LAS POZAS VISITING SCHOOLProfile
by Umberto Bellardi Ricci, AADipl2011
Las Pozas Visiting School Co-Director and AA Foundation Studio Master
29 April 2014
Las Pozas, Mexico
The first time I heard about Las Pozas was when I was a second year student at the AA, and I met Carlos Matos who told me about these non-programmatic sculptural structures overgrown in the jungle. The evocative imagery that sprang to my mind were immediately very vivid. Las Pozas was a place Carlos would sometimes drive to from Mexico City, with a few friends. There in the jungle, the surrealist Edward James built these structures, many of which are open concrete stairways into the trees and the sky. Like a hybrid between Piranesi’s drawings of the Carceri and the Ruins, it is a place where Rococo ruination meets surrealism.
Left: Carlos’ Grandfather’s House
Right: Edward James at Las Pozas
Last year, I visited Carlos who had just returned to Mexico City after completing his diploma at the AA and working for David Chipperfield. We went on a road trip looking for large scale sculptural interventions in the landscape and had, as our final destination, the magical gardens of Las Pozas. We began in Mexico City with modern architecture, starting with a house built by Ernesto Gomez Gallardo, Carlos’ grandfather and one of Mexico’s early modernists, who spent his life researching the Moebius strip, that inspired the accomplished building that is also their family home. Following seeing such a Brutalist use of concrete, we visited Frida Kahlo’s and Diego Rivera’s studio, looked at Luis Barragan’s house and his use of light and colour, followed by the monumental sculptural Satellite towers and the large-scale landscaped ‘sculptural spaces’ at the UNAM. Finally, with a detour through pre‐hispanic pyramids and ruins, we headed towards the jungle for Las Pozas (translated as ‘the Baths’ based on a river running through the site that is trapped in pools designed by Edward James for the local community).
Not to be Reproduced,
A portrait of Edward James by René Magritte
A model of Pre-Hispanic Mexico City
After a first day in the amazing hotel ‘El Castillo,’ which was also built in the 1950s by Edward James’ assistant Plutarco, and houses the gallery of wooden moulds of concrete casts used for the Gardens, we arrived the following day at the sublime constructions built by James. We found out to our surprise that an AA graduate, Matthew Holmes, had just become director of the site and we quickly got into a conversation about its creative magnitude and the amazing potential it held to host a Visiting School on experimental concrete with a distinct abstract formal agenda.
A wooden fountain by Francisco Toldeo in Oaxaca
While having participated in projects such as Shin Egashira’s Koshirakura workshop in Japan, where architectural experimentation runs smoothly alongside a local community and the design builds on the heritage and know-how of the place, we were hoping to take a similar approach in our Visiting School in Xilitla. There students will initially study the unique blend of Modernist and pre-Hispanic architecture in Mexico City before then juxtaposing this with a contemporary architectural approach in our experiments of concrete prototypes in a 1:1 scale. These large scale installations will operate partly as incisions in the Mexican jungle but also in the little town of Xilitla and small neighbouring mountainous communities.
While part of our aim is to replicate the magic of our journey last year, revisiting the local architecture, and driving through a deserted gorge valley into the Mexican jungle, we also stay at the Castillo hotel to study the wooden moulds. Then we plan to move to Edward James’ buildings in the Gardens, where we will be based for most of our time during the Visiting School. There, we will have access to workspaces for our material explorations and castings.
Wooden moulds and form works at El Castillo
We will end this year’s Visiting School with an exhibition in Mexico City at the beautiful Marso Galleria, where we have invited artists and friends to meet us at different steps along our journey. We have an interesting mix of international students who have already enrolled, but applications are still open as we are looking to complete our concrete jungle team in the next months.
While it feels that we are about to enter a zone of short-term abstract experimentation, we are already looking at turning these prototypes, sited in the tropical foliage of Las Pozas, into a longer chapter of conceptual contemporary explorations in concrete.
For more information:
Las Pozas Visiting School (6-24 August) is directed by Carlos H Matos and Umberto Bellardi Ricci, both AADipl2011, and Kanto Iwamura, AADipl2010.
Las Pozas Visiting School Prospectus
Las Pozas Microsite