Jorge Gracia, the 39-year-old founder of Gracia Studio, has quickly built a reputation for distinctive Modernist architecture in his hometown of Tijuana, Mexico. The rumble-tumble border town south of San Diego has been known for a lot of things over the years'for gambling and drinking (especially during Prohibition) and, more recently, for drug wars. But not for design. 'Tijuana is reinventing itself,' says Gracia about his reason for staying and practicing in this city of 2 million. 'The last few years have been calm,' he adds, referring to the success of the antidrug offensive initiated by a reconstituted police force in 2009.
After starting a studio, Mas Design, in San Diego in 2002, and working closely with Mexican architect Sebastian Mariscal there, Gracia opened his Tijuana office in 2004. His first project was a house he built for himself and his family overlooking the city. With Casa GA (a name referring to the first initials of his and his wife's surnames), the architect demonstrated a proclivity for clean lines, raw materials, rectangular volumes, and taut planes. He wanted to show that he could not only 'create better design' than his cohorts in Tijuana 'but do it more cheaply.' He found he could achieve it through a design-build approach. Currently, Gracia Studio has four designers who work with about 20 construction workers from various trades on an ad hoc basis.