The project for the intervention of an existing auditorium and its expansion into a cultural center was requested by the Jalisco Ministry of Culture, to meet the goals of a program known as “Cultura Cardinal” -Cardinal Culture-. This program is an effort that seeks to decentralize the culture and to disseminate it in different regions of Jalisco, through the construction of different cultural complexes. Our project is located in the lakeside of Chapala, the biggest lake in Mexico. Its coastline is the most important settlement of foreigners in the country, due to the benefits of its climate and the peaceful lifestyle. For us, it was very important that our project could communicate part of the cultural history of the site. That is why we took on the task of investigating and knowing some of the founding myths of the ancient Wixárika culture, which has one of its most important ceremonial centers in Lake Chapala.
Natural formation and myth
In the Paleozoic era, the lake was part of a fjord from the Pacific Ocean. Due to volcanic activity, the topographic system known as the Mexican Transversal Neovolcanic Axis was born. This phenomenon divided that great inland sea to which Lake Chapala belonged, being delimited by topographic eminences. Over the centuries, these natural phenomena produced the ecosystem we know today, with a very particular identity in terms of the mineral configuration of the subsoil, vegetation, fauna, climate, etc. where the presence of the lake is a fundamental factor for the understanding of the founding cultures of the place.
The myths of these pre-Hispanic culture allude to those processes of topographic and aquifer formation of the place. Its legends tell us about the emergence of the lake through a drying process, in which a goddess sank her walking stick into the seabed, causing the water to drop and also producing the formation of an islet, in the same place that today is still the most important sanctuary of the Wixárika culture. Our intervention tries to narrate some of these myths through simple and understandable ways for anyone, that we address in three different moments as a part of a landscape narrative.
Reconsidering the preexistence
For the configuration of the new cultural center, the starting point of our intervention was the recovery of the pre-existing on the site: an auditorium for +400 people and an office building. The auditorium already contained a portico with brick vaults that we recognized as the most valuable element of pre- existence in architectural terms. That is why we decided that the rest of the buildings should be built using traditional clay elements from the region, using different formats and construction systems, in order to produce a sense of the unity, and in turn, as a way to help perpetuate the artisan knowledge still found in the region. Although none of these former buildings had heritage value, we decided to recover them and integrate them into the new complex, to which we added three new elements: a library as the façade of the complex, a longitudinal service building with music classroom, dance room and open-air amphitheater, and finally a large central reflecting pool. The location of the new buildings was done so that they function as limits, and so that their presence conveys the idea of enclosure. For this reason, the library building is clearly aligned with the avenue and a services long building closes the eastern part of the lot.
The library building was solved in section with a sawtooth roof that illuminates the reading room on the first floor and a brick vault in the ground floor as a unique gesture, to communicate the idea of the main entrance to the complex. The curvature of the arch in its eastern part allows to accommodate an outdoor bleacher in relation to a large existing tree, where all kinds of informal meetings can take place. The library building was built entirely with brick load-bearing walls and shows the possibilities of artisan labor even for public commissions, where it is more difficult to apply this type of construction methods. The pond that runs along the entire façade have two "planter islands" as a metaphor in relation to the lake, and they contain typical species of the natural habitat like tule and others. The pond is in fact the first moment in the landscape narrative.
In the interior space, the sawtooth roof allows the entry of diffused light by the use of a glass blocks while a single bookcase runs through the space from the ground floor to house the collection. The interiors were made using a terracotta-colored cement coating to give a sense of uniformity to the entire building. It is actually a multipurpose space in which children's activities, book presentations and all kind of meetings are held. The amphitheater space is accessible from the upper floor of the building and also from the entrance little square, which was paved using an industrialized brick and also contains eleven “Papelillos”, a typical species of the region whose trunk has a red bark that comes off giving it a certain uniqueness. From this square, is already possible to observe the first intervened building which now houses a small exhibition hall and the operational offices. Although the existing office building had no heritage value -actually it was a very generic modern building- we decided to give it a new life through a structural reinforcement and ceramic cladding for interior and exterior walls. Also, a brick lattice was added at the top of the building to enclose a patio for exhibitions and gatherings.
Adjacent to the office building and in front of the auditorium, we built a reflecting pool surrounded by tall stone planters. In the center of the pond, we placed a kind of water vortex, as a metaphorical element that recalls the myth of the drying up of the lake, which tells the story of a shaman who, by burying his walking stick, lowered the water level to make way for the formation of the lake. This is the second moment in the narrative. The oblique interior trace of the planters -like a "trompe l'oeil"- produces an even greater sensation of depth in the space.
The eastern limit of the complex was occupied by a longitudinal building that contains different services: warehouse, toilets, cafeteria, terrace, open-air theater, music and dance halls. The building recovers the archetypal house shape and is clad in overlapping ceramic elements reminiscent of the “tejamanil” a shingle-style like cladding, typical of many local vernacular traditions. The building section evolves with the descending topography until obtaining two levels. On its upper floor, there is the dance room characterized by an overhead light that runs through the entire vault. The interior of the space has been conceived as a long fugue in visual relation with the small open-air amphitheater. It is therefore a building with a very long internal perspective.
The last moment in the landscape narrative was made at the center of the former portico space, planting an “Amate” into a stone promontory, as an analogy that recalls the sanctuary of the Wirárika culture found in “La Isla de los Alacranes” or Scorpions Island. The myth tells the story of a shaman who, by burying his walking stick in the stone, an “Amate” tree was born to found a sacred altar. Finally, beyond the former portico space, a last and more intimate garden precedes a bedroom area that accommodates artists who visit the cultural center. We transformed the existing wing by using brick as cladding and forming screens that protect the area from excessive solar radiation. The hybrid nature of the project -the pre-existing and the new- made us reflect on the possibilities of using the same material and its ability to meet different construction needs. But the main lesson consisted in witnessing again the enormous nobleness and expressive capacity of the handmade brick.