By Noémie Bourdin-Habert
It’s probable that most foreigners who decided to live full- or part-time in Huatulco had a crush on Mexico’s unique culture. At least, I did. I loved that its rich history and diverse influences have played a crucial role in shaping its art and design, but little did I know when I first set foot in the country that what is shown of it, back in Europe, is only the tip of the iceberg. And one of the things that I fell in love with is Mexico’s modern architecture.
Exploring Mexico for the first time back in 2020 shed a special light on the country’s architectural diversity encompassing various historical periods – and therefore styles.
Delving into Mexico’s history and evolution revealed a vibrant pre-Hispanic architecture, marked by – now disappeared – vivid color schemes, the utilization of stone and wood, along with geometric and clean lines, as well as a deep connection to nature.
Of course it was also deeply influenced by the contrasting colonial style introduced by the Spanish, more visible today than the pre-Hispanic style. The Mediterranean building type gave birth to central courtyards, ornate decorations, and elements such as arches, domes, fountains, and patterned tiles, all while retaining the use of colored facades.
But an unexpected surprise for me was the influence of the modernist and art-deco movements in Mexico in the 20th century. Perhaps because of a desire to break away from the colonial style, modernist architectural trends from the United States and Europe were received with acclaim in Mexico and brought the use of a minimal style, large roof overhangs, clean lines, glass walls, and a strong emphasis on functionality.
The 20th century, marked by two World Wars and the Mexican revolution, was an era of redefining identity for the country. It gave rise to two contrasting movements, one leaning towards internationalization, and the other one towards exploring the roots of Mexico. Eventually, these blended thanks to a forward-looking mindset combined with true pride in pre-Hispanic history. It led to the development of a distinctive Mexican architectural identity that now exerts a significant influence on the global architectural landscape.
All of this is reflected in contemporary Mexican architecture, visually characterized by pure horizontal lines, the use of local and ancestral materials, but above all, by a deep desire to adapt to regional climates and blend into the landscape.
Characteristics of contemporary architecture in Mexico include :
-Integration of Interior and exterior : a focus on maximizing the use of light, climate and landscapes, often achieved through the use of large windows and the creation of shaded areas.
-Simplicity over ornateness : a preference for clean, geometrical lines over the intricate designs of the colonial architecture and the adoption of a minimalist approach, featuring raw materials like wood, marble, or concrete.
-Emphasis on sustainability and nature : contemporary architecture gave center stage to ecological considerations with a strong emphasis on respecting the local environment, using local and durable materials, and connecting with nature.
But Mexicans being Mexicans, cold minimalism quickly evolved into a warm and welcoming minimalism, thanks to the use of wood, touches of colors, and the invitation of nature in.
As of today, Mexico, Brazil, and Chile are the only Latin American countries whose architects have received the prestigious Pritzker Prize (a.k.a. the “Nobel Prize for architecture”). Of these, Mexican architect Luis Barragán, master of the modernist movement, left an indelible mark on the world of architecture.
While the government, through its federal tourism agency FONATUR, initially introduced a colonial architecture in Huatulco in the 1980s, the resort area began promoting Mexico’s unique contemporary architectural movement around 2010. Award-winning architects are making significant contributions to the “look” of Huatulco – here are eight stunning modern projects.
The new school of Un Nuevo Amanecer (A New Dawn, a nonprofit that Works with children with disabilites) was designed by Manuel Cervantes of Manuel Cervantes Estudio, in collaboration with Angel Garcia (2023, http://www.facebook.com/manuelcervantescc/).
The ALMA development – 36 villas and 10 condos – located between Playas Violin and Organo, was designed by José Juan Rivera Río of JJRR/Arquitectura, in collaboration with Modica-Ledezma (2023, http://www.jjrrarquitectura.com/portafolio/alma/).
The Huatulco Convention Center at Chahue Marina was designed by Enrique Norten of Ten Arquitectos (2022, http://www.ten-arquitectos.com/ccchahue).
The Biulú Condos in Tangolunda were designed by María Alicia Gómez Castañares, who runs her own firm just outside Mexico City (2022, https://biulu.mx/). Gómez was a cofounder and designed the Yeé lo Beé Mariposaro (butterfly farm) in Jabalina, just north of Huatulco on Route 200. The Mariposarium is currently closed; Gómez is working on designs for residences on the property.
Montecito Beach Village, developed over the last decade or so, was designed by renowned architect Diego Villaseñor. It lies high above Playa La Bocana, on the eastern península that forms Bahía Conejos (www.dva.com.mx/#/montecito/).
FONATUR, the federal agency that set up Huatulco as a resort, commissioned architect Mario Schjetnan of GDU (Grupo de Diseño Urbano) to build the Museum at the Copalita Eco-Archeological Park (2010, gdu.com.mx/proyecto/parque-eco-arqueologico-copalita).
The Civic Center in Copalita contains a kindergarden and primary school, plus a chapel. It was designed by 128 Arquitectura y Diseno Urbano (2010, https://128asc.com/proyectos).
Despite some misconceptions, Mexico has evolved beyond being viewed as an extension of the United States by upper North Americans or a colony of Europe by Europeans. Instead, it has harnessed its diverse influences to forge a distinct identity rooted in its rich history and vibrant present. Mexico’s design culture is now celebrated globally, with artists, architects, designers, actors, painters, and other creative minds achieving international recognition.