"What we want is to manage aesthetic experiences."
Alfonso: For me personally and for AGENCIA magazine is a great honor to talk to you and that you have given us some time from your busy schedule, we admire your work. I would like to focus this interview on topics like art, culture, and society.
Miguel: Thank you very much for the invitation and welcome to the office, and as you can see it is more like a workshop, I don’t like to call it the office. It is a laboratory of things where we experiment, where we work and where we have fun and suffer day by day.
Alfonso: What is your approach, and your experience with art, culture, and the city?
Miguel: I believe that my first encounter with art as a child, we could say was between the ages of ten and twelve, I’ve always had this tool to play with which is drawing, and somehow, I got used to the fact that if I didn’t have certain toys or games to play with, I will always have something to draw with. The idea of being able to have fun drawing, it’s something that helps me feel good. I know that the best moments of the day are when I’m drawing. From a very early age, I found fun in graphics as a vehicle of expression, the experience I had with drawing was always very pleasant. Then, somehow, I got closer to it in an almost organic way, it was never imposed, but simply appeared and I assimilated it. When I was a teenager, about junior high or almost before I got into high school, I had an experience that I don’t talk about very often, but it was very important in my life. Today I see it almost as a joke of fate. I was taking a class in junior high called regional dance. As it happened, I was too clumsy to dance, I didn't like to go to dances. I didn't like going to such events, so I failed that class. This happened right at the time when I had direct admission from junior high to high school. However, I was then informed that I couldn’t get into 10th grade, and I had to go back and take that dance class. I had to make some kind of deal with the school. I told them, I can't take this class because I'm going to fail it again. They told me that I could exchange it for an aesthetic activity, as they called these art classes in that program. They gave the opportunity to take painting, sculpture, or musical appreciation, there were several classes like that. I decided to have a year where everything I take would be art classes. So, having failed a dance class, this led me to have a deeper approach to all the arts, it was incredible. After that year I went to high school, but I was already focused, that is, I had already a very clear idea of what I wanted to study. I will continue doing what I liked so much, allowing me to direct my training toward the arts. When I finished high school, I decided that I wanted to study industrial design, because for me the road map of industrial design was very fun. It was someone who drew a lot, someone who could make things quickly, that is, I could draw, and I can make the prototype of a chair and in my head, I started to imagine myself even making boats and airplanes.
There was a moment when I realized that it was not so easy, I was studying at the UNAM in the school of architecture because the starting common field for industrial design, urbanism, and landscape was architecture. And in that year, I met two great professors who were Carlos Mijares Bracho and Humberto Ricalde, unfortunately, both passed. But I fell in love with architecture, and they will ask me, what is the raw material that architects work with? And I told them, it is probably concrete. They responded, no, what the architect works with is space, that is, architects work with something that is not defined, and they work with the possibility of things happening. When they expressed this in such a poetic way and so close to the soul, I think that's where I ended up falling in love with architecture. Needless to say, I stayed in architecture, and I decided to dedicate the rest of my life to being an architect. I wanted to generate those types of experiences, it was clear to me that I did not stay in architecture to build things, I stayed in architecture to be able to create and manage experiences. We're not designing walls, slabs, or roofs all day, we are managing possibilities, we are managing opportunities for experiences, and this is how we conform ourselves to the people in our society. When something excites me, I draw it, I have been doing this since I was a child, and it is drawing something that for me is closer to art. It is that emotion that brings me closer to the architecture I want to make. I've tried to get my work and everything that excites me to relate to the concept of serving my clients or serving society, which in this case is my main client.
Alfonso: Do you consider that there are shortcomings, challenges, or problems between art, culture, and the city so that they can permeate, perhaps, through architecture?
Miguel: In some way, we have created professions that more than professions are about human will, which is about our forms of expression, and our understanding before a group of people. What we want to communicate to those people and somehow, and unfortunately, we have segmented it and I think it is not woven anymore, or we do not understand it within a fabric to be able to exercise it. How does art relate to society itself? How do you become a participant, or how to integrate it in some way? I would tell you that it is complex because we ourselves have established architecture schools in which the natural training for all kids today is, either you study art or you study architecture, or you study engineering and through this tool that is given by education to be able to exercise in society. But this is where we suddenly segregated what should have been integrated.
Alfonso: You mention that we should not seek to make just beautiful houses because for that there is little work and many architects. There is more demand to create a dignified city with few professionals committed to it. Can you dig a little deeper, how do you come to this conclusion?
Miguel Well in the day-to-day scenario, the truth about the architect’s work, as you say, there is a small market for, let's say high economic rank or macro projects. Through the kids’ training, they make them go towards this beautiful dream of the architect. Which is a bit of a cliché, this cliché of the architect who can afford to go on a trip with his client to show him a house he saw in Australia. And why not go to Seville because he saw certain stones that could be used for his client’s project. When he returns to Mexico, he will design this house on a 10 acres lot where he will live, but he is also contemplating the idea of getting married and wants to make some design changes. I believe that there is wear and tear and a waste of resources, not only economically but with the potential to generate interesting spaces. For me, I feel that there are very few clients like that, and there are like two thousand architects wanting to get that commission. There is a very big conflict in terms of getting that type of work, but on the other side, I think there are areas where there are a lot of needs where the architecture market is huge. We need schools, markets, housing developments, and subdivisions, as well as new approaches to how cities should grow and new solutions for conurbation areas, that is, there is a world of things that the architect can do. But how many architects are willing to go there? Of the four hundred students who were studying architecture, only the hippie guy that sat at the back, who came to class wearing flip-flops the only one who is willing to go there and move to live in Chiapas, for example. I think that's where we need more architects if there really is a base group of architects with this willingness to help and know that it's not a sacrifice, it's your part of your profession.
Where the country needs more architects, is where there are fewer architects. I love to go where they tell me there are a lot of problems, that's where I like to work. I don't know if the problems call me, or andor I call them, but I am where there is no money, I am where the currency is a tool to be able to generate greater impact, not to be able to manage it as a luxury. As advice for these new communities of architects that are being formed, I think they have to turn their eyes to other approaches because they are just focusing on one point, and if they turn around a little, they will realize that there are complete continents to build, and those are the places where work is required by the masses. You don't just have to look just at that little point that is difficult and perhaps there are many architects fighting for that little point. An office is not born with a single-family project, or with a remodeling job, it is born with larger projects like schools. After these schools, you can manage your way towards more industrial projects in an organic way. This has helped us to understand ourselves as a shop where we can feel more useful. Little by little the jobs, we have the projects with the profiles that I want, sometimes I said that those clients came to us but every day I realize that we are the ones who look for our clients and we make them fall in love with us. I think what we have tried in the office is to be able to operate in a more general way and with a greater social impact is trying to have a typology of projects where we can work on different points and different disciplines. This is what I think we have achieved as a shop. So, we have been able to work at a point where there are many people involved who are specialists, but we keep the same approach or the same purpose to be able to reach a general project.
Alfonso: Somehow, you are not expressing that although it has been a somewhat intuitive path. There has been this notion of the need for multi-disciplinarity to be able to carry out any project. What has it been like to work on this type of project? What has it been like to work with projects that will serve a plural community, where there is no single demand?
Miguel: Well, look, it has its differences. For me, the big difference between working for a client who wants a house, for example, is that we usually work for a group of people who have a perspective and clear needs in any of the areas you are talking about. In the private sector, for example, Truper is a very large company, I am still working for a group of people, what we like most is that we are not focusing on a single person or three or four people in our projects, but we have to be thinking about several things, for example in ten thousand workers who are going to directly benefit from the projects and the families of those ten thousand workers. But even better, to the population of the municipality that works for that company, because that company consumes the labor of the entire community, that is, that entire municipality works practically with them. This is really good and somehow pushes us to be able to invite the same company so that their projects are not locked up for only their workers, but open for their communities, this has been a win, win situation. On the other side, I have a client who is us, which the government calls us through the Secretariat, by the SEDATU, which allows us to participate in these social projects. Which can really be called social architecture as such. We know that is a complicated term to use, but this is considered social architecture where we have as clients the populations and whoever wants to go after these projects which are 100% public, where you and I, whoever wants to go to the park, to the library, to the square, or go to the museum, not only the municipality.
When we understand it this way, we have the responsibility of integrating a multidisciplinary group where everyone gives the best of their teams to be able to manage the benefit of a greater impact within this social area. In Truper for example, it has taken us a bit of work, but it has been very interesting in terms of how to approach that profile. To know that they can have design benefits, to propose a large industrial dining room or with certain elements of experiences for their workers, which lead them to be more sensitive in these aspects. It is not something that they from the beginning were asking me for, they simply want an industrial dining room, However, we always want to have different experiences. That the people who inhabit those spaces can say that not only did they go to eat, but on their way there, they passed through some gardens. They arrived at a place where a certain acoustic allows them to carry out their activities or eat in a certain way, that is, there is an invitation that I think is going to permeate. And when that worker leaves that place and is going into the community, he or she will have these experiences stored in his or her head. On the public side with the SEATU, we do believe we have an obligation to be able to manage a link to the traditions of the site, where we not only get to intervene in a place, but we have to help them to understand that this is part of their culture or part of their work or part of their everyday life in that population. At the same time, we want to bring some pure lines and certain architecture to this society, but on the other hand, we have our hearts telling us that the inhabitants of this town come from a type of architecture of kiosks, and all these colors. We try to make an amalgam of these aspects and manage opportunities with buildings that can be easily owned by the same society. "What we want is to manage aesthetic experiences."
Alfonso: You talk about a greater added value by using both art and culture to give meaning to the type of projects you have developed. What are the demands, the needs, and the niches of opportunity? What kind of work is needed to be able to further potentiate these types of projects?
Miguel: I think so, from the beginning, the inhabitant of those municipalities in which we are working, I believe that they understand in a better and more direct way their needs within their environment, more than someone who is alien to that community and this could be the architect. The needs that the site has, the opportunities, and proposals for the site, are better known by someone from the site. If the architects and urban planners of that area better understand their problems, I think they have a huge possibility of being able to intervene in their projects. So, I think that if the architect sees where the needs are, there is a big opportunity to intervene. In the projects that we are developing, there are hundreds of people who allow us not to do the work. There is a lot of work, many schools, that INIFED itself cannot cope with. There are many needs and, if you are studying or training as an architect, you begin to understand what the connections and the issues are, you must open your eyes to see where your possible conduits really are to get these jobs. I think that it is very commendable when the architect puts himself where the needs are. That does not mean that more money or resources will start pouring in, on the contrary, it will be full of sacks of needs, and you will have many job opportunities.
Alfonso: I'm talking about people who aren't architects, for example, these inhabitants you're talking about, for whom the architect must care about, get to know, and have a position of service. How can these inhabitants become empowered to be able to participate in such projects?
Miguel: I think we should have more tools to sensitize them to their aesthetic beliefs or their needs, but they are not aware of them. If there were more tools, it would be easier, because then their demands would be more directed. I think that if we start making people more sensitive and aware, they will be able to participate in the creation of these projects. All of us have that aesthetic need, and when you go to those towns and you approach the working people, you realize that the one who is making a chair, who is making a tablecloth, who is making a dress, has this aesthetic certainty, you realize that they carry it in their blood.
Alfonso: What about when some things are not very clear or perhaps are just implicit, it remains a task to be resolved individually, but you as a professional have also the need to maintain stability and economic independence. How can it be achieved?
Miguel: I think that maintaining a balance between what you must do and another in what you do with an economic stability purpose. This does not mean that we approach projects differently, we solve them all with the same affection. I believe that for a shop to survive within this social side, that is when a client does not pay you what you would like to be paid. It is necessary the ability to have enough work to be able to manage a large mass of work and stability in your own shop. The other is to manage a balance of clients where I can work in the area that interests me, which is the most lacking. Somehow, I can also have a side of the office that works for clients that allow me to have a higher economy, and then be able to manage everything evenly at the moment when you gather all the resources and create your platform. You realize that it is a very horizontal platform, and you can achieve a balance that will allow you to manage the type of architecture where you have your heart set. I don’t want to say that we don't put our heart into everything we do, but I need to take resources from somewhere else to do this. It is as easy as I need money to invest not to get me more money, but where it gives me time and gives me possibilities to manage those jobs. I know that sometimes we, the architects, are very poorly educated, rather very romantically educated, that we like so much what we do and when we see that we are needed so much, we think well, even if we don’t get paid, we’ll do it. But I can't tell the employees in my office, this month we don't get paid because we're working for social welfare. I have to see how to manage economic stability and provide a balance of private and public projects, there are some projects that we are not paid and there are some that pay us very well.
To conclude this interview, do you have any advice about what we should do?
Miguel: I would say we need to be less judgmental and see things in a way that we can always add up. I know that criticism has to exist, and this is healthy so that we can grow in quality and have more opportunities, but I do invite you to look at the architects’ work and architecture in general in a positive way, I think that the more this attitude changes, I hope that the names of the architects will be irrelevant. When we visit the Colonia Roma, visit downtown, or visit Ciudad Universitaria, we don’t have to say, this building is from Mario Pani or this is by Juan O'Gorman, what we need to have a complete view without first and last names, but we know and feel that we are looking at architecture of quality. And let's not have this negative critical position. I know that critics have to do their job and that's fine, and that's what they live on, but if we really want to practice this profession and be inhabitants of a city and a tendency towards the first world, we have to manage our cities in an educated way and that educated way is always by adding up.
Alfonso: I thank you very much, Miguel, it really is a great honor for us to be able to have a conversation with you, please consider AGENCIA magazine as an open door for collaboration. And keep on bringing this way of practicing for the benefit of us as society’s professionals and to architecture. Thank you very much and see you soon.
Miguel: Thank you very much.
Born in 1981. He graduated from the UNAM (School of Architecture CU 2000-2006.) He has collaborated with different offices within the field of architecture, and the field of museography. He has worked in some of the most important offices in Mexico such as Fabric Architecture Workshop, Mauricio Rocha Architecture Workshop, and Jorge Ambrosi Architecture.
In 2011 he established his own architecture workshop, associated with the developer and architect Lorenzo Farfán. Some of his projects are the renovation of the educational complexes for the Nuevo Continente School Campus Querétaro and Celaya (2011-2015); the development and consolidation of the Interlomas campus for Walden Dos School (2015); the Borton Hills School in Angelópolis, Puebla (2017-2018), and the TRUPER Educational Support Center, Jilotepec (2018).
In recent years, his practice in architecture has expanded various typologies and residential projects have been such as the Aldea Maya in Tulum, Cima Morelos in León, Guanajuato, Casa Rivera in Querétaro, Wellness Center Rest Pavilion, and Recreational TRUPER. After a while, he developed workspaces such as the Coroco Workshop in Coyoacán and the MM Workshop in Narvarte, Mexico City.
Recently, he developed public buildings with the urban improvement program of the Ministry of Agrarian and Urban Territorial Development in the municipality of Tultepec, State of Mexico. These projects are of a social and urban nature, such as the Nueva Creación Kindergarten, the San Marcos Agora, the Xahuento Public Library and Civic Square, the Pyrotechnics Museum, the Mammoth Museum, and the Historic Center of Tultepec. These projects seek to socially favor the municipality with public spaces for the development of cultural activities.
Academically, he has lectured at different universities, conferences, and symposia throughout the Mexican Republic and abroad, such as the Tecnológico de Monterrey, the UNAM School of Architecture, Universidad Iberoamericana, the ITESO in Guadalajara, a symposium on education at INIFED, and in different countries such as Colombia, Jordan, and Argentina.
He was named in the second edition 2019 of the exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts as one of the 21 young architects with the best professional trajectory. His work has been published in several media, highlighting Domus Mexico Magazine, PLOT Argentina Magazine, Arquine Magazine, FOLIO Magazine, MEXICO DESIGN Magazine, CASAVIVA Magazine, ARCHDAILY, to name a few.