusive. The theory class is separate from the studio, students are only interested in passing the class. There is no theoretical background created through lectures, presentations, and bibliography. When there are conferences, they are usually asking the great Mexican architects, excluding young and foreign architects.
It is curious to me that the best Mexican architects are usually outside the academy because it is basic and limited. It is not that they do not want to teach or do not want to show what they are doing, the problem is that there is no demand, there is no interest either on the part of the universities to change or renew their curricula. I would love to put together a discussion about it. Another important problem is that more than 90% of Mexican architects do not pursue a master's degree taking into consideration that most schools offer a 5-year program. It is urgent that the architecture programs be renewed, however it is important to create the awareness of doing postgraduate studies. It is very important that we young people, the new generations of architects promote these changes.
We must get involved, if we bring tools from outside and we are creating an interesting mix, it is not just about making the attempt but of achieving it, which means applying in academia everything we have learned abroad. It really worries me the problem of the integration of theory as well as digital technology as we have already discussed. I believe that in Mexico they see the digital component as something out of their reality. But they also don't give too much importance to construction technology, I only went on one or two site visits during my entire time in undergrad and they don't even teach you at a theoretical level what you should understand when you visit the construction site.
In Mexico you do not need to have so many credentials to build or have the opportunity to build, which should not happen, that is, that is counterproductive. It is one of the reasons why buildings fall during earthquakes, the disadvantage of not being 100% prepared. I fell that out of the 5 years of my undergrad, only two were worth it, I would say the first and the last.
How do you think you can achieve a transition as far as differences between the Academy and the practice, both of the shared criteria as well as the curricula, creating a technological bridge between both? Will it be possible?
This is already happening from the schools of architecture; this projection is not difficult to achieve. The problem is that, when starting a job in an office, the digital development is very specific, not diverse or if you want to set up your own office the digital fabrication part, we are definitely not prepared. I feel that there are like two worlds, the ones that turn this whole thing of digital fabrication and coding to the commercial part. What they fabricate are objects or outputs that they commercialize or monetize. That is, it is a business and not an aspect of design and innovation. But, on the other hand, there is the academy, which is very strong, all these research groups, which I mentioned earlier, these people who have been dedicated to this for more than 10 years, or those who study a master's a PhD, or who take postgraduate courses.
This last group of architects carry out very deep research projects and above all they specialize in writing papers that not everyone can do. In Mexico it is necessary to encourage students about the importance of writing research papers, from the different formats to how to do citations. Nobody taught me to how write this way, I think it is very isolated. I am pleased when I see that when a student finishes the undergraduate studies, or the master's degree, they continue their studies in Mexico or abroad, I will be pleased to see that people leave the country and do something new outside, whether it is something academic, commercial, or work connected. This is important, although taking that leap is difficult, but at the same time when they come back, they will see that these are virgin markets in Mexico.
That means that there are many opportunities to undertake something new, but there is also a lot of risk of not knowing where or how one can grow within a normal office. I also realized with my colleagues that since we finished the master's degree many are still out of work because they do not want to get into a traditional architecture firm, they want to do more advanced computational design or because they want to do fabrication. So, the question is: where are we in Mexico digitally? It is difficult to answer this because there are very few workplaces of this kind and I think it is time to create new spaces for digital technological development, here is the key to this, we need to a lot more talk about this topic; about the lack of research, the influence of academia in terms of technology and how to create new job opportunities.
Above all, to deal with the problem of the digital technological activation in the academy, which there is truly little. Only in places like the UNAM and the Polytechnic that are genuinely interested in research.
I agree. First of all, education is very expensive, in addition people in Mexico are not used to studying either a master's degree or a doctorate because they are not paid well and there is no support. If people are going to study something that they are not going to find any support but at the same time from the government to the private sector they barely offer any support. However, there are companies like Cemex that promote or buy research because they know is important, as a result they have created research centers. More of such centers are needed in the country.
Of course, I agree. I would like to ask you a difficult but important question, we must ask them because this issue of AGENCIA is going to be from the perspective of women in architecture. --As a young architect, but also as a woman you are doing new and interesting things. Unfortunately, in Mexico and Latin America there are aspects of the architectural discipline such as technology which very few women venture into it, perhaps for cultural reasons. How do you see this picture? I think this conversation is extremely important.
Of course! I no longer see it so far, or so impossible, every day we women have more rights, and we know that. It is not the same as 20 years ago, however, there are some environments that are much more closed to women. Certain spaces within architecture with terrible gender politics where misogyny and homophobia still exist. I also think that more and more women are entering the world of technology every day, women like Mariana Popescu who is doing very interesting things with concrete and textiles to produce lighter formwork, for example. It would be good if in Mexico women touched on more local issues, especially about construction and materials.
We fear conflict, but in topics of design or construction as women we meet characters such as the engineer, the contractors, the masons, and many times we are questioned about our ability. I don't know in other countries, but in Mexico these issues are quite risky, because many times it is a misogynistic environment where you can be harassed. Unfortunately, it has happened to me, for being a woman, higher hierarchies have wanted to take advantage of the situation. That is why we must confront it by talking about it. I think it is very stereotypical, as always, the cliché that women should be dedicated only to certain aspects of design, the man instead, must like technology and that is why he builds. This a retrograde concept which is terrible and not true. There are women like me who know how to use a robot, we can work in construction, and we do not just use our hands for making models. For example, at the moment, I am the only woman in the office, among several men, you have to get into doing things, put on your boots and it doesn't matter that you get dirty. We must get into it and do all sorts of things because we can do it.
Do you think that Mexico is more backwards than the rest of the world in accepting and promoting the role of women who are part of both construction and digital technologies?
It is very difficult in Mexico, to be the only woman in the construction site with 40 masons, a master builder, the engineer, etc. These can trample you if they want, that is, we have been exposed to a sexist education even from our parents. This starts from the fact that usually girls can neither go out, nor drink alcohol, nor live a sex life freely. This culture reaches the work and professional field, because as a female architect you can get to the job site and these “cliché narratives” could happen. I think it is time to cross this wall, to experiment as women and to establish a new role within the narrative. Perhaps in Mexico it is going to take longer or maybe we will never achieve true gender equality, it hurts, but we are far from doing it and accepting it.
Do you think that within academia in Mexico, it is still fostered the idea that the practice is different for men and women, that these prejudices continue to exist, are those old sexist positions more balanced, or these myths continue to influence all the way to the practice?
It is almost the same, in fact, if you see the number of women who are teaching and the number of men who are teaching. There is a greater number of men, for example, at the Ibero there are around 70% men, and 30% women and as usual women are placed in "easier classes". It's been a long time since I've seen a woman in front of an important class or studio like Frida Escobedo.
This interaction and balance are missing. This is difficult because in Mexico it is a cultural issue. I'm not saying it's not going to happen, because I'd love to and fight for it. I am an activist in regards to that issue because many women have suffered with this issue, and unfortunately in our profession it is even stronger. But there is also another issue in terms of discrimination that is not only focused on women but also on LGBTQ people. In our profession there is a lot of diversity, for example in my undergraduate class I had two lesbian classmates and much more gay classmates, and must of them had a hard time coming out of closet inside the school.
There are clichés like that the school of architecture is full of gay people, like this could not happen among engineers or any other profession. It is true that in engineering are mostly men, but it is changing and there are already a lot more women, and still a few years ago women in engineering they were called "machorras." (female macho). Fortunately, it is changing, and people are understanding, they are opening their eyes and I hope that in a few years these numbers will be matched.
Let's hope it does. It is a problem that existed when I was in architecture school, and it continues. I hope there will be more and more support and acceptance from administrators, faculty, and other students when people decide to come out of the closet inside the school.
Yes, but it has to change.
To finish this interesting conversation, I would like to ask you. How do you see these opportunities from all points of view, as a professional, as a woman, as a young person when you decide to return to your country after studying or working abroad, the culture shock, as well as the problems to start, let’s say your future?
Very limited, in Mexico, if you want to undertake something like in my case, I’m not talking right now because I want to take the time to really prepare myself. All these questions: What are the current problems? Where is the architecture going in Mexico? What systems to use, which tools? There are many issues, there are many possibilities, and we have many natural resources. We have economic resources; we have a country like the United States next to us from which we can learn a lot, but we can also export many things. We have a large workforce in Mexico that is very economical. However, the current political situation is preventing this growth. I believe that these times that Mexico we are experiencing are even more difficult, because of the pandemic, the bad management from the government.
The government is constantly undermining the role of the architect.
Everyone, from the health sector by not giving adequate care to cancer patients, not doing anything to stop women from getting killed every day and many other problems. For the architect’s guild by canceling the airport and putting the military to build and design the airport is such a terrible way to discredit the profession.
All these situations are very delicate, we are talking about social, economic, and political issues within all areas of our society. And they are touching very delicate fibers and we do not know where it is going to stop. I see very limited opportunities unfortunately, the numbers in everything except deaths are low, income is low, there are not as many sales as 5 years ago, etc. However, I am young, thus the reason I find myself in Europe, I want to take more time to continue learning.
I do not have all the answers to questions like: What kind of work I want to do in the future? How am I going to do it? You and I know that, within digital fabrication, the initial cost is quite high, you have to put money out of your own pocket, the investment to have a good infrastructure is high. It is something I have to think about and see how I can slowly start investing in this and enter a market and develop it at the same time. I still do not know if I want to continue learning for a few years and hope that this system of government ends and that things change in our favor.
When talking to people who have already been 10 or 15 years with their solid companies and see that they are suffering under the circumstances, we young people have to be much more creative, we have to put 100% of our creativity, our ideas, but above all also to focus on what we want to do and with all these problems. What are going to do? We are starting to build our assets, and this is a super important part of our lives, interesting but also challenging.
Dinorah, it has been amazing to talk to you! We talked about interesting issues, we can continue this conversation soon. Let’s keep in touch.
Once again, thank you so much for this interview, you are very brave and extremely honest, you did not shy away from the extremely critical topics. As you said, it is also important to talk about such things and there is a need for absolute transparency. I think we often hesitate to speak the truth, which is why it is important that these conversations happen. The environment is not ideal we know that, but political, economic, social and cultural factors are all part of the challenge.
The academy has a lot of responsibility, but at the same time the ability to make changes, that is why we are working from this publication as our platform because we want the academia to start generating changes.
It must happen, that is where it all starts at school. I think that people are more activists, there is more controversy because we have more information. That is why we have social networks, and if we know how to use the positively in our favor, we can talk from architecture’s perspective about cultural and social issues like feminism or equality. But we must also talk seriously about issues such as design, technology and its democratization, as well as the future. We do not have to make things cheaper and give away our work to get ahead, we must create the awareness of the revaluation of the role of the architect and his or her cultural, social and economic impact. We urgently need to implement both in Mexico and in Latin America a digital culture, which includes fabrication, robotics among many other things.
In Mexico we have artisans, creative people, a transcultural scenario, and we have resources. People in this country are open, this can help us a lot to change, we have many cards in our favor and I believe that this is time for more job opportunities to be generated, opening new markets for architects.
Totally agree. Once again, thank you!
Originally from Tuxpan, Veracruz, Mexico; Dinorah Martinez is passionate about technology, architectural design, and its impact on the environment. She considers architecture to be the art of creating and transmitting experiences.
She has a degree in Architecture and Urbanism with honors from the Cátedra Blanca CEMEX with the thesis "Topographic Suture" from the Universidad Iberoamericana (ibero.mx/), Mexico City, receiving the "Manuel Garibay" award and project nominated in the MCHAP Student Award 2016. She graduated from the Postgraduate Specialty of Creative Code for Design from the University CENTRO Diseño, Cine y Televisión (2018) (centro.edu.mx/) developing the thesis called: "Flextructure", this project published in several media such as Forum Magazine and The Archiologist (thearchiologist.com).
Dinorah completed her studies in Architecture by attending as a student abroad at the University of Technology of Sydney UTS (2015) (uts.edu.au/). She began her professional career working as director of communication and marketing at Rojkind Arquitectos (2016 - 2017) (rojkindarquitectos.com/) and has collaborated in several leading firms in Mexico and the world, such as: Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos (2017-2018) (sordomadaleno.com/), Arquitectura 911 (2018) (arq911.com/) and MAD Architects (2017) (i-mad.com/) in Beijing, China and acoustic design with TEKTIL (tektil.mx/) and SAAD Acústica (2019) (saadacustica.com/). She has participated in the ACADIA 2018 workshop in the workshop "Bodies in Formation" with Andrew Kudless of Matsys Design. She was the winner of the scholarship to participate in the Robotic Atelier 2019 by the Norman Foster Foundation (normanfosterfoundation.org/). She is the co-founder of the Foundation "Manos por Tuxpan, Fundación Tuxpan Verde", a youth civil association with humanitarian purposes in order to generate and raise awareness about the preservation of the environment through sustainable activities to achieve sustainable development.
She has recently graduated from the postgraduate master's degree: MASDFAB ETH Master of Advanced Studies ETH in Architecture and Digital Fabrication at ETH Zurich 2019-2020, in Zurich, Switzerland (masdfab.com/) together with Digital Building Technologies (DBT) (dbt.arch.ethz.ch/), Gramazio Kohler Research (GKR) (gramaziokohler.arch.ethz.ch) and National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) (dfab.ch/) developing the thesis: "Porous Assemblies, Robotic 3D Printing of Sustainable Mineral Foam for Novel Lightweight Architectures" this project has been chosen to be exhibited at the UNPUBLISHED collection and winner in the category: innovation, design week Mexico 2020 (designweekmexico.com/programa/unpublished/) and finalist project of the 3D Pioneers Challenge 2021(3dpc.io/en).
She currently resides in Madrid, Spain, and collaborates with ENSAMBLE Studio as an architecture intern.