Cadaval and Solà-Morales’s Córdoba ReUrbano exemplifies the objectives of Mexico’s Urban Recycling start-up initiative, by re-imagining and re-programming a significant heritage building in central Mexico City.
Af Jason Dibbs
Sited in the historic Colonia Roma district, the housing and ground-floor commercial areas of this additive project generate streetscape vitality and redefine the urban grid.
Eduardo Cadaval and Clara Solà-Morales originally founded their firm in New York City in 2003, but now operate between Barcelona and Mexico City. The Córdoba ReUrbano project is situated in the latter location, and is the second part in what is becoming an ongoing collaboration between the young architectural trailblazers and Mexico City’s ReUrbano, a start-up initiative with the objective of ‘consolidating urban regeneration processes through authentic and differentiated projects.’ In the instances of Cadaval and Solà-Morales’s work with ReuUrbano, this has involved the adaptive reuse of heritage buildings in the Colonia Roma district of the city. The previous and equally successful collaboration between the architectural duo and Reurbano resulted in the CH 139 development, which consists of private residences, offices and retail spaces within the preserved, heritage-listed façade of a Spanish Colonial building.
The Colonia Roma district, which provides the urban tapestry upon which Cadaval and Solà-Morales’ work with ReUrbano has developed, has a fascinating history dating back to the 19th century when its orthogonal grid of streets provided ample circulation between the large Colonial-style houses built for Mexico City’s upper classes and financial elite. Throughout the 20th century though, enthusiasm for Colonia Roma waned, and following the earthquake of 1985 much of the architecture of the district was damaged or destroyed. Subsequently, the majority of Colonia Roma’s inhabitants fled for more seismically stable areas. In recent years, however, the area has been the focus of concentrated urban regeneration and re-gentrification and has now become one of the foremost cultural zones in the city, with a flourish of art galleries, cafes, and medium-density private residences.
Central to the success of Cadaval and Solà-Morales’ work with Reurbano is an understanding of the significance of street-level commerce in sustaining the vibrancy and security of urban residential areas. The pair suggests that in Mexico City the combination of retail spaces below private accommodation is typically associated with areas reserved for ‘lower social classes,’ but they insist that it is an ‘indispensable element for building urban quality.’ Illustrating this argument, Córdoba ReUrbano consists of 9 apartments of varying sizes and a retail area tucked into the front historic façade of the building. This is the very same strategy that was tried and tested with great success in their earlier CH 139 project.
Architectonically, Cadaval and Solà-Morales’ have achieved a harmonious relationship between the ornate detailing of the historic fabric of the existing building and the clean linearity of their newly built forms, which for the most part perch discreetly upon the structure of the heritage building. Circulation for the development is focused around a long outdoor corridor and centralized stairwells, as well as the duplication of the existing front courtyard at the rear of the building, which combine to provide the main access points for the apartments.
Cadaval and Solà-Morales’s Córdoba ReUrbano also evidences considered yet courageous experimentations with color and material. The vernacular brickwork of the heritage building has been preserved, redeployed and referenced in additions to the structure. Mostly painted white, the masonry of the building contrasts starkly with the clean black materiality of the upper-story additions. Combined with the red and green foliage of strategically planted vegetation, and the terracotta floor tiles found on the terraces, this creates an aesthetic that is simultaneously dynamic yet harmonious.
Recognition for the work of Cadaval & Solà-Morales in Mexico City has now extended internationally, and the pair were recently announced as winners, among eight practices, of the prestigious Emerging Voices Award for 2017 from the Architectural League of New York. In her announcement of the award, Anne Rieselbach, the Program Director for the Architectural League, stated that Eduardo Cadaval and Clara Solà-Morales “view their practice as an overlap between the three main fields within the discipline [of architecture]: theory, academy, and praxis, which they feel permit them the opportunity to engage in research, expression, and application, respectively.” Córdoba ReUrbano offers a clear and compelling material distillation of Cadaval and Solà-Morales’ three-tiered approach to design, generating an architecture that is steeped in history, and that is as theoretically rich as it is full of architectonic surprises.