Site A flood-prone urban development area along a river in the informal settlement of Camino Verde in Tijuana, Mexico, where two main commercial roads come together.

Program A 2,368-square-foot library with study areas, bathrooms, a conference space, and an outdoor amphitheater for public gatherings.

Solution This small building has two tall, angled roofs that serve to both signal the entry point and to create a backdrop for informal stages on the site. An open-air light well, beside two public bathrooms at the northern end of the building, illuminates the main library space through glass entrance doors. Inside, in addition to two computer alcoves, the library features a tiered seating area, which can double as a meeting area, with computer stations facing the main space. Low bookshelves run along the sidewall and tiered platforms.

The raised roof at the southern end of the library creates an outdoor stage with a curving amphitheater, with a blank façade that serves as a projection screen. Similarly, blank sidewalls deliberately offer space for graffiti artists, echoing murals on surrounding buildings, while minimal exterior openings ensure the library’s security. Formed of concrete masonry units and concrete slabs, with storefront windows and expanded metal screens, the building has a $130,000 construction budget, funded by the Mexican government’s Social Development Secretariat (SEDESOL).

“I like how they faced so many constraints, and dealt with each one in a thoughtful way. I also like how interactive it is—not trying to fight the graffiti, but letting it become art,” juror Kimberly Holden said. “It’s a sort of Swiss army knife in this urban plaza,” added juror John Frane. “It’s smart and clever, being both a building and a part of the infrastructure.” And juror Steven Ehrlich observed that “they have cleverly used the sloping site section” and “masterfully connected the amphitheater, indoor space, and outdoor space.” “The concept is so clear—it’s nice,” juror Reed Kroloff said.

Modulo Prep Library
Location  Tijuana, Mexico
Client  Social Development Secretariat (SEDESOL)
Architect  CRO studio, San Diego—Adriana Cuéllar & Marcel Sanchez (partners); Gabriela Bendeck, Arturo González, Joseph Ruiz Tapia (design team)
Structural and Specifications Consultant  El Taller—Heriberto Guzman Alatorre
Size  220 square meters (2,368 square feet)
Cost  $130,000