Photo by Diana Arnau
Once the grande dame of Mexico City, and currently guarded by two of the city’s landmark skyscrapers, Torre Mayor and Torre Bancomer; Colonia Juárez was a favourite of wealthy families in the 1900s.
The area, once full of French-influenced mansions, was pummeled by an earthquake in 1957 (and again in 985) and plunged into decay that has lasted 50 years.
Francisco Pardo, working with Julio Amezcua, is the principal architect of AT103, which was commissioned by regeneration specialists ReUrbano, to give new life to several of those old mansions.
The architects say that Mexico City needs to preserve its identity as a city of layers. “My restoration rules are to not destroy anything historical, to not build anything that is already destroyed and to go to maximum density,” Pardo says.
One of these projects, Havre77, comprises two restaurants, an oyster bar, offices and co-working space in one neighborhood. It is set to welcome millennials, freelancers, and creative people who seek convenience and atmosphere.
Originally built as 12-room apartments, the restored Havre69 is located beside the mixed-used space as a home for urban creative spirits.
In the last six years, Pardo has applied his own restoration credo for three adaptive reuse projects: Havre69, the urban market Milan 44, and his 2016 project, Havre77.
Standing outside Havre77, you notice an uncommon view of a two-level French classic house topped by two-storey contemporary steel-and-glass mass. Entering the house, original features, such as brickwork and cornice details, can be seen juxtaposed against concrete walls and a timber floor.
Walking through the hallway and passing the elevator, a Japanese restaurant can be seen in the corner, intentionally hidden.
Once stepping in, a yellow ambience light welcomes you to sit back and relax at the sushi bar where 13 clean-lined Japanese style chairs have been placed. Exposed brick was left in the corner, contrasting with wood panel walls.
“It is like making a house inside a house,” Pardo says. “We put concrete to hold the walls, from the ground straight to the top.”
Local developer ReUrbano wanted the team to outsmart the flood-and-earthquake-prone city, which rests on what once to be Texcoco Lake in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. This compelled Pardo to focus on Havre77’s structure, meaning that engeneering was the most aggressive part of the project. He said that the design process had never been linear. “After structure, we dealt with the square metres of mass allowed by the city, the remaining light and ventilation conditions and finally the architectural form, which required a space-by-space study.”
The old authentic mansion forced him to work back and forth to assure that the new compound would have a contemporary contrast against the solidity and transparency of the building.
Besides the Japanese restaurant, a French restaurant named after Havre7 is inside, along with an oyster bar offering a different ambience. Walls and ceilings were painted in a soft pink color palette to complement the exposed surfaces, with two-panel French doors unfolding onto the street, embracing the urban setting.
“The whole experience is discovery. I see this building not as one piece but as as a montage, just like in a movie-just like a fragments of one complete piece.” Pardo’s favorite area is the patio at Havre77, located in the middle of the two projects, giving him an overall view of what has changed and what has remained at Havre69 and Havre77.
Entering the apartment space, 19th-century exposed brickwork ceiling stands out amongst the newly white-painted walls. Meanwhile, the contemporary-style interior combines hanging steel shelving with natural-tone retro style couches.
The architect said that the focal point of his work was the mass. The two-storey compounds feature grey-painted steel and clear glass windows that allow natural light to travel across the offices and co-working space.
However, Pardo says that he prefers visitors to see the main point of his work as a layering process of transformation, from single family house to a major urban intervention of multi-use space.
Pardo said that he was inspired by the idea of Mexico City as the city of layers. For the architect, history, and architecture as well as new social conditions that have changed the DNA of these buildings. “For example, the apartment that is very small, only 60 square metres, because it serves young people who live alone with no kids. The area is full of these people. It is always good to understand the market and respond to it.”