Fernando Romero
View from the Top

Designing Mexico's Gateway to the World

Wed, 11/01/2017 - 14:28

Q: What is FR-EE’s key differentiator from other successful architectural firms?

A: We firmly believe that architecture is an opportunity to mark a specific historical moment and boost the development of a given context. Every context has information that can be translated to improve the economic development of a certain area, and that also is as an opportunity to portray the development of the technology of a civilization. We incorporate that knowledge into our designs, which is our main differentiator.

Q: What role do architects play in defining the future of Mexico’s infrastructure?

A: About 99 percent of infrastructure has been designed by engineers, who solve quantitative problems based on numbers. I think that architecture is an amazing opportunity to go beyond the quantitative aspects of problems and find the symbolic potential of every project. This means that infrastructure is a great chance to portray the identity of a country. We do not want to merely solve numeric problems. As architects, we are interested in answering fundamental problems from a perspective that will enrich people’s quality of life, while boosting social and economic development.

Q: How do you think architecture has changed in Mexico during the last couple of years?

A: We come from a very strong modern movement. Modernity carries the post-war conscience of constructing buildings with the capacity to be easily reproduced. Post-modern architects have been educated through the suffering of several economic crises, and I think the experiences of the 1940s and 1950s have given us a strong heritage in Mexico. Through this, we were able to connect with a context that combined the global with the local.

Mexico is one of the richest countries in terms of natural resources, and one of the most visited countries in the world. I firmly believe it has all the elements, including the cultural heritage, to create amazing architecture. But we have not placed a higher value on the context and that must be our main goal, especially in this interconnected globalized world with a melting pot of cultural identity. We must also ask ourselves how we can use the existing technologies to enrich this culture by connecting and understanding its information.

Q: What do you think about architects creating alliances with other clusters to work on NAICM?

A: I think collaborations have long been present in architectural history. For example, the Centre Pompidou in Paris was built through collaboration and became an icon. To me, it was a blessing to be able to collaborate with Norman Foster, probably the most admired architect in the world today, who has a remarkable knowledge regarding the design of airports. It was extraordinary to see our ideas converge in developing NAICM’s masterplan. Norman was very open and sensitive to our vision of the project. Also, his capacity to build the argument and stress the ideas was paramount when selling our design. The competition was exceptionally strong, but we are convinced we developed the most coherent and beautiful solution, which is why we were awarded the project.

Q: What are the main challenges you encountered while designing NAICM?

A: NAICM is a complex project given the number of flows that will happen within its structure: of people, goods, luggage, systems, employees, agencies and so on. Its scale is extraordinary, as it comprises more than 1 million m2 of total construction, including a ground transportation center and the control tower. In terms of technical aspects, to build it on soil that was once a lake and thus has a huge compression capacity makes the project as complicated as building on the ocean. The technical aspects can be solved with technology. We scanned the area and realized that the underground soil is changing in depth, so we needed to come up with a structure that could float. We followed the principle of compensation, which enabled us to plan floating foundations for the airport. This is important because the terminal has to work harmoniously within the masterplan and the runways need to move with the compression capacity of the soil.

I believe the NAICM project is the best investment for the future development of the economy and tourism of the country. FR-EE saw the competition as an opportunity to design a building that solved numeric problems but to also design the gate of Mexico, which has the potential of connecting our history with modern architecture to project to the rest of the world. We seek to use architectural design to create the first experience many will have in the country.

Q: What strategies have been implemented to guarantee the safety of the airport in case of an earthquake or another natural phenomenon?

A: The structure is designed to last 1,400 years and to resist earthquakes. Given that it is horizontally designed, I believe it is seismic immune. The challenge is more geared toward other issues, like the dimension of the structure versus how comfortable it is for a passenger to walk its distance; the international standards for other risk situations, like fires and other incidents. NAICM is the biggest airport in the Americas, and after Istanbul’s, the biggest one in the world in terms of square meters. Given its location in a highly seismic area, it is important to incorporate earthquakeresistant technologies into the structure.

Q: What are the most important aspects of creating a truly sustainable masterplan for cities in Mexico?

A: I think the world is changing very quickly. In the next few decades, we will be confronted with realities that today appear as science fiction. Our cities come from medieval schemes that have evolved through migration and yet remain somehow disconnected from the current reality. If we are at a time when civilization is exploring how to live on Mars, the question is how can we try to use the same intelligence and resources to think about the cities of the future. An important segment of the population will reside in urban areas in the near future, so I am particularly fascinated by how these metropolises can be planned with new notions that incorporate the fast-changing features of the world, new technologies and new communication systems. Cities of the future will have to question how we live today. We need to start inventing notions of new urbanism, to develop a post-modern utopian model and innovate to create sustainable growth for our planet, through cities that have a coherent relationship with the environment.