“The acrobatic novelty of much of today’s architecture doesn’t interest us,” says Alejandro Guerrero. He and Andrea Soto describe themselves as traditionalists, with one caveat: their tradition is modernism. Both graduates of the Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiore de Occidente (ITESO), in Guadalajara, Mexico, Guerrero, 38, and Soto, 28, also grew up in that city, surrounded by modernist buildings, including work in the manner of Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Guerrero founded Atelier ARSº in Guadalajara in 2005, around the time he completed an extraordinary house on Lake Santa Maria del Oro, in Nayarit, Mexico, that seems to mimic Mies’s Farnsworth House. The idea behind quoting Mies, Guerrero says, is the same idea Mies had when he borrowed from Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel: “continuity.” Nonetheless, he says the building doesn’t copy the Farnsworth so much as critique it by, for example, using sliding glass doors, so air flows through the building. “Despite their visual similarity, they are quite different,” says Guerrero.
Soto joined as partner in 2010, in time to work on a house in Mar Chapálico that has large expanses of glass covered by panels of woven palo dulce wood. Since then, the designers, who are married, have completed several other houses in which modern structures—made of glass, steel, and concrete—are inflected with vernacular materials and forms. And they have taken the same approach to much larger projects, such as the Levering Trade Headquarters in Zapopan, Mexico, a sawtoothed building that makes industrial architecture beautiful. It’s a trick they also pulled off with a small building at ITESO, with elegant proportions that belie its utilitarian function as a painting shed.
Their breakthrough project may be their corn-processing plant for Novasem, in the desert outside Acatlán de Juárez, Mexico. The plant is composed of a kit of parts that they couldn’t alter much but were able to arrange in ways that shape several acres of the barren site. So interested are the couple in landscape that Soto is pursuing a master’s of landscape architecture at Harvard GSD while Guerrero holds down the fort in Guadalajara. “We began questioning the traditional separation of architecture from urbanism and landscape,” says Soto. “We have become convinced that the approach should be inclusive.”
In addition to more than a dozen completed projects in Mexico, the pair has created thoughtful entries for international competitions. One sought ideas for reusing the giant circular hole dug in Chicago for an unrealized Santiago Calatrava tower; their response was an underground columbarium that, in size and shape, recalls the Pantheon in Rome. It would, Guerrero says, provide “a multisensory experience. You could not only observe the space, you also could feel its coldness because it was underground, and you could smell the vegetation we had chosen.” And they designed a memorial for crime victims in Orange County, California, based on forms they call “timeless and universal.” Their guide was Adolf Loos’s admonition that among architects’ creations, only tombs and monuments are art. But Atelier ARSº’s residential and commercial work seems to disprove that.
DESIGN STAFF: 4
PRINCIPALS: Andrea Soto, Alejandro Guerrero
EDUCATION: Soto: Harvard GSD, MLA candidate 2017; ITESO, B.A., 2011; Guerrero: Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Barcelona, M.Arch., 2006; ITESO, B.A., 2000
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: TID Annex, ITESO University, Guadalajara. 2015; Levering Trade Headquarters, Zapopan, 2014; House and Studio in Mar Chapálico, Ajijíc, 2014; House with 7 Courtyards, Zapopan, 2011; SMO House, Santa María del Oro Nayarít, 2005 (all in Mexico)
Key Current PROJECTS: Café Marina, Puerto Vallarta, 2015; Cultural Promotion Center, ITESO, Guadalajara, 2016; Atalaya House, Zapopan, 2016; Novasem Headquarters, Acatlán de Juárez, 2017 (all in Mexico)