Elemental Monterrey by Elemental

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This housing complex in Mexico by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena of Elemental is the winner of the architecture award in the Brit Insurance Designs of the Year Awards.

Called Elemental Monterrey, the project will provide 70 homes by building the basic house including bathrooms kitchens and stairs but leaving voids that allow residents to adapt and expand each property themselves.

The buildings are arranged in a rectangle around a shared garden, with a two-storey apartment above each ground-floor house.

A continuous roof covers the structures and voids between them.

See also: Quinta Monroy residential development by Elemental, completed in 2004.

See the Design of the Year category winners here. The overall winner will be announced on 16 March.

Photographs are by Ramiro Ramirez.

The information that follows is from Elemental:


70 HOME COMPLEX

Restrictions: Santa Catarina is a city of 230,000 inhabitants, located in the state of Nuevo León, in the northwest of Mexico. This project is Elemental’s first outside of Chile.

The Government of Nuevo León, México, commissioned us to design a group of 70 homes on a site of .6 hectars in a middle class neighborhood in Santa Catarina. The required density suggested the application of the typology we developed for Iquique. However, the climate in Santa Catarina is very different from the northern dessert climate of Chile. The 600 mm of annual rainfall required us to adapt our proposal to this new question.

The commission to develop this middle class neighborhood with the financing of US$20,000 per dwelling (almost double the funds we had for the housing projects built by Elemental in Chile). However, the construction standards and building codes significantly raise the construction costs.

In this case, it was pertinent to use the strategy of investing state resources to build “the difficult half” of the home, especially given the capacity do-it-yourself building observed in Mexico, ensuring a promising future for the expansions.

The Project: ELEMENTAL Monterrey consists of a three-story continuous building that in section superimposes a home (first floor) with a two-story apartment above (2nd and 3rd story). Both units are designed to technically and economically facilitate the final middle class standard of which we will hand over the “first half” (40 m2).

In this sense, the difficult parts of the house (bathrooms, kitchen, stairs, and dividing walls) are designed for the expanded scenario, that is, for a home of more than 58 m2 approx. and an apartment of approximately 76 m2.

Secondly, given that almost 50% of the m2 of the complex will be self-built, this building is porous so that the growth can occur within the structure. On one hand we want to frame and give rhythm (more than control) to the spontaneous construction so as to avoid deterioration of the urban environment over time, and also make the process of expansions for each family easier.

The proposed continuous roof above the volumes and voids protects the expansion zones from rain and ensures a definitive profile of the building toward the public space.

Third, experience tells us that in lower class neighborhoods the green spaces tend to be “earth spaces,” due to the scarcity of maintenance and the distance that exists between green space and the home that makes it difficult for neighbors to take care of.

What we did in this case was to surround the green space with building, reducing the distance between communal space and the home to a minimum. This permitted us to define a collective space with secure Access that gives space to the social network and generates favorable conditions for maintenance and care.

All the apartments have direct Access from the public space and parking, a condition especially relevant in a country where every family can have access to an automobile.

Location 
Santa Catarina, Gob. Nuevo León, México.
Density
477 hab./ha
Areas
Land: 6,591m²
Initial house: 40 m²
Expanded house: 58.75²
Initial duplex: 40m²
Expanded duplex: 76.60m²
Client
Instituto de la Vivienda de Nuevo León (IVNL)
Engineering
Area of projects and technological innovation, IVNL.
Urbanization and specialization
Area of projects and technological innovation, IVNL.

  • http://www.tribeca.mx Jorge Fernandez

    I hope we can see more developments like the elemental one in latin america, is really necesary to combact the poverty of the world, Arq. Alejandro Aravena prove that is a way to build a cheap houses than actually culd be considerer by the people who own them as a patrimony to their familys, i hope some time in the future the greates arquitects as they call them selfs, see that the poor people could access to their builds, by innovating in the field, then not before for my personal point of view, they gonna be a real masters of the arquitecture, solving the problems of the humannity with they knowlege, thak you Arq. Alejandro Aravena to probe why te square and not the rectagle can solve the poverty in the world.

    Guadalajara, México.

  • klejdi eski

    why is this in dezeen ? I can find this in my neighborhood and all the other neighborhoods…

  • http://www.pedrolivni.com pedro

    Realmente no parece una propuesta innovadora si uno considera la historiografía del S. XX, estéticamente deja mucho que desear, los espacios comunes están extremadamente pobres y desolados. Las posibilidades de crecimiento ya fueron testeadas desde el 50 en adelante, desde el Team X, las cooperativas de ayuda mutua en Uruguay, los trabajos de Ralph Erskine, etc, etc… y lo peor que este tipo de propuestas son premiadas internacionalmente… creo que en materia de vivienda social se puede y debe lograrse un producto mejor.

  • emily

    I think the essence behind it and the execution of this is just Brilliant! Well done,

  • Capstick

    Good Project, as usual from Elemental. Now I hope that they ´ll take a relevant rol in the reconstruction of our country. Vamos Chile!

  • memo

    poor Mexico, it’s crowded with these welfare projects all over the country.

  • Alberto

    Any chance of some plans?

  • di

    architecture with a cause. what aravena is doing is really inspiring. my only criticism with the aesthetics of this project would be the roofline – anything the straight line. good stuff though!

  • INawe

    it will be interesting to see how this project will transform itself over time once the voids become filled.

  • Kovansky

    Creo que en México no hay todavía la suficiente cultura en la sociedad como para habitar en este tipo de viviendas, tenemos como ejemplo los Condominios Constitución que fueron un gran fracaso décadas atrás.
    Los espacios comunes se convierten en inútiles ya que requieren de mucho mantenimiento el cual no todos estamos dispuestos a pagar (menos en mty), en vez de ayudar generan una problemática, estoy seguro que algunos de estos espacios se van a convertir en “tiendita” otros de ellos van a hacer adecuaciones que a cualquier arquitecto le daría un coraje, y otros de ellos, la mayoría, se van a quedar en las pobres condiciones actuales…
    Hay que darse cuenta que el Arq. Alejandro Aravena en ningún momento estuvo consciente que su proyecto se construiría en Santa Catarina N.L; y que jamas ha pisado esta tierra un día de verano a 45* donde el mismo se hubiera dado cuenta que este proyecto no funciona al menos aquí!
    Desgraciadamente las casas se venden por necesidad de la población, pero espero que los fraccionadores se den cuenta y opten por el típico sistema de vivienda igual de “pinche” pero que funciona mejor.

  • pai

    floor plans might be interesting…

  • diego

    Why should this be on Dezeen!? Because this is what real life is about, it’s about everyday life and everyday problems. Something that most likely 3 or 4 billion people alike have to share. These Architects should have a lot of respect! Its especially not easy to make a project work and look satisfying on a low budget. I therefore applaud them!
    You want to see and open your eyes to low cost housing – come to South Africa! We could all learn from latin America because I see them trying.
    I hope to see Elemental invited to SA.

  • hugo

    To Kovansky,

    I think if you looked closer at what ELEMENTAL does you would find out that this project is not finished. Inhabitants will transform it and hopefully, one of those houses will turn into a store. The great courtyard space is completely undefined but hopefully somebody will step in and complete it. ELEMENTAL provides a starting point, not a finished product, hence the choice of colors and finishings. As for your concern about how public and semi-public spaces are used in México, specifically in Monterrey, you are sadly correct, since society in México is extremely prejudiced in terms of socioecomic class. Let’s hope this project helps narrow that gap.

    Para Kovansky,

    Si estudias más en detalle lo que hace ELEMENTAL, te darás cuenta que este proyecto está inacabado. Los habitantes lo transformarán y con un poco de suerte, uno de esos espacios se convertirá en una “tiendita”. El patio/parque situado en el centro está sin definir pero esperemos que alguien (tú?) se arme de ganas y valor para ayudar a terminarlo. ELEMENTAL provee diseño y medios para llegar a un punto de partido, pero nunca construye un producto terminado, lo cual es evidente en los materiales, colores y acabados. Tu crítica acerca de cómo se utilizan los espacios público y semipúblicos es bastante acertada, no hemos desarrollado la cultura de compartir espacios porque nuestra sociedad es bastante clasista. Esperemos que este proyecto ayude a cubrir esa separación.

  • miguel

    It could be a very nice prison.
    I wonder if the office who design this would like to live in such a cold place.
    I think living in such an ugly thing can even lead to suicide.

  • Philip

    @Diego – Couldn’t agree more! Alejandro Aravena was invited to and spoke at the Design Indaba conference last week and got a standing ovation. SA (along with much of the world) has a dire housing crisis. It is only through pragmatic design like this that the people of the world have hope for better houses.

  • Tom

    This is brilliant. As someone else says, architecture for Ordinary People: shouldn’t that be what modernism is about?

    Here in the UK, we’re knocking down tonnes of old industrial terraced housing, because people think it’s not up to modern standards: but then we replace it with horrific semi-detached boxes, completely identical, and crudely packed into the space to maximise profits for the developer.

    I’d much rather see something like this created in the UK: simple, beautiful, functional.

  • AlexandrePereira

    To Pedro,
    Eve if there are a lot of previous experiences (specially good ones during the 60s) it´s hard to find ones that are actually able to tackle successfully all the issues involved in the current practice of social housing. Some, like Charles Correa, had actually achieved a high level of technical quality along with a humane design with fair environmental integration.
    I think ELEMENTAL is a great solution for a lot of situations since it can in one move bring together funding issues , family needs, topography (some other ELEMENTAL projects show this more clearly), the possibility to expand and urban form.
    Even though I must admit it carries a heavy modern tradition the language used, much more as a preconception than an actual design-based decision, this achieves a certain rational definition of the public space which in most situations can help bring the urban fabric to a more cohesive form.
    So, even if I admit we have seen this kind of solution before, the realisation of it today is a completely different issue. One which does not depend upon innovation solely and which does not require it to be a “final” or universal solution as the best one ever or anything like that.

  • AlexandrePereira

    To Kovansky and Hugo,
    I write from Brasil which is where I´m from and I must agree in a generic basis with Kovansky. There is a great chance that the informal ocupation of the “in-betweens” and of open spaces will be predominant, but isn´t that the most desirable aspect of letting this spaces void? Taking a look at other ELEMENTAL projects one can see how people – in different parts of Chile – have taken over this spaces and filled them in.
    For me, the reason for having such rational structure is to create a clear base from which there´ll be a “colonization” appropriated by the useres themselves. This is one of the best aspects of this design, since it is made to be “deformed” if you will by whomever occupies it. This is a clear standpoint on how people should (or could) participate in the design process, one which I find praiseworthy but which I would not rely entirely on.
    On the other hand, if the spaces are let “useles” as you say (about the Condominios Constituición), then there are issues that form alone cannot solve. I have serious concerns about the possibility that a “project [actually] helps narrow that gap”, but as I said this is a standpoint on how people should/could get involved.
    My greates concern is about how this ELEMENTAL design have been adapting to different climates, existing urban conditions and such. I haven´t found a lot of info on that, and hope people here can help with it. It definetly seems like a “cut-and-paste” opperation which hails from the modernist “living machine” back in the 60s and 70s and should be seen with a great deal of care.
    I would question you guys on how much does this design adapt to Mexico and to the people who are gonna live in it and how does it adapt. Is it by just leaving some blank in the “canvas”? I think that´s not enough and regional and environmental elements should be used even inside of a rational pre-made project framework. This might have happened here, but might not as well, since it – ironic or symptomaticaly – does not show anywhere.
    Congrats to Aravena on this brilliant but nonetheless critic-demanding design.
    I´d love to be a part in a design such as this so as to contribute with this kind of criticism and regret deeply that in Brasil we have very little funding for this and when there actually is, government AND construction companies turn to ready-mades and old formulas that are far worse than any of the designs discussed here could ever be. I must note that there are of course several awesome initiatives all over the country, but are far from beeing the rule.

  • SillyBug

    I very am curious to see how this place will evolve with the contributions of its residents, which will determine if the theory of the architects works.
    I hope Dezeen follows up.

  • lea

    we wouldlike to see scenarios of expansion.
    how does it work?? how does it happen?

  • Keith

    Alvaro Siza MUCH?

  • PAco

    It might be not so innovative but this proyect was long time forgotten in a Chilean University but still was needed and not used for decades , and its a great proyect if you
    understand the following

    In my city ( Monterrey,Mexico) there’s this big demographic growth but its not as big as the housing proyect growth wich is awfull, we have miles and miles of horizontal housing see this pictures : http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3330/3274969799_d1442022fc.jpg
    http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3390/3274969081_288225d1f3.jpg

    People buy houses instead of apartments in Mexico because our economical developmente is erratical so if things go well you can improve your house and make it bigger

    If economical development goes wrong; people will start making their own business at their houses so they normally start a bakery ,grocery store, repair shop or even making extra rooms for their Sons family
    http://picturepush.com/public/3091171

    Its not high end architecture, its basic urbanism , applied to the real use people give to their houses so i have to congrat Alejandro Aravena for convincing the constructor company for at least one good proyect