As a way to obtain a sample of participatory architecture from all over Mexico, last October, the Mexican Fine Arts Institute (INBA) published an open call for entries. Works by 31 teams—out of more than 200 registered—were selected to be part of Mexico’s Pavilion in the Venice Biennale, which was curated by Pablo Landa.
Among the teams selected are Arquitectos Artesanos and RootStudio, both based in the city of Oaxaca. Works by these offices stand out because they recover and adapt traditional building techniques for new contexts, and because they are often realized through the collaboration of architects and organized communities.
The featured project by Arquitectos Artesanos is Clay Women (“Mujeres de Arcilla”). A decade ago, a group of catechist women visited the parish house in the city of Huajuapan, Oaxaca. Surprised by the spatial and visual qualities of this house, the women approached its architect—Juan José Santibáñez—to ask him for help in the design of their own houses in nearby rural communities.
They started working soon after: women learned how to make adobe bricks and put them together into elaborate structures. Together, they erected sixteen houses after a design by Santibáñez. Mexico’s pavilion in Venice includes isometric drawings of this design and photographs by Marcela Taboada.
As part of the same project, María Santibáñez started producing a self-building manual that would allow for the construction of more houses. As her work progressed, however, the manual became a short story illustrated with engravings that shows what can hardly be captured by manuals: the spiritual dimension of the house among the people of the Mixtec highlands. The book Voz de Sol – La Casa Viva, the result of María Santibáñez’s work in collaboration with Dánae Cházaro, is also featured in Mexico’s pavilion.
Works in San Pedro Apóstol
The second team from Oaxaca whose work is on view in Venice is RootStudio, an office that recovers and adapts vernacular typologies and building techniques. Often, this firm designs and builds simultaneously; architects work alongside a structure’s future users.
The form has done a number of works in San Pedro Apóstol, a small town in Oaxaca state. A decade ago, members of the indigenous council in this community began an environmental management project. They built small dams, planted trees, and reintroduced endangered native animals. Later, they started building common spaces; at this stage, they invited RootStudio to collaborate with them. The firm built a sports center in rammed earth and bamboo, and a community-owned house for events and retreats. These buildings have contributed to the re-evaluation of vernacular building techniques and have reactivated traditional community work.
RootStudio has started the construction of a daycare center in Atzompa, a suburb of the city of Oaxaca, through a collaborative process with local families and OIDHO, an organization that defends the human rights of indigenous communities. The daycare will be built over the course of the Biennale, and will be the site of workshops and conversations among different people participating in this event. This work seeks to further conversations on the social dimensions of architecture and its potential to generate benefits for local communities.
Similarly, the book Voz de Sol – La Casa Viva—the second edition of which was produced as part of the preparatory work for Mexico’s Pavilion—will be presented in different locations in Oaxaca and other Mexican cities. The dissemination of this book and the works of architecture it describes will activate conversations on the potential contributions of vernacular architecture to works by other offices and to housing policies and regulations in Mexico.