San Pablo Oztotepec Market
For centuries, architecture has depended on the image to exist. This is evident in the fact that we need drawings (conceptual and technical) to communicate ideas to clients, planners, and builders, in order to materialize architecture. Nevertheless, today more than ever, image is king. In social media one can perfectly spot contemporary society’s thirst for visual impulses. Architectural publications don’t stay afar, as they often depict images of beautiful buildings without much content. Our fast-paced life of spectacle, consumerism, and excessive positiveness has not only affected architectural documentation. Many architects have also fallen into the image kingdom, as they plan their buildings with the photo product in mind and prioritize good looking forms over meaning, experience, identity, legibility, and truth.
However, not all is lost. There are certainly many other architects who value these concepts and produce work that contributes to the advancement of the profession. Mauricio Rocha and Gabriela Carrillo are two Mexican architects who lead a practice that has proven to value an architecture based on much more than just the image. Their work, which in their own words “takes the risk of passing unnoticed”, shows their interest in designing despite the image’s supremacy. To exemplify this, we will look at Rocha and Carrillo’s Mercado de San Pablo Oztotepec, located in Milpa Alta, Mexico.
The San Pablo Oztotepec market might look ugly and ordinary. A simple boxy metal roof housing a market program in a generic marginal Mexican town. The materials might also be cheap and of low maintenance (in fact they are). However, this building is more than just a practical thing. It represents an aspect of human experience with its various ceiling heights, alluding to the way tents and plastic covers are arranged in a traditional tianguis street market. By representing the singular form of everyday street markets, the building can be read as a public facility that is open for everyone. Furthermore, by taking the form of the tianguis, the project automatically tells a story of place, tradition, and commercial vocation. It becomes a poetic version of modular and low-cost architectural language. Also, the monochromatic nature of its materials (steel, glass, concrete, and glazed white blocks) allows for a clear legibility of the space. The architecture does not compete with the colorful products that are being sold, thus making it easy to find what you are looking for to buy.
The modular nature of the project also permits a clear legibility of a flexible space, where shops can be of three by three meters or eventually grow to become of three by six or of six by six, housing any type of commerce (groceries, clothing, home products, miscellaneous, etc.). The structure’s variating heights and the vertical voids they generate in the ceiling also allow for an open lecture of the interior space.
Truth is present in various ways in this project also. On one hand, structure and materials are apparent, not hidden. The building does not try to be something that it is not. It recognizes its context and economic limitations and uses materials that adapt to it. Moreover, true to Rocha and Carrillo’s philosophy, the building roots itself in its place and builds memory through unpretentious and at first sight unnoticeable architecture.
All these considerations in Rocha and Carrillo’s work certainly look towards creating an architecture that can be experienced and become meaningful to people. The San Pablo Oztotepec market is not a photogenic building, but at the end it does not matter because it responds to a people, identifying itself with history and place, representing those values truthfully, with dignity, responsibility, and clarity. However, one must also think outside the architectural compound. How effective are these strategies on the common passerby? Does a Milpa Alta resident know his market’s ceiling represents that of a tianguis? These are questions that must be answered to make architecture and architectural theory relevant and truly helpful to society, and not just to us architects.