Living off the fat of the land: four designers tap into the abundance of local materials and labor.
Exploiting the bounty of local building products as well as a regional tradition of craft, Monterrey, Mexico'based S-AR is amassing a rugged, though subtly refined, body of work that reflects the city around them. The capital of the northeastern state of Nuevo León, Monterrey is also the country's industrial center, home to cement giant Cemex and a slew of other manufacturing concerns, steel and glass companies among them. In other words, it is a materials smorgasbord for designers like the four partners of S-AR, who met during college. “Our work is based in the resources of this city,” says principal César Guerrero, “but we also want to do something more handmade, using traditional processes.” With labor also in abundance here, the locavore “diet” becomes the logical one: fabricating custom components rather than specifying mass-produced or imported ones for practical and economic reasons.
Casa 2G, a private city residence that wears its rough material palette on its sleeve, illustrates the firm's approach. Inside and out, the reinforced concrete walls and floors of the low box are left exposed and unadorned, punctuated by simple detailing—windows, doors, and metalwork fabricated by local manufacturers and tradespeople. S-AR also explores atypical applications for basic building blocks. For example, the structure for the firm's Casa Huastok is built largely of scrap metal from the client's Monterrey-based steel company. “We translate materials,” says Guerrero, referring to the house's skin, made from corrugated steel that is typically used for warehouses and fencing. Likewise, for an emergency-housing prototype, Módulo 10x10, the architects employed fiberglass panels repurposed after being used as formwork for a nearby parking garage. Working this way means embracing the scars, says Guerrero. “It's raw—it's not perfect—but you have some kind of beauty in that.”
After finishing their studies at the Monterrey Institute of Technology, Guerrero, Ana Cecilia Garza, and Carlos Flores went their separate ways to study or practice in Europe and South America. A couple of years later, they reunited in Monterrey and formed their practice, adding classmate Mar'a Sevilla. They originally named the firm Stación-ARquitectura, stación being the Spanglish version of estación, referring to Monterrey's Americanization as well as alluding to their aspiration to serve as a “station” where designers would come and go after leaving their mark. Perhaps ironically, the four founding partners—all in their early 30s—still remain (though with an abbreviated firm name), joined by a few students each year.
To date, all of S-AR's built work is in Mexico. The architects are not concerned about expanding their horizons geographically, so long as they can continue to focus on what Guerrero describes as honest architecture: “We want to keep our work as pure as possible in terms of the use of materials and the relation between the building and the city.” To this end, the architects have created Comunidad Vivex, a nonprofit that coordinates the design and development of small-scale low-income housing. They recently completed their first house and have two more in the works. “With the social-economic conditions of Mexico, we cannot just think about doing beautiful places,” says Guerrero. “We need to make beautiful places, but these works have to help make the country better for everybody. I think that's the point of architecture.”
DESIGN STAFF: 4
PRINCIPALS: Ana Cecilia Garza, Carlos Flores, César Guerrero, Mar'a Sevilla
EDUCATION: Garza: Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia, M.Arch., 2005; Monterrey Institute of Technology (ITESM), B.A., 2003. Flores: ITESM, B.A., 2004. Guerrero: ITESM, B.A., 2004. Sevilla: ITESM, B.A., 2008.
WORK HISTORY: Garza: Nuevo León State Urban Planning Agency, 2003'4. Flores: Undurraga Devés, 2003'6. Guerrero: Roldán + Beregué, 2003; Assadi + Pulido, 2003'5. Sevilla: Tadao Ando, 2007; Dominique Perrault, 2008.
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Box House, Zuazua, 2013; S-AR Workshop, San Pedro Garza García, 2012; Ofimodul Showroom, Monterrey, 2009
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: 2L House, San Pedro, 2014; Dhar House, Baja California, 2014; church and community center, Monterrey, 2018
WEB SITE: www.S-AR.mx