This article is part of our series of profiles on The Architectural League of New York’s 2023 Emerging Voices winners published in the March/April issue of AN. The full list of winners can be found here.
Isabel Abascal and Alessandro Arienzo founded LANZA Atelier in 2015 for the express purpose of contributing to the beauty of the world. While that’s an admirable aspiration, it’s rare to see the B word used these days in architecture unless by a Neoclassicist. Contemporary architects tend to see beauty as being too subjective to claim, but Abascal has a simple definition for it: “Beauty is the opposite of inequality, cruelty, and injustice.”
Based in Mexico City, LANZA works on a wide range of typologies, from exhibitions and books to houses and public facilities, large and small. For Abascal and Arienzo, scale is less important than the strength of the idea and dedication to process—both partners teach and work on curatorial projects as well as build. “We think concepts don’t have scale,” Abascal told AN. “An idea can be tested at an object’s or a city’s scale.”
“We think that everything is full of architecture,” Arienzo added. “Size doesn’t matter. The question is always, how do we start drawing them?”
Whatever the project, time is a central consideration for LANZA, inseparable from architecture itself. The duo conceive of their work as “contemporary space whose energy can last forever.” As such, the work itself strives for flexibility, designed with the notion that uses may and probably will change over time. “We like to think that we are designing a ruin,” they like to say. This focus on time is twinned with a strong sense of place. Local materials, whether industrial or artisanal, are preferred, with the goal of instilling their work with geographic identity.
While more than 25 collaborators have passed through LANZA’s office, the practice remains small and personal. It demands the trust of its clients and doesn’t work quickly, but rather slowly moves toward its final designs through multiple permutations. Abascal and Arienzo also monitor construction closely, modifying details throughout the process as site conditions and the facts of labor present themselves.
“Architecture deals with time and needs time,” Abascal said.
It’s not a maxim that would fly very far with the hard-bitten capitalists north of the border, but at the same time LANZA has seen its own work mired in a time vortex that has transcended even its deliberate approach. Two of its large projects for Mexico City are stalled seemingly without end in the administrative labyrinths of the municipal bureaucracy. Faced with this, and feeling the pressure of the global environmental crisis bearing down upon them, Abascal and Arienzo now find themselves asking, “Do we still believe in the beauty of the world?”