On Wednesday evening, the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP) awarded the biennial Emerge Award to Loreta Castro Reguera and José Pablo Ambrosi of Mexico City-based architecture firm Taller Capital for their project, the Colosio Embankment Dam in Nogales, Mexico. The announcement follows the release of a shortlist of 10 selected projects in July.
Now in its fourth cycle, the biennial MCHAP award was founded in 2012 at the Illinois Institute of Technology and named after the campus’s Mies Van der Rohe-designed centerpiece, Crown Hall. MCHAP Emerge is a corresponding acknowledgement to the main MCHAP award, focusing on projects from firms who have been in practice for 10 years or less. MCHAP distinguishes itself by its intensive selection process and by recognizing work not just in the United States, but in all 35 countries of North and South America.
Located in a border town in the north of Mexico, the Colosio Dam was originally built in the 1960s to control runoff from the adjacent Los Adobes Mountains. In the following decades, informal settlements began to form around it, growing to a population of over 9,000 by 2020. Over time, the area became an imminent disaster site, as the dam’s capacity was overwhelmed by flooding and silt, putting the make-shift homes there (constructed typically of cardboard, wood-planks, and cinderblocks) at high risk for water inundation and landslides.
Taller Capital was originally commissioned by the Nogales city government through the Faculty of Architecture at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Initially, the brief only stipulated the design of a park next to the dam, but the firm quickly expanded their mission to provide infrastructural repair to improve the quality of life for the surrounding neighborhood.
Design features include a large shelter with a sloping roof (1) and sports courts (2). Photography by Rafael Gamo, click to enlarge.
Completed in January of 2020, the final project features reinforced pedestrian terraces that surround the water and allow for flooding. Each platform is intended for specific activities; some function as rain gardens to collect water, while others serve as sports courts or playgrounds. A water tower and a large shed occupy the highest level, under which an open multi-purpose space can host informal gatherings as well as providing sanitary and administrative services.
This year’s winner was selected by an international jury of architectural professionals: Sandra Barclay, Mónica Bertolino, Alejandro Echeverri, Julie Eizenberg, and MCHAP director Dirk Denison. Of their decision, Barclay, a Lima-based architect and MCHAP 2022 jury chair describes Taller Capital’s project as “a thoughtful architectural intervention where people are at the core of all considerations." She adds, the dam's design further exemplifies "how a vulnerable neighborhood can be socially and physically transformed by going beyond a resolution of a technical problem.”