Architect Alfonso Medina has designed, developed, and constructed dozens of projects in Tijuana and across Mexico. His firm T38 Studio is based in both New York City and Tijuana.
The Architect’s Newspaper: What do outdoor space trends mean in a place like Tijuana?
Alfonso Medina: The sad part of how Tijuana developed is that there is no urgency in the city to promote any type of public space. The city is just now working on the first part in downtown in ten years. Eventually what is going to happen, and it’s been happening in the rest of Mexico, is that public space will only be the space that is in between each shopping mall.
It ends up being the choice of the developer to promote some kind of public life. It’s not ideal, and I really don’t like it, but it is the only space that we have. People do need outdoor space to sit down and a have a coffee, but if we don’t have parks and there are no public spaces…
The projects we’ve been doing over the last ten years have been reacting to the moment that the city is in. As you know, the city has been extremely chaotic and has transformed itself over and over again.
My first larger-scale project was an 18-house project development where the project wasn’t about the houses, it was about the street in between the 18 houses and how that could become public space—we wanted to create community. I wanted to create a project where kids could go into the space and play. It’s the most obvious thing you can think of, but it wasn’t happening. We did whatever we could do to promote exchange between neighbors: the houses are set back from the street, the garages are open, and we kept the walls low between properties.
As an architect and developer, where do you see value and return on these kinds of amenities?
I was extremely young when I started. I was 23 years old when I did the 18-house project, so it was a huge responsibility and I was very naïve. I wasn’t designing based on profit or numbers, although I knew that it would eventually work out. I was doing it based on how I wanted to live—what I would want from a community in Tijuana. Everything is about quality of life and space.
The renderings for your 90-unit housing project Arboleda in Tijuana show outdoor decks and balconies. How and why do you integrate outdoor spaces into a multi-unit residential building?
The project is a high-end development in the neighborhood La Cacho in Tijuana. The site is amazing. It is up on a hill and has views completely east and completely west. We designed 20,000 square feet of outdoor space, and that was the most important part.
Our concept for the whole project was the idea of experience—of how you could walk through it. Any time you walk anywhere you are going through outdoor space. Some people may not find it practical, since you exit your apartment and you are outside, but the weather in Tijuana is super mild.
We worked with the landscape architecture office Entorno in Mexico City and the building is full of common outdoor areas—long paths of experiences. We have a series of shared decks, which we hope will be super active. You can do yoga in one and there’s a kids’ play area in another.
Again, it’s about quality of life. If you live in a 2,000-square-meter house, you might have a 200-square-meter garden. People tend to build such large houses that they end up with very small gardens. Here, you can live in a decent-sized apartment in a park. It is not ideal that it is private, but there is not much alternative. If we made the outdoor space public, people wouldn’t buy the units.
Within private development you can create outdoor space, but in Tijuana right now there is no possibility of doing public space. Tijuana has the opportunity to be a rebel city and not follow certain development patterns that exist in other cities. The border dynamic makes it unique and not like any place in the world. But I don’t think the people who are in the city planning agencies right now have the vision to really think about a different future for public space.