How did this project happen? Why is an L.A. firm building in Monterrey?
Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA: They called us. They solicited us out of the blue and they also contacted other firms. They’ve never told me exactly who, but they said that they had five architects from around the world that they had short listed for the project, so we happened to be one of those five.
Was there a criteria for what they were looking for?
They were looking for someone who could do a building that would be a model for sustainability—that turned out to be a big part of their agenda.
How is it that a metals company is interested in sustainability?
They manufacture automotive chassis, primarily. They work for almost every major auto manufacturer in the world and they specialize in trucks and heavy trucks, so they do chassis for every company. Ironically, they also do the Corvette chassis and the Dodge Viper chassis. So they’re very interested in a lot of businesses, of showing that they are providing some leadership with the environment and other innovative ways to do things.
This new building, this is where they do research?
Yes. Right down the road, they have a plant that is several million square feet, but this area is what they call the Pit, which was started by the government. It’s a state-run research park—Mexico’s version of Silicon Valley, but for the manufacturing sector. It’s by the airport, and the two major technical universities in Mexico opened campuses there. In the Metalsa building, they have a specialized research team, 25 people or so, and they do metallurgy testing and test new parts of their production line. They’ll work on something, sometimes for six months, a year, two years, and then break it down and re-setup to do different kinds of research. It’s real heavy muscle stuff. They also have a lab where they can do more delicate testing.
So there’s intense collaboration in the building and hands-on testing. How does a structure begin to take form out of these programs?
It is really interesting, because the people who work in the manufacturing lab, who get a lot of grease on them, have a different security level than other people who are in the research labs—I guess you could separate them as white collar and blue collar. So we do have security zones. But it was really important to stitch those together, so we did it visually. Physically they are connected as well, but the connection goes through a second floor, so it’s a controlled process—someone can’t just wander into their space and start looking back into where they’re doing the testing.
How did the perforated skin and the dynamic form come about?
I always liked the old warehouses and the sawtooth roofs with the north-facing clerestory—they’re incredibly beautiful and raw. And the client is that kind of outfit. They produce things in a big warehouse environment, so I wanted to capture that spirit. And when I went to Monterrey, I was really struck by the mountains there; they’re pretty incredible—super steep, and sharp, and jagged. So I thought, could it be a blend of those things? So our clerestories change shape and are different heights, they make it more dramatic in terms of the form and how the light comes in.
The sustainable focus, including the daylighting, resulted in LEED Platinum certification. What does it mean to be LEED Platinum in Mexico?
It’s very similar to the U.S., but there isn’t a demand for it. Mexico reminds me a lot of when we started doing LEED here, prior to 2000. There just are not people there who care or know how to do it. It takes a lot of hand-holding to get there, and there are very few LEED consultants in Mexico. So it takes a lot of work. It’s become pretty mainstream in the U.S.—builders tend to follow instructions and get it done. There, it’s still in its infancy.
What’s it like working in Mexico, especially on a building of this scale?
We had what turned out to be a great project manager that Metalsa works with, and he had spent some time in Texas doing similar stuff, so he was incredibly enlightened. But you don’t know what you’re going to get, and I think what I’ve found, working in some other countries, is that they make decisions not like we do here, to make it cheaper, but because they think it’s the right decision. For example, the concrete on the building. They did intricate form work, which I really don’t like. It was very expensive for them to do that, but they thought it was an enhancement. I would have done something much simpler, much less costly, that would have been a lot better. But because you have to work with local people there—at least with the level that our firm is at—we can’t quite demand full control of everything, so we have to rely on our partners to do things properly, without our involvement. So the control is not there.
How do you feel about relinquishing that kind of control?
I don’t like it, but I was very surprised in a lot of ways on this project because it was done far better than I anticipated and overall it turned out well. But there are many things I would do differently. It is hard. I’d like to eventually get more control over those things.
Is sustainability something that you want to work with in each building or do some buildings not lend themselves to it?
We do that for every building, but I don’t believe it’s a design concept. It’s really just a question of ethics. I would argue that a building that’s an energy hog that everyone loves is more sustainable than a zero-energy building that nobody likes. We’ve had clients who could care less about it, and they get it anyway—they just don’t know it. I kind of see it like ADA access, you just do it. I think sustainability is worth celebrating. I just don’t think it should be celebrated as an accomplishment.
Do you approach each building like a tabula rasa, or are there certain techniques that you want to explore progressively with each project?
We try to make the building unique to the client and the site. I’ve always vowed never to plagiarize myself, but inevitably you can’t help it in some ways. But I have a wide range of interests; we are always trying something.
Where do you see this project fitting into the overall firm philosophy?
Well, we’ll do a doghouse if you let us do it well, so in that respect, almost anything fits into our philosophy. It’s clearly a different building type for us. I guess we try pretty hard not to be stereotyped, and everyone wants to stereotype you. It’s a tough model in today’s world because everyone wants specialization. So we struggle with that a little bit, but Thom Mayne once told me, “Just keep at it and you get enough different buildings, people will realize that you can do just about anything.”
Brooks + Scarpa is known for working sustainably—an ethic, not a design philosophy, according to principal Lawrence Scarpa. In Monterrey, Mexico, the firm’s ethos translates to a perforated metal skin that clads the west and a portion of the south façade of the Metalsa Center for Manufacturing Innovation. By filtering the amount of light hitting the interior, the screen lessens the direct solar gain on the building and keeps workspaces thermally comfortable for Metalsa employees. Made out of 75mm-thick Galvalume (aluminum-coated galvanized metal), each of the 975mm by 2,875mm panels is perforated with a pattern of graduated circles. By placing larger, 200mm-diameter circles toward the sawtooth roof and the smaller, 50mm-diameter ones closer to work areas on the second floor, the design not only controls light and creates a decorative motif, it also limits views into research areas, thus protecting proprietary trade secrets.
Metalsa manufactures automotive and heavy truck chassis, so the architects originally planned to have the perforated screen fabricated in one of the company’s plants. However, Metalsa’s production line runs 24–7, so shutting down for even a few hours to produce the skin proved prohibitively expensive. Instead, the panels were water-jet cut in a nearby fabrication facility where the architect and contractor were able to mock-up prototypes and test the design performance.
Project Center for Manufacturing Innovation Metalsa Cidevec, Apodaca, Mexico
Client The Proeza Group—Abraham Tijerina-Priego (director of innovation management)
Architect Brooks + Scarpa, Los Angeles—Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA (designer, principal-in-charge); Silke Clemens, Daniel Poei, Abby Katcher, Oliver Liao, Darien Williams, Jordan Gearhart, Ching Luk, Mark Buckland, Angela Brooks, AIA, Emily Hodgdon, Daniel Safarik (project design team)
Architect of Record Centro de Diseño—Homero Fuentes
Landscape PEG Office
Structural Engineering Carl W. Howe Partners
M/E/P Engineering Cobalt Engineering
Engineers of Record SPID Ingenieros (structural and civil); SENSA (mechanical); DINELEC (electrical)
LEED Consultant Zinner Consultants
Project Management Araltec—Alex Ruiz Cruz, Evelia Garcia
Size 55,000 square feet
Material and Sources
Appliance Bosch bosch.us
Cabinets Recycled formaldehyde-free MDF; FSC-certified oak
Concrete Type ll Portland Cement with 25% flyash; LM Scofield Co. (Lithochrome stain) scofield.com
Doors Anemostat anemostat.com; McKeon Door Co. mckeondoor.com; Nationwide Industries nationwideindustries.com; Ingersoll Rand ingersollrand.com; Timely Industries timelyframes.com; TM Cobb tmcobb.com; Total Door Systems totaldoor.com
Flashing APOC apoc.com; Celotex celotex.co.uk; GAF gaf.com; Grefco
Flooring Walker Zanger (Ecotile) walkerzanger.com; Concrete; FSC-certified bamboo
Glazing PPG (Solarban 80) ppg.com
Hardware Elmes elmesworld.com; Ives ives.ingersollrand.com; Johnson Hardware johnsonhardware.com; LCN lcnclosers.com; Monarch; Pemko pemko.com; Rixson, an Assa Abloy Group Co. rixson.com; Schlage schlage.com; Trimco trimcobbw.com; Sugatsune sugatsune.com; Basco bascoshowerdoor.com; E.B. Bradley Co. ebbradley.com
HVAC Runtal Radiators runtalnorthamerica.com
Insulation Johns Manville (formaldehyde-free insulation batts) jm.com
Lighting Bega-US bega-us.com; Prudential Ltg. prulite.com; Belfer belfer.com; DelRay Lighting delraylighting.com; Shaper, a Cooper Industries brand cooperindustries.com; Stonco Lighting, a Philips Lighting Group Brand stonco.com
Lighting Controls Lutron Electronics Co. lutron.com
Masonry Angelus Block Co. angelusblock.com
Metal Natural oxidized cold-rolled recycled steel
Paints AFM Safecoat (non-toxic, zero VOC paints) afmsafecoat.com
Plumbing Toto (toilets and urinals) totousa.com; Hansgrohe (water-efficient fixtures) hansgrohe-usa.com
Roofing CertainTeed Corp. (four-ply modified bitumen membrane cool roof) certainteed.com
Skylights Bristolite bristolite.com; Solatube International solatube.com
Stormwater System Stormwater360 stormwater360.com; Contech Engineered Solutions contech-inc.com
Windows Fleetwood fleetwoodusa.com; US Aluminum Corp. usalum.com