Lorena Darquea

Located in the heart of León, Mexico, Las Americas stands in stark contrast to the city's urban sprawl, a sea of disconnected houses that began popping up around 2000. The 60-unit affordable housing project was designed by the New York–based firm SO-IL with the Instituto Municipal de Vivienda de León, León's government housing agency, and the City of Leon, and completed this spring. It aims to reconnect the area and provide an example of quality high-density housing. The project's striking vertical massing also aims to make a statement, suggesting an alternative to the traditional free-standing residences, which increase sprawl by forcing residents far from city centers and result in increasingly isolated communities.

Las Americas hopes to provide a residential option that is just the opposite. "One of the main reasons people want to live here is the fact that the building is located close to the city center, it is secure, well organized, and safe," SO-IL co-founding principal Florian Idenburg, Int. Assoc. AIA, tells ARCHITECT. Following Las Americas' completion, SO-IL has released a new batch of project images, providing a more intimate look at Las Americas and its interior.

Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea

The approximately 32,300-square-foot project wraps around two interior courtyards that provide cross-ventilation to each residential unit and serve as a key catalyst for building community. Each landscaped courtyard is studded with fully furnished communal spaces; a graceful, open-air staircase rises to the upper residential floors. "Everyone shares the same front door of the building and then disperses through these various routes," Idenburg says.

No two apartments face each other, doing away with the double-loaded corridors common to many multifamily developments. The approach ensures that each unit receives daylight and airflow from at least two elevations and ensures "there are always at least two routes between entry and your apartment," Idenburg says. "The journey home is a social one, filled with light."

Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea

The project is composed of concrete blocks that SO-IL developed specifically for the project. Each block weighs 17 kilograms (approximately 37 pounds)—the maximum weight by law that an individual worker can carry in Mexico. These carefully measured blocks not only increased participation in the construction process but also provided a structural mass that absorbs heat and "keeps the building cool," Idenburg says. In the building façades, SO-IL faceted the concrete and rotated windows slightly inwards to "capture shadows" and increase privacy and shading, Idenburg explains.

Idenburg says that the experience of realizing Las Americas has helped shape that planning process and underscored the complexities of affordable housing. "It's important for governments to take a leading role," he says. And it appears that Las Americas has had an impact. A neighboring housing development designed by the Mexico City–based studio Productora is now in the planning stages.

Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea
Lorena Darquea