Too nervous about being an artist but a bit too curious to be a traditional architect. That is how Frida Escobedo described herself in her early years when deciding what career to pursue in an interview with Ilana Herzig for the Architectural Record. The boundaries between art and architecture are often blurred, with both subjects being interdisciplinary and operating as gateways to each other. There are many examples of past and present-day architects that bend those fields and create a riveting syntax of space and art whilst not conforming to a particular style but envisioning their own. Frida Escobedo has secured her place on that list.
An architect, artist and designer
Frida Escobedo is a Mexican architect who rose to worldwide prominence after the design of the 2018 Serpentine Pavillion. Although, by then, she had established her distinguished style. She was born in 1979 in Mexico City and is the youngest architect and the second woman commissioned to design the temporary art installation at the Serpentine Gallery. But much before that, Escobedo made a name for herself with multiple projects in Mexico, the USA and the UK, ranging from architecture designs to art installations and rehabilitations of urban spaces. She founded her studio in 2006, Frida Escobedo Taller de Arquitectura, meaning Architecture Workshop- a name describing her multidisciplinary approach to the field. More recently, she also became the first woman selected to design a new wing of a modern and contemporary art section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Behind Frida Escobedo’s vision
When describing her practice, Frida Escobedo always discusses how the expression of time is a vital feature in architecture. Everyday materials and simple, geometrical forms embody the themes of time and the social-cultural context from which they originate. Her work encloses particular materiality that takes pride in using elements of vernacular architecture from Mexico whilst combining itself with modern, present-day technologies and materials.
Beyond the tangible, her projects take advantage of natural devices, such as light and sound. Escobedo wields the space in such ways that turn light and shadow into tactile elements for the user to observe, interact, and reflect. Her distinct philosophy affirms an elegant use of vibrant materials, weaving spaces that emanates energy and engage communities.
Frida Escobedo tailored an ethos that doesn’t adhere to one specific style but instead exalts its background, cherishing influences from previous movements and reinterpreting its historical, cultural and social values. Her signature, in a way, is consistency and commitment to simplicity that engages communities and brings attention to everyday issues and how architecture and art can be powerful tools to transform them.
A multidisciplinary ideology
Escobedo is an avid advocate for simple forms in design and the use of materials. Paradoxically, simplicity is, in fact, complex to achieve. There is a risk of inventing an overly simplistic object that fails to communicate to its audience. But Frida Escobedo finds the perfect balance between neutrality and overstatement by taking advantage of the benefits of simplicity: straightforward solutions that set a stage for social dynamics and for people to appropriate.
These kinds of sensory experiences come not only from a clean design but also from the materials used. Escobedo advocates for a dialogue between time, social issues and cultural context. The materials she employs in her designs are often depicted as symbols of such matters and are part of the narrative of the architectural object. In short, the materials tell a story and help create a sensory experience.
A range of versatile projects
Frida Escobedo has an established voice. It distinguishes itself by having different perspectives and layered visions of subjects. All of her projects look different and communicate different things. They come from the desire to strengthen the relationship between architecture and the public. Be it a permanent or a temporary project, Escobedo does not treat space as a static thing. She understands that the way people engage with her work will change over time- as political, social, and cultural atmospheres innately change, but that is the natural progression of society and does not necessarily degrade the worth of the architectural objects. Instead, she incorporates this fluidity quality into her pieces, be it architectural buildings, art installations or furniture designs. This understanding of space as an interchangeable matter distinguishes her work from others.
Frida Escobedo designed this cultural centre in 2010, located in Cuernavaca, Mexico. One of her first projects, it is quite Brutalist in its style, containing some of the trademarks of the architect in terms of the relationship of the building with its surrounding context. A courtyard opens itself towards the plaza, intertwining with the public space. She explores simple materials in the facade of the building, made of walls of perforated concrete blocks that create a mesmerising pattern dynamically.
Her design for an art installation at Stanford University fades the border between art and architecture, playing with dynamism, sound, texture and light. Entitled “A very short space of time through very short times of space”, taken from James Joyce’s Ulysses. The screen of metallic steel panels opens up to a secluded courtyard, creating a reflective space.
Image 11_The Serpentine Pavillion_ ©Vanessa Vielma
Finally, the Serpentine Pavillion was designed in 2018. For those unfamiliar with Frida Escobedo’s work, this piece summarises her philosophy and ideology. Once more, the spatial element of the courtyard is present in a clear allusion to her previous works and to the patios typically attached to houses in Mexico; in this design, though, she also draws inspiration from both Mexican and British elements, creating an atmospheric space with the interplay of light and materials.
The enclosed, rectangular-shaped courtyards derive from Mexican domestic architecture, as do the cement celosías, traditional wall screens that allow for ventilation and the passage of light. Typically used in European and British architecture, stacks of grey concrete roofing tiles create the celosías which frame the space. The Serpentine Pavillion is also the platform for Park Nights, an annual event for performers from different fields to showcase their work conversing with architecture. It is then a fitting stage for an architect known for merging the fields of art, design and music to create unique spatial experiences.
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Arellano, Monica. (2022). Frida Escobedo Among the 100 Emerging Leaders by TIME 2022. [online]. Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/989736/frida-escobedo-among-the-100-emerging-leaders-by-time-2022?ad_medium=office_landing&ad_name=article. [Accessed date: 03/03/2023].