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Going local: Tatiana Bilbao
by Sophia Walk | 4/3/2014
The earth, which was added to the concrete for "Casa Ajijic" is characteristic of Tatiana Bilbao’s design for this residential house. Also in the interior the stamped concrete is formative. Photo © Iwan Baan

Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao, who was born in Mexico City in 1972, considers the house for Gabriel Orozco a turning point in her career. Prior to this epiphany Bilbao had gone about her work the way she had learned at university. Her motto: Anything can be built anywhere, using any material, said the architect in an interview for Baunetz Florian Heilmeyer. In view of the remote location at the Pacific coast of Mexico and how hard it was to reach the building site, Bilbao decided to rely on local materials and employ customary construction principles.

Bilbao’s take on the genius loci

After this project nothing was the same for the architect. The experience meant that Bilbao now looked to the location to inspire and define her architectural output. And she grasps location not in the sense of it being limited to the immediate environment, but extending to include the knowledge specific to the local residents, their working techniques and above all the local construction materials. All these now serve as the basis for her design process.

In the case of “Casa Ajijic”, the residential home in Jalisco in West Mexico, her investigation of local conditions prompted her to opt for tamped concrete as the main building material. Concrete would have been too expensive for this project, the local wood too brittle. “The tamped mixture of earth and cement, on the other hand, is a load-bearing structure, insulation and wall finish all rolled into one,” says Tatiana Bilbao, explaining her choice of material, to Florian Heilmeyer.

Green patina – yes please!

The “Jardín Botanico” in Culiacán, a town in the state of Sinaloa in Northwest Mexico, stands testimony to the architect’s highly sensitive and visual approach. Here, Bilbao envisaged the notion of an intricate system of paths through the grounds. The trails are lined by 16 pavilions, destined to augment the quality of the botanical gardens in the heart of the city – making the urban park more attractive with additional offerings. The small pavilions accommodate learning spaces, special exhibitions, and an auditorium. The buildings were commissioned this year, but their façades are destined to change over time. According to Bilbao the pavilions’ outer skins will develop a green patina as a result of humidity, thus blending in with the landscape.

In designing her buildings, Tatiana Bilbao draws on her knowledge of the particular place in which the structure will stand. The way she sees it, good quality architecture relies on the people who create it along with the materials and techniques they are familiar with. Bilbao’s architecture is defined by contemporary buildings that celebrate, and never deny, tradition.

Sectional view of the residential house "Casa Ajijic". Drawing © Tatiana Bilbao
In the Botanical Garden in Culiacán Tatiana Bilbao is pursuing the idea of a complex routing through the countryside. Photo © Iwan Baan
Floor plan of a pavilion of the botanical garden. Drawing © Tatiana Bilbao
The paths through the Botanical Garden are bordered by a total of 16 pavilions. Drawing © Tatiana Bilbao
Sectional drawing of a pavilion of the Botanical Garden in Culiacán. Drawing © Tatiana Bilbao