On the city and its spaces

On the city and its spaces

Javier Sánchez is one of the people responsible for the identity that Mexico City has adopted for the past 20 years. Coming from a family of architects, he kept the so-called seventh art as home, but he also explored real estate development. He adds that JSa is a workshop and not a firm because there is more artisanal work than industrial one in architecture. He says that there is need for transition spaces. Ambiguous. Spaces that no client asks for. He says it is this architecture (and the landscape) what makes us better people.

NURIA OCAÑA: Architect or Developer? Which one comes first? 

JAVIER SÁNCHEZ: Architect. Development is a medium to make architecture. A tool. If I had to choose just one, architect.

NO: You consider architecture more as a cultural piece than an art one, right? 

JS: What interests me most about what has been built is that it is a dirty art; it is part of the culture. It is not an untouchable art you have no access to, on the contrary, you live in it. I prefer that part of architecture, the more real one, to thinking it as an unreachable value where we don’t fit in.

NO: And, at what point does culture become art?

JS: That is defined by the critics. Time gives maturity to things. Perspective. Distance. It is hard to think about such transcendence in everyday life because architecture needs time to mature and get inside culture itself. There are buildings designed with the purpose of becoming instant icons. A museum is more iconic than an apartment building. Its nature will make it become a reference, but our work does not aspire to that, it aspires to serve. The other can come or not.

I am interested in the less obvious; how a whole narrative is created while the work is visited. Architecture allows us to enter it with the dimension of time. It allows it to be toured, visualized, in a personal way. It is here where it relates with art; where each person understands it in a different manner.

NO: Why do you trust the fact that the physical space can face an automated society?

JS: Talking is the thing that can save us. When we stop talking we stop relating to one another. The most beautiful part of living in a city is feeling it as a totally democratic space. You don’t have to prove anyone who you are in order to walk across it, and nobody cares. We are all walking on its streets.

When you take this to a housing condominium, it is the patios, the alleys, the spaces that make us find the community with which we share the place. Here, the most public part of the city filters into the most private part, your home. But you may not have such interface and just take the elevator to go to your apartment.

So that’s what is left. We are left with parks, sidewalks, these ambiguous areas for transition. I seek to provoke spaces that do not require a ticket, an ID, or a reason, because that is where freedom exists, along with the city’s democratization that interests me.

We are working on a project in the Condesa neighborhood, where several buildings share a very big garden. All buildings touch the ground floor in a very light way and you can walk between them. A small passage where you can spend time is created. There is nothing there. It is just space.

NO: Space understood in a different way…

JS: It is free space, which is not included in a needs program. A client rarely will ask you to add a space like that. But it is the space that as an architect you add to the program and where you bet it all.

NO: Do you think the “community” concept acquires a new meaning?

JS: It is understood in many ways. A community is a group of people related through something that unites them, even though they are so different, generally speaking. I am part of a community of runners. Here, it doesn’t matter if you are an architect or something else; we are all humans and we run. People who live in a condominium, in some way, belong to a community. There are people who use the term to define an isolated place in the city; closed condominiums, with no guardhouses, but the concept of living in a city has certainly been distorted, because we live in isolated islands.

Pensar que la arquitectura está al margen de los procesos económicos es equivocado. Es importante que sea arquitectura y no simple construcción, pero también es fundamental que encaje en una realidad concreta

NO: Where is the housing model headed in Mexico City?

JS: There are two alternatives. The small projects, where work is infinite because each lot can become a small housing project. And the other case, the one with the big projects. The ones with mixed use, which blend a great amount of things, which require large extensions of land, which change the scale of the city, and which are alien to the neighborhoods they live in because, in some way, they are isolated from them.

From a practical point of view, it is easier to live there because you have everything solved. And it is not something new. Mario Pani’s Guadalquivir building is a set of mixed uses, very similar to what is made today, with the difference that the façade facing Reforma Avenue and the small streets from the Cuauhtémoc neighborhood used to be open. Many of today’s works are blind towards the outside. Pani’s is a project from almost 50 years ago, he was a visionary of this model, but much more generous with the city.

In any case, in this city’s (Mexico) current juncture, where real estate development is challenged, those projects will be increasingly harder to build.

I would like to think about something in between, where you have a place with more density because its features allow it, but not isolated from the neighborhood in consequence.

NO: Which is the room you enjoy most in a house?

JS: The kitchen. I like to cook. I feel it is the gathering center. In the Wright houses, for example, the center of the house was the fire; stoves or chimneys where they cooked.

NO: And the one you least like?

JS: The living room. It’s an anachronistic space. I love having a place where you can read, but that can take place in a chair by the window. There is nothing better than a table to coexist. I don’t have one at home.

NO: Did you save it?

JS: I turned it into something else.

NO: What would you do if you were not into construction?

JS: The “what if” does not exist, but today I am truly interested in landscaping. I became interested since I started running; in the mountains, in different climates. The landscape is a free element that makes us live very differently when compared with the city. It makes us softer, better people. I would dedicate myself more to that. You can call it agriculture… landscaping.

Photos by Fabian ML