On a sunny December day in 2017, some of the world’s leading architects gathered in remote Boca del Rio — in the coastal Mexican state of Veracruz — to celebrate the opening of the region’s newest cultural center.
Af Finn MacLeod
Alongside Michael Rojkind — the building’s architect, the namesake of its design firm, and one of Mexico’s leading contemporary architects — Bjarke Ingels joined the festivities, perhaps alluding to the building’s architectural significance.
A formidable concrete mountain, Foro Boca is as jagged as the coastline it emulates. Formed of several immense textured concrete volumes — some cantilevered delicately above a new public plaza — Foro Boca recalls iconic Brutalist cultural centers in cities like London, where The National Theatre redefined the staid architecture of its programmatic category. With its soaring, wood-patterned poured concrete facades and dark, moody interiors, Foro Boca is one of the first Brutalist buildings to be built anywhere in the world in the last several decades.
Foro Boca, or “Forum at the Mouth,” is located where the Jamapa River meets the Gulf of Mexico, sited between one of Boca del Rio’s busiest motorways and its burgeoning waterfront. It is the first permanent home of the four-year-old Boca del Rio Philharmonic Orchestra, an organization known for its musical excellence and its robust philanthropic program, which provides choral and orchestral after-school education for low-income children in the city. Positioned strategically within walking distance of the city’s most popular restaurant corridor while creating a new public agora for locals and visitors alike, Foro Boca is poised to become a cultural attraction in the region.
Marking the completion of a major phase of a master plan for the district, the opening of Foro Boca brings to life a vibrant vision for an urban area currently transitioning from dereliction to tourist destination. “Foro Boca’s location is intended to articulate the dynamics of the central part of the city with the coastal avenue,” write the architects, “and has the goal of functioning as an urban detonator capable of inciting modernity in the area.”
A striking architectural gesture, Foro Boca is comprised of a series of asymmetrical blocks, each containing different elements of the center’s cultural offerings. Crucially, Foro Boca is designed to provide much needed flexible education and performance space for the Boca del Rio Philharmonic, including a nearly 1,000-seat, state-of-the-art auditorium. The mainstage is capable of hosting an array of performance types, which include theatre, dance, and contemporary, classical, and traditional music. The main stage is bolstered by a 150-seat rehearsal space, alongside flexible spaces for breakout performances and intimate gatherings.
Backstage, the building provides for the needs of the Philharmonic and visiting performers with individual warm-up spaces, green rooms, and the like, all framed by dramatic—and soundproof—concrete walls punctuated by vertical bands of transparent glass windows. Clad in warm timber and concrete, the interiors are generous, comfortable, and visually exciting. At the building’s core, a three-story atrium provides floor-to-ceiling daylight, though windows are carefully hidden from view to ensure a divine experience.
Outside, the public plaza is enclosed by a jagged breakwall inspired by the rocky Boca del Rio coastline. An expansive outdoor oceanside living room, the plaza offers panoramic views of the ocean and of Fora Boca’s raw edges, framed by the constant crash of waves and the bustle of vehicle and pedestrian traffic. Sandwiched between Avenue Vicente Fox and a small pedestrian pier, the plaza serves as a social connector and gathering place at the heart of the city—the Philharmonic has already begun screening films on the building’s immense facades.
Drawing from Mexican vernacular architecture, Foro Boca deftly blends the use of concrete as a functional building element with contemporary design strategies. Whether Brutalist revival or merely an experiment in patterned concrete, the building succeeds as an architectural marvel in elegant contrast to the historic architecture of Veracruz.