By Nina Tory-Henderson
Rozana Montiel is a prolific architect, working between scales of the city to the object, in design and research. Across her broad scope of projects, she consistently applies a social and contextual framework through which she produces her work. The process of her studio relies on an engagement with the local people and a genuine understanding of place, viewing site in geographical, social and political terms.
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Recently awarded the Moira Gemmill award for Emerging Architecture at the Women in Architecture awards, she was praised (along with fellow Mexican architect Gabriela Carrillo), for displaying excellence in design while committing to a sustainable and democratic process with those they are designing for. The jury described Montiel’s work as ‘sensitive engagements with communities that activate simple architectural forms’.
One such project is Court. Located in the suburbs of the Veracruz port, the intervention rehabilitates an idle basketball court as part of broader overhaul of the social housing estate of over 8000 dwellings. The clients brief was simply to provide a rooftop over the existing court to protect from heat, sun and rain. Essentially this roof is the basis of the addition, through which Montiel found opportunity for the elemental structure to house additional public amenity, while barely increasing the budget.
The simple, shed-like form straddles the court, with a double column structure to either side. In the width of the structure Montiel has inserted balconies, hammocks, swings, a reading room, flexible work space and bathrooms across two levels. The enclosed, semi-enclosed and open spaces create a playful patchwork of activity within the rigid, gridded structure. Further amenities are scattered on either side of the portico with outdoor living areas, a playground, a small skate park and outdoor gym.
The design takes its cue from the Greek Agora in form and function, which literally translates to ‘gathering place’ or ‘assembly’. Sitting on a raised concrete plinth, the steel colonnades and pitched galvanised roof are a kind of industrial reinterpretation of the ancient structure, which like the Agora provides space for all of society, housing inter-generational activities across education, recreation and religion.
The materials used are economic, durable and robust – a simple steel frame with concrete brick, breeze block and steel mesh balustrades defining the enclosed and semi-enclosed spaces of the court’s perimeter. Montiel plays off and takes from the surrounding built fabric, dominated by modernist concrete housing, revelling in its industrial aesthetic.
Montiels addition is a minimal, elegant and efficient structure. With very little it transforms a residual space into contemporary Agora. The roof for a basketball court has become simultaneously a library, an informal gathering space, a playground, a workspace. Court reveals the potential social capital latent in all design. Montiel has produced a generous architecture in scarce conditions, which now is more important than ever.