In Yucatan, architects are reviving an ancient Mayan stucco technique for contemporary buildings, merging modern architecture with regional history and culture. The technique is called “chukum,” a term derived from the colloquial name for the Havardia albicans tree native to Mexico. Made with chukum tree bark, the material has several defining qualities that separate it from traditional stucco, including impermeable properties and a natural earthy color. Though chukum initially fell out of use following Spanish conquest of the Maya civilization, it was rediscovered and reemployed by Salvador Reyes Rios of the architecture firm Reyes Rios + Larrain Arquitectos in the late 1990’s, initiating a resurgence of use in the area.
In densely-populated cities, where construction projects tend to require party walls, the close proximity of other buildings complicate even further the process of creating spaces that incorporate elements like natural light and cross-ventilation. But this of course is not the only challenge: the ever-changing and multiplying nature of cities has given rise to atypical lots--properties that have been created by subdividing large swathes of urban land. In general, the reduced dimensions force developers to look for ways to maximize the limited space available to them.
The city of Merida –capital of the Yucatan state in Mexico– is a region that has experienced a rise in architectural development in recent years due to the emerging talent that has made a name for itself with national awards and biennial proposals throughout the country. Due to Merida's tropical climate, the architecture on this site corresponds to specific geographical conditions that make it one of the most visited destinations in the world.
One of the most important factors when designing is the specific climate of the site, this can represent a difficulty when dealing with extreme climates and it is necessary to use insulating materials that adapt to changing conditions. However, when talking about Mexico and its privileged climate, this becomes an advantage for architects, allowing the creation of microclimates and spaces that fade into the transition of what is the inside and the outside.
Color, inherited from indigenous cultures of Mexico, is a defining characteristic of Mexican architecture. Vibrant colors have been used by architects and artists such as Luis Barragán, Ricardo Legorreta, Mathias Goeritz, Juan O'Gorman, and Mario Pani.
Color in Mexican architecture has reinforced the identity of different regions and areas within the country. For example, it is almost impossible to think of San Miguel de Allende or Guanajuato without the facade colors that weave the landscape.
This article is part of our new series "Material in Focus", where we ask architects to share with us their creative process through the choice of materials that define important parts of the construction of their buildings.
Niop Hacienda from AS Arquitectura and R79 is part architectural regeneration project part historical building involving the transformation of an abandoned industrial space into high-end tourist complex in the southeast region of Mexico. A desire to maintain the original feel of the place influenced the selection of the new materials (like steel, stone, chukum, wood and glass) in order to create new spaces for public and private use that meld with the existing structure. In this interview, we talked with Roberto Ramirez from R79 who explains more about how the material choice of the project contributed to the design and construction process.