Frida Escobedo

Interview with Mexico City architect.
Your current office is in Mexico City. Have you always lived here?
Yes, except from the time I spent doing my master’s degree, I have always lived in Mexico City.
You’ve had the opportunity to study in the United States.  How has your education experience at Harvard helped shaped the ideas you have about architecture?
I had been working independently for 7 years, and I was trying to take a break from the way I was practicing the discipline. Around the same time, a new Master in Design Studies opened at the GSD: the Art, Design and the Public Domain Program. It resonated strongly with all the ideas and questions I had. It was the perfect way to explore different aspects of the spatial practices and how they intersect. It gave me a whole new perspective on how space is produced, represented and lived.  
What motivated you to start your own firm instead of joining one?
It happened without really planning it. My boyfriend at the time (who is also an architect) was asked to do a renovation for his mom’s house.  We had just graduated a few weeks before. His grandmother followed, and then a close friend asked us design to his house. That’s what I really consider to be our first project. We kind of learned the hard way. We made a lot of mistakes, we struggled a lot financially, but it was always a really rewarding job. We stopped working together after two years, and around that time, José Rojas asked me if I would be interested in collaborating with him on the Hotel Bocachica project. Working with José was very fun, and I learned a lot from him. He has this very particular sensibility that flirted more with the artistic than with the architectonic, so he was a great influence. After that I did the El Eco Pavilion and La Tallera competitions, and to my good fortune I got both commissions, so from then I’ve been having my own practice.
Mexican culture is a mixture of indigenous and colonial influence, have any of these played an important role in your design ideas?
I guess what has influenced me most is the continue overlapping of all these layers of history, the way we synthetize, juxtapose and contrast all the aspects that conform our identity. The indigenous, the colonial and the modern are present in our everyday life, and this kind of cultural accretion has always fascinated me.  
Currently there seems to be a lot of projects being built in Mexico City.  Is the city experiencing a boom or has it always been this way?
I’ve always seen Mexico as a place of continuous crisis and continuous change. It is true that it seems that right now there are many things happening in the creative field. I guess a place that holds so many contradictions and contrasts is a good growing medium. This is a place where there is a lot that needs to be done, and most of it is urgent.
A lot of the projects that your office develops are cultural works; are these your favorite type?
It is something relatively new, but we enjoy it a lot here at the studio. But I think that what is really great is that we are working on very diverse commissions, from furniture to public parks and plazas, and from retail spaces to research and academic work. This keeps our perspective fresh, and every project feeds the other, even if they are apparently very different from each other. 
 There are many different facade elements that make up the La Tallera project, what was some of the inspiration behind them?
The main idea was to open up the patio to the adjacent plaza, which was achieved by changing the position of the murals. Since we had to replace the structure, all the new programs of the museum (shop, bookshop, cafeteria, archive, reading room) were housed inside this new structure. 
On the other hand, we had to give a more unified look to the rest of the compound. The space had been built in many different phases, so it was very irregular and wasn’t well integrated. We chose the concrete lattice because it gave the building a more solid, “institutional” feel, and at the same time it subtly showed the different layers and phases of growth behind it.
Is there a special type of material that you always like to work and experiment with?
I feel more comfortable working with raw materials, but I also enjoy working with super artificial and clashing materials.  It depends on the kind of project we are working on.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced while being an architect in Mexico?
As I was mentioning before, there are a lot of opportunities, especially for young architects like me. There is a lot of artistic freedom, and we can play around a lot without to worry about super strict regulations (for good and bad). On the other hand, it is very hard that to keep healthy finances, people still see design as something they can overlook, or that it is an unnecessary cost. And this doesn´t just happen with private clients. This year the government has made some major budget cuts for the Arts. This of course had an impact on how projects and competitions are handled. 
What role does art play in your design ideas, and how do you try to incorporate it into your projects?
For me, art is able to express things that otherwise couldn’t be explained or verbalized. That is probably the reason we keep borrowing from the art world.
Have you ever been given the opportunity to create a project outside of Mexico?
Yes, two years ago we did the Civic Stage for the Lisbon Architecture Triennial.  Currently we are working on an installation for Stanford University. It is a three-floor tall lattice.  We are also working on some retail spaces for Aesop.
The architectural profession is definitely not one for the faint of heart has there ever been a time when you wanted to give up being an architect?
Almost all the time! There is a critical moment when I start working on a project where I go through this kind of “writer´s block” and I feel like this time I really won’t be able to come up with an idea. But so far, it has always been just momentary luckily.
After a long week of work and finishing up a deadline how do you unwind and relax?
I’ve found that cooking is the best thing for me to relax, and if that doesn’t do the trick…mezcal.
Name three of the last books you’ve read in the past few weeks.
I have been focusing more on research, so I’ve been revisiting The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, by Jürgen Habermas and The Condition of Posmodernity by David Harvey. On fiction, I am reading My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgård.