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Young Mexican Architects Fill MoMA PS1 with Mist, Ropes, and Earthworks

The prodigious Escobedo Soliz Studio talk to us about their winning Young Architects Program proposal
Rendering of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s winning proposal for MoMA PS1 ’s Young Architects Program Image by Escobedo Soliz, 2016

Don't tell Trump—two Mexican guys just won the most prestigious young architects' award in the US.

The Mexico City-based Escobedo Soliz Studio’s colorful installation was chosen last week for this year's MoMA PS1's Young Architects Program (YAP). And unlike previous years' winners, many of whom were ostensibly senior citizens at the time of winning the prize, Escobedo and Soliz were born in 1988 and 1990, respectively, their nascent firm doesn't really have any built work, and their YAP submission will be their first built project.


Friends since attending National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) together, the duo have been quietly working on independent projects alongside their traditional 9-5 jobs and only recently made the leap toward having their practice become full-time.Their proposal is slated to be built by a New York-based contractor Michael Robert Kreha.

Rendering of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s winning proposal for MoMA PS1 ’s Young Architects Program Image by Escobedo Soliz, 2016

Rendering of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s winning proposal for MoMA PS1 ’s Young Architects Program Image by Escobedo Soliz, 2016

Scale model view of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s winning proposal for MoMA PS1 ’s Young Architects Program Photographs by Escobedo Soliz, 2016

Embodying a characteristically Millennial attitude, their practice is concerned primarily with navigating the quotidian constraints of practice and bending those strictures towards producing innovative and thoughtfully understated solutions, relying on depressions in walls to dictate the geometries of their rope canopy at PS1, or by recycling building materials from past constructions in other projects. The Creators Project caught up with Andres Soliz Paz over Skype to talk about the prize and their fledgling practice.

Renderings of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s Zoh Laguna Chapel in Campeche, Mexico. Image by Escobedo Soliz, 2015

The Creators Project: Tell us how your practice got started.

Andres Soliz Paz: While in school, we did projects independently of our academic work for our friends and family members. We were working at established firms, studying, and doing our own projects during the weekend.

For our theses, we did a project in Campeche. It’s a chapel and community center made of recycled timber. The project had originally started as a social service from our university; we went to visit the community and realized it had a real need for (this building). We worked closely with the community that year and won Holcim award for sustainable architecture with that project. Now that we are working on our own, we are focused on the MoMA Prize and on finding the funds to finish the chapel.


Scale model view of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s winning proposal for MoMA PS1 ’s Young Architects Program Photographs by Escobedo Soliz, 2016

What inspired your approach to the MoMA PS1 proposal?

We knew we were at a disadvantage compared to the other teams because we are not from the US. We did not know the rules of construction (in New York), we didn’t have an office near the site, etc. We tried to flip these (constraints) into a positive (and fundamental aspect) of our strategy. That’s something we do in our practice: work with the constraints and special circumstances every project has to give an accurate response that can fit perfectly.

In Mexico, we have these street markets called tianguis that adapt to any square or alley by attaching themselves to anything they can find, a light post or a wall, with some light textiles. These create very interesting shapes, colors, and types of light. So we thought, “Okay, we need to think of a roof membrane that can provide shade that doesn’t break the experience of being in an outdoor place.” So, we designed a weaving that could provide shade but wasn’t completely waterproof. We felt that the concrete walls were very powerful and wanted to work with them, too. They are very strong and could act as a structure that we could attach to. These walls are modulated every four feet; in both directions they are constant and totally empty. So, we established a system of modulation that was determined by the leftover formwork ties along the concrete walls.

The rest (of the project consists) of earthworks. We have two embankments that contain extruded soil. One is a white sand beach. Another embankment is in the other courtyard and contains a mirror of water. We didn’t want to put furniture in the courtyard, so we used the topography to generate places to sit. The sand embankment is a retention wall-bench made of wood. People can sit on this very long bench (while) others lay in the sand.


In one of the smallest rooms, a five meter by five meter courtyard that almost no one ever uses in their pavilions, we installed water nozzles in the formwork holes to create a mist room. We wanted to generate different atmospheres for different activities for each space determined by what’s preexisting. We wanted to make a site-specific piece of architecture for this courtyard because PS1 has always been a platform for site-specific art. Its an homage to Serra, Turrell, Gordon Matta-Clark, [and] Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

So you’re continuing the tradition established by their work?

Kind of. We are big fans of their work. Recent PS1 pavilions, were (mostly) objects within the courtyard, contained by the courtyard, in some cases, the object did not respond at all to the specificity of the site. They could have been anywhere, it wouldn’t have made a difference. So, we wanted to remind people that architecture, from our point of view, should be site-specific, and that context should be taken into account.

Renderings of Escobedo Soliz Studio’s Pavilion Mextrópoli, an enclosed forum proposed for a public square in Mexico City. Image by Escobedo Soliz, 2016

What’s it like to have everyone be interested in you all of a sudden?

It’s weird. We’re trying to not be overwhelmed by it. We know it’s going to be a challenge. We’ve been very low key since the beginning; this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but we want to keep taking it easy. We don’t want to grow our office very fast or take on big projects. We have ambitions, yes, but we are very young. We understand the value of experience. This is a great project to start with, but we will take it very slow, I think. We don’t have any rush. We want to have a practice where we have time for ourselves, to do our own thing. Quality over quantity.


For more on Escobedo Soliz, visit their website. Their PS1 pavilion opens to the public June 7th and runs through the summer.


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