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.
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.
A deep interest in structure, tectonics, and nature that results in projects of material elegance and spatial sophistication.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
I do not have heroes, but the Vietnamese architect Voh Trong is doing amazing work with bamboo.
I need few things: books, food, mezcal, and wine.
Portrait Diego Berruecos
Images Yoshi Koitani and Onnis Luque