Firm name: Rozana Montiel Estudio de Arquitectura
Location: Mexico City
Year founded: 2009
Firm leadership: Rozana Montiel
Education: B.Arch., Universidad Iberoamericana, Mexico; M.Arch., Universitat Politécnica de Catalunya, Spain
Experience: Diego Villaseñor Arquitecto y Asociados; and has taught in different universities in Mexico City and at Cornell University.
Firm size: 10
We transform space into place. Placemaking is the result of seeking formal content in context, changing barriers into boundaries, shifting spatial perception, approaching the landscape as the program, re-signifying materials, working with temporality, and holding beauty as a basic right. More than an aesthetic decision, beautiful design is an ethical stance impacting people’s lives.
My first significant commission was the Void Temple in 2011, a landscape intervention that touches all the themes that concern me as an architectural designer: public space, social fabric, re-signification of simple materials, re-signification of tradition. This land art piece sits amid pine woods and blends with the site topography; it consists of a white concrete wall forming a 40-meter (131-foot) circle that serves as a haven containing the macro-cosmos within the micro-cosmos. The project was part of a collaboration with Dellekamp Arquitectos on a 117-kilometer-long (73-mile-long) pilgrimage route in Jalisco, Mexico.
Second favorite project:
At the 2018 “Freespace” Venice Biennial, we presented our book HU: Common Spaces in Housing Units (Mexico City: Arquine, 2018), which compiles the research and findings of three of our most important public space projects. The book, which advances a new design methodology, collects in a series of post-it graphic aphorisms our observations and solutions for common spaces. The book is one of my favorite projects because it involved a great deal of reflection about how we design and the role language plays in building.
Biggest career leap:
When I began to receive commissions for public projects. It was then that I realized the urban responsibility that architects have when designing collective living spaces. Also, in 2017, I won the Moira Gemmill Award for Emerging Architecture given by The Architectural Review in London. It was an important turning point in my career not only because the prize validated my studio’s approach to architecture, but also because it has funded my research.
Biggest design challenge you’ve overcome:
Every project at our office is a research opportunity that brings a new design challenge. We approach architecture as a form of “willing simplicity” that integrates more with less.
Special item in your studio space:
Our green roof terrace. It keeps us grounded and sensitive despite being on a fourth floor. It connects interior and exterior in an organic way: We can be at the heart of an urban center and yet stay connected to each other through nature.
Stale atmospheres. For me, disharmony in a place begins through the sense of smell. If a space has a moldy or stuffy odor, something was poorly designed.
Bad taste in design is not about how things look, but how all spaces and materials come together in an atmosphere. And smell is a tell-all aspect.
I visited the Musée Fragonard d’Alfort in Paris and was fascinated by its écorchés (figures depicted in art showing muscles without skin) and cabinets of curiosities. These cabinets evoke the manner in which architects “make room” through spatial design: Architectural order creates readings and narratives that can only be decoded in space.
Most urgent policy change:
Public space development in Mexico City. Most of the public space interventions lack a long-term vision, due in part to the three-year cycles of political administrations. There must be a way of shielding aspects of policy from political change. Currently, we just get snapshots of progress with no cohesive long-term effect.
Favorite rule to break:
Playing by the rules to their ultimate consequences is the best way to break the rules.
What are you reading?
I love to read several books at a time. I am currently reading Valeria Luiselli’s Papeles Falsos (Sexto Piso Editorial, 2012) for its approach to Mexico City from a narrative-essay perspective; Bruno Munari’s Fantasía (Editorial Gustavo Gili, S.L., 2018) for its treatment of imagination, invention and creativity as different forms of gazing; and I am re-reading Clarice Lispector’s Family Ties (University of Texas Press, 1984) because its wit is irresistible—intelligent humor colors societal constructs and builds common ground just like architecture does.