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01 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach KV


The Design Diaries
Alberto Kalach


Words Vidula KotianDate 03 August 2022

One of the most prolific and versatile architects in Mexico today, Alberto Kalach has never shied away from sharing his opinions, especially on the lack of urban planning in his native Mexico City, and dreaming of largescale utopian civic planning projects that give equal credence to people and nature. Kalach’s precise craft-like approach to architecture in combination with his deep understanding of indigenous flora has lead to his firm Taller de Arquitectura X carving out a rich portfolio of expressive masonry in his country and abroad.

One of his latest projects, the 100%-solar-powered Hotel Terrestre for Grupo Habita, brings together everything that makes his architecture so special: cool concrete and brick rooms, green oases, amazing inner courtyards, open structures, and the greatest possible perspective and overview.

It’s no wonder that the project has been nominated for the AHEAD awards in the Newbuild and Spa & Wellness categories in the Americas this year. We had a brief chat with this laconic pragmatist, who prefers to communicate through his works.

03 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Studio Kalach describes his office as a lab and greenhouse

04 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Site specific Each project prioritizes its natural environment

Design Style

A deep interest in structure, tectonics, and nature that results in projects of material elegance and spatial sophistication.

Design Ethos

Green on and in the building is an essential factor for the architect in many respects: “I have to paint in order to express myself, for example to see the effect and the interaction of colors. A gardener paints with plants. I could have been a gardener too.”

Projects of Note

José Vasconcelos libraryReforma 27 tower, and Kurimanzutto Gallery.

What you didn’t know

He published a book, México: Ciudad Futura—on the problems of urban planning in the city and large-scale solutions—together with architects such as Teodoro González de León, Gustavo Lipkau, and Jose Castillo.

Design Hotel Members

Hotel Escondido Oaxaca and Hotel Terrestre


Kalach in Mexico City

“For me, a building has to be like an open book. You have to be able to understand it.”

Alberto Kalach

05 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Hotel Terrestre The Brutalist-inspired structure blends in with its environment

06 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Expressive masonry His buildings have a craft-like quality

07 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

A villa at Terrestre On the upper terrace is a cooling lap pool

08 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Natural cooling Wide open spaces work with the Pacific winds

How did you end up working with Grupo Habita and what was it like?

I’ve known them for a while, and we’ve been trying to do something together. Finally, we succeeded. Carlos and Moisés are very intelligent and open to new ideas. Each hotel is different because they are sensitive to the place and conditions it is set in. For example, with Terrestre, the project is disconnected from the grid. It is a structure that generates its own energy, consumes its own water, and recycles the water. There is no air conditioning and there is a nice breeze in all the lovely spaces. It is quite remarkable that a high-end hotel believes in these things.


You work very closely with plants in your projects. Do you have to learn about the plants in each topography?

We try to work with the plants that belong to a place and that’s relatively easy. You go to a place and get acquainted with the vegetation there. Nevertheless, we sometimes introduce some other “guests” to enhance the landscape. You have to get to know the names of the plants and the way they grow. It is a very important part of architecture. Since the beginning of architecture and even before, we were cultivating plants. Agriculture came hand in hand with the first settlements in history.

01 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Walking or flying? 


Round or angular?

Finite angles make a round shape

Sunset or Sunrise?

Sunset because at sunrise I’m not ready

Black & white or color?


Spotify or LP?


09 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Reforma 27 tower An eye-catcher with a strict grid

10 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Tinted concrete Kalach uses an earthy Mexican red to give the building a local context

Do you work with local experts?

My daughter is a landscape designer and botanist. We have an eye and a lot of books. We do research. It’s basically an exercise of observation.


You said, “Mexico is living a good moment in architecture. It seems that some lessons are being learned from early failures.” How are those failures are being improved upon?

The new generations are more conscious about spending less resources, and that way of thinking will continue. Everybody learns from their mistakes. An architect is a craftsperson and like any other craft, you learn by doing it. Even in the realm of science, the way of working is by trial and error and trying a different path. Architecture is pretty similar to those processes of thinking and doing.

For instance, you can’t have glass facades close to the ocean. Whoever wears glasses on the beach will realize that shortly after the glasses are completely covered in mist and salt. You can’t stop the wind. You have to work with the moisture and the wind and not against it. There are many ways of dealing with context. In a northern place, it would a completely different situation because of the weather. Here, we have extreme hot weather but it is still breezy.

11 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Hotel Escondido Oaxaca The entire hotel is custom made and locally conceived

12 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

The old building Housing the communal part of the hotel

13 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

A preserver Kalach rescued the pre-Hispanic elements of the original colonialist house

What have you learned from your failures?

Well, the list is very long. I try to forget my failures. I don’t recall anything specific, but something has changed in the way we do things. I’m trying to do more easy and simple things, which I think is positive because we waste less time and energy. We consume less materials. We destroy the landscape around us less.


You’ve done a number of projects in Oaxaca…what do you find special about this region?

Oaxaca is not so impacted by construction, so you have a lot of natural landscapes by the Pacific Ocean with the mountains behind, which is very beautiful. It is relatively easy to build there. There are good craftspeople and workers. At this point, we are doing projects there, but we might do some other projects somewhere else. For instance, right now I’m in Venice accidently but here I am drinking a Campari…


How are you accidently in Venice?

A friend of mine called me a month ago and said he is giving a course in the School of Architecture and asked me to join. And I said, fine.

15 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Bioclimatic office building Torre 41 doesn't need air conditioning nor heating

14 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

Torre 41 Designed to turn into a light sculpture at nightfall

Is there a project/product you’re particularly proud of? Why?

I try to do the best that I can, but I don’t have a particular attachment to any past projects. We have our head in the future projects and that keeps us busy enough.


Who are your sustainability heroes?

I do not have heroes, but the Vietnamese architect Voh Trong is doing amazing work with bamboo.


What have you changed in your life in the past year to be more sustainable?

I need few things: books, food, mezcal, and wine.

16 DH Design Diaries Alberto Kalach

José Vasconcelos library The massive structure is filled with a green-painted iron structure that thickens towards the ceiling

Portrait Diego Berruecos
Images Yoshi Koitani and Onnis Luque

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