STORY INLINE POST
Q: How have you refocused your activities throughout this year in terms of design and innovation?
A: We have strengthened our design practice over the last year because we believe that the pandemic has made it even more obvious that alternative models of design, development, growth and community must be explored and are sorely needed. To put it bluntly, what we refer to as our model or platform of resource consumption needs to be redesigned completely, and real estate development plays an essential role in that transitional process. This is why we have reoriented our efforts away from the large and broadly commercial development prospects that occupied most of our time over the last few years. We are now more interested in things like space conversion and adaptation projects, where we have a canvas on which to explore design ideas that promote wellness, inclusion and a more responsible use and management of natural resources. We are looking more closely at certain characteristics of each project that we use to take for granted, like the supply of construction materials. Since supply lines have become more problematic and production levels decreased temporarily, the cost of steel has skyrocketed and the time is ripe for exploring alternatives or looking at more efficient and sustainable procurement methods and material use practices.
Q: What is missing from many of the conversations in the sector regarding sustainable design and development?
A: Many people talk about sustainability but many conversations about sustainability seem to be really about what is commercially feasible or what it is easy to argue in favor of, from a commercial perspective. A project that is feasible at one point in time might seem sustainable but sustainability refers to a project’s self-sufficiency over time. It is literally contained in the word: a sustainable project is literally able to sustain itself through varying ecological circumstances, which is what we are now facing. A lot of sustainability can be, from an architectural perspective, quite passive. The use of bioconstruction or bioclimatic architecture is passive, for example. Through bioclimatic architecture, you can make a house more sustainable in terms of its temperature management and corresponding energy consumption simply through its placement, orientation, shape and use of materials. This would be considered a kind of passive sustainability when compared to the more active sustainability of managing energy production through domestic solar panels, for example. These ideas can be extended until they apply to our entire notion of urban and economic development, which in most places in the world is still conceptualized in terms of the construction of tall buildings covered in glass that through their air conditioning systems are responsible for an enormous percentage of fossil fuel emissions just because of their extensive and unnecessary power consumption. This whole conceptualization of growth and development is fundamentally inefficient because it is made from inefficient and wasteful systems, such as those buildings, and as such, it is ill-equipped for the needs of the future.
Q: What are some of the most important ways in which you are translating these ideas into practical design choices?
A: It is not easy to bring up these subjects with our clients. In architecture, we have a saying: “There are no good architects, only good clients.” What that means in this context is that you have to learn to manage the degree to which your clients are receptive or represent a good audience for these kinds of alternative ideas. This, for us, is the first step toward making good design choices: choosing the right client, somebody who is aligned with our agenda in terms of sustainability. Our large client portfolio from past projects, which includes some of the biggest real estate development firms in the country, also constitutes a platform for us through which we can promote these ideas and put out the call for these kinds of clients. We are also educating larger clients so that we can sneak these ideas into massive developments.
Another practical way in which we apply these principles is through the use of resource management technologies; for example, water-saving equipment. This applies, in particular, to large developments that we have been looking at in states with either a serious drought crisis, like Baja California, or an abundance of water but a dearth of water and waste infrastructure that can lead to dangerous cross-contaminations, like Quintana Roo. In the Mayan Riviera, a great many developments need to install their own water treatment facilities to truly guarantee a clean water supply, not just to appear sustainable. Some might think this is just a waste of energy. However, beyond the development and use of methods and technologies, we are promoting the development of real estate projects that build communities and show that resources can be managed more collectively and therefore more efficiently.
Suárez Picazo Arquitectos is the umbrella over the Urbania VHSP real estate development. Suárez Picazo Arquitectos specializes in design and architecture services for high-end developments in Mexico and the Caribbean.