AIASD In The News: Mexico Beckons Architects
San Diego architects frustrated with endless regulations have an alternative — work in Mexico.
That was one of the goals of a recent daylong field trip south of the border by about 40 architects, engineers, developers and curious citizens.
Sponsored by the local chapters of the American Institute of Architects and Urban Land Institute, the tour took in five new Tijuana landmark developments, ranging from a cooking school to an addiction prevention center nearing completion. They met up with members of the Tijuana Architectural Association.
“I hope it will continue to grow,” said AIA San Diego President Matthew Geamen of the cross-border collaboration. “I know it will.”
The lure south is obvious.
The Tijuana-Rosarito region with about 2.5 million residents is still growing rapidly and could potentially overtake San Diego County, which is growing much slower, principally by births, not new residents.
Mexican rules and regulations for design and construction are much less restrictive than in the U.S.
One example that astounded the visitors was that a 700,000-square-foot Sanyo television assembly plant went up in seven months, from proposal to completion. It could take years for a San Diego development of that size to open its doors.
Finally, costs can be dramatically less than in the U.S. A cost of $70 per square foot in a commercial building in Tijuana might translate into $300 per square foot in the U.S., the architects agreed.
“It’s much easier,” said Jorge Gracia, 40, designer of the Culinary Art School. “There are rules, but they’re not that strict.”
But the lure northward for Mexican architects is just as strong. The salaries are higher, the transportation less hectic and the opportunities wide open. And employers welcome Mexican architects for one reason: Their experience tends to be broader and less dependent on particular building specialties.
“We are forced to be more versatile — we have to be able to adapt,” said Arturo Echánove, 50, who led the tour.
Echánove offered many examples of adaptation when dealing with Mexican projects.
The original roof of the Amber Museum for addiction-prevention education among youths was to consist of concrete panels. But waterproofing became an issue and Echánove stepped in and recommended a tensile fabric roof with a waterproof coating similar to that on the San Diego Convention Center’s Sail Pavilion.
But architects north and south face similar disappointments in the field. At the Center for Teaching of the Arts, budget overruns meant that air-conditioning systems had to be deleted. Dancers now have to perform in virtual hot boxes that cannot be kept cool from small natural-air intake ducts. The Tijuana mayor had left office, and his successor, with other priorities, apparently had no interest in making up the difference. “The administration ended and there was no way to add to (the budget),” Echánove said.
A green wall of vines and other vegetation also succumbed to money woes and treelike limbs were pasted to the green-painted wall instead.
Still, the projects on the tour offered some commendable design approaches.
The Autism Treatment Center, which won a Design Award from AIA San Diego last year, was carefully arranged to handle different stages of the disorder. One example was raising a railing from 40 to 52 inches and incorporating cleverly frosted glass panels instead of a solid wall. The idea was to let kids look through the panels and dissuade them from climbing over the 52-inch railing and falling to the floor below.
The Culinary Art School incorporates a basement wine cellar and tasting room set in a gravel-filled flooring — adding a unique sensory experience to the pleasures of palate.
San Diego public-school music education has suffered in recent years, but in Tijuana, the Center for Musical Arts was built to introduce hundreds of kids to instrument playing on a regular basis. The courtyard doubles as a performance space and a recording studio is being installed.
For all the innovations and modern design beckoning the talents of Mexican and American architects, many Mexican architects have set up practices or joined firms in San Diego.
Ivan Zepeda, 29, earned his architectural degree in 2008 in Guadalajara, but today works for The Brown Studio, headed by Lindsay and Rory Brown.
“Codes are pretty stringent in the U.S.,” he said. “I wish they were a little more (in Mexico).”
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