Isaac Michan is fascinated by the uncanny, by that fine line between the overly familiar and the eerily unrecognizable. The 34-year-old founder of Michan Architecture—a Mexico City–based studio launched in 2010—creates structures that “propose a new reality for that place,” he says, “but not something completely new from zero.”

Attempting to describe this professional preoccupation in more tangible terms, Michan aptly brings up masonry—particularly the red-mud artisanal bricks incorporated into his design for Z53 Social Housing, a project completed in 2012 that consists of 42 units spread across three towers. “That whole area of the city is built with brick walls,” he explains, “but in an extremely standardized way, because everything needs to be cheap.” Michan upends expectations by carefully arranging the bricks so that they actively respond to light and shadow. They may even appear to be undulating as you waltz past the building. You see? Uncanny.

Photo courtesy Michan Architecture

This year, work is nearly complete on DL 1310 Apartments, a collaboration four years in the making between Michan Architecture and Brooklynbased Young & Ayata (founded by Michael Young and Kutan Ayata, it was a 2016 RECORD Vanguard firm). For this cast-in-place concrete, nine-unit residential building in Mexico City, Michan and company set their sights on bay windows rather than brick walls. The rectangular openings are twisted into the building’s facade so as to appear subtly jutting at odd trapezoidal angles—a peeping tom’s fever dream. “The building is concrete, like so many buildings in Mexico,” Michan says, “and we’re just playing with the windows, that small detail.”

Michan clearly isn’t an architect interested in settling for the tried-and-true. In 2010, he graduated from Universidad Iberoamericana with a bachelor’s degree in architecture, founding Michan Architecture that same year. He hit the pause button two years later in order to attend New York’s Pratt Institute, where he ultimately received his master’s degree in 2013. “The education in Mexico is a bit more conservative,” he explains. “It’s focused on Modernist architecture and practicing architects. It’s not about pushing the boundaries.”

It sounds as if he found a perfect match for his sensibilities at Pratt: “I loved it,” he says. “You can speculate about how things can be.” (This was how he met Kutan Ayata, who was Michan’s thesis advisor.)

Meanwhile, Mexico is the ideal incubator for Michan’s ongoing architectural experiments, with surprisingly few hurdles to leap in terms of getting things built. “Unlike the way it is in the U.S. or Europe, you can get really hands-on with the construction in Mexico,” he says. “You can test stuff and see how it works. There’s no middleman. I don’t need to talk to a contractor. I can speak directly with the construction guys.”

Without all the red tape, everyone gets to enjoy the process: “It’s fun,” Michan says, “because we’re constantly testing ourselves to see how we can improve the quality of the work.”

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Michan Architecture



PRINCIPALS: Isaac Michan

EDUCATION: Pratt Institute, M.S.Arch., 2013; Universidad Iberoamericana, B.Arch., 2010

WORK HISTORY: Lab Architecture Studio, 2007

KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: ODP 921 Apartments, 2018; Oku, 2018; Luma Café, 2017; AL Apartment, 2016; Z53 Social Housing, 2012 (all in Mexico City)

KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: DL 1310 Apartments (with Young & Ayata), Mexico City; TL 2816,
Mexico City; DL 5155 Apartments, Mexico City; Huachinango, Cancún (all in Mexico)