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Mexican treehouse: in an evolving neighbourhood, this office block makes a strong but nuanced urban statement.

High-rise buildings are often so similar to each other, almost identical no matter where in the world they exist, that it is especially rewarding to visit a high-rise of such originality and true character as the Torre Cube, recently completed on the outskirts of Guadalajara by Catalan architect Carme Pinos. The tower is structured about three concrete shafts or trunks. As with Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower half a century ago ('the tree that escaped the crowded forest'), Pinos's Torre Cube lends itself to arboreal metaphors. In her case, the architect has planted not one but three enormous trees, trunks that descend deep into the earth and rise straight up to 16 storeys in the air. Glazed decks are inserted between these trunks, chamfered triangles of open office space that lock into the concrete piers for support and for services, then cantilever out to offer unobstructed external views from all three outboard sides.

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Architecture junkies may immediately associate Mexico's second largest city with the JVC Culture, Convention and Business Centre, a vast development proposed by local entrepreneur Jorge Vergara to include work by such star designers as Pinos, Jean Nouvel, Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito, Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Thom Mayne. A dramatic site north of Guadalajara has also been targeted by the Guggenheim Museum for its latest outpost, to be designed by Enrique Norten of Mexico's own TEN Arquitectos. While it is unclear when these projects will be realised, they signal Guadalajara as a city with ambition. Friends and colleagues of Jorge Vergara, Pinos's clients were interested in commissioning a foreign architect. With Pinos they immediately share a common language. One of the less ubiquitous, less global, less mediagenic of the JVC all-star team, she is also an architect who is fundamentally concerned with building.

The Torre Cube is not a cube (in Spanish, cubo); the name cube, pronounced ku-be, is an abbreviation of the nicknames of Pinos's two principal clients. The name is on both the battleship grey, steel entry gates, a complex palisade of flat planes and vertical poles, and a pavilion of dark volcanic stone at the base of the tower--space inside this pavilion is for rent, spaces in the tower above are for sale. The entire design package has an inevitable eye for branding; indeed clues to the nature of this new neighbourhood, the Puerta de Hierro, are found next door where Ferraris and furniture by the Campana brothers are offered for consumption. Whereas the cantilevered soffits truly are remarkable, the most alluring aspect of the Torre Cube, seen from slightly further away, is the outer surface of the suspended decks revealed as a diaphanous screen hanging in space. This then is an architecture not only iconic but nuanced and delicate.

From the north, south and west, the tower is glimpsed as a set of vertical bands bracketed by more orthodox new buildings on adjacent lots. Indeed an ideal view of the triangulated structure may well be from a helicopter circling slowly overhead. The Torre Cube seldom reveals its full identity although the east elevation, toward the access road and entry forecourt, is the closest it comes to a formal or static facade. From there, an exposed curving stair swoops up next to the stone pavilion to land in the void beneath the suspended office floors. Within this grand, airy volume, a folded concrete canopy marks the precise, even ceremonial point-of-access; the soffit of this contemporary aedicule is lined by the bottom flanges of steel beams and is inset with grids of glass block. Pinos addresses structure at a bold scale, yet she also makes smaller, inventive interventions that bring the tower to earth with a surprising intimacy.

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Pinned by the concrete cores, the raised terrace is open to air and views in the three interstitial sectors. It is paved in linear slabs of recinto, the volcanic stone used for the front pavilion facade. The slabs are held apart by stainless-steel strips that give the podium its striated pattern; these strips are punctured with lines of small and very small circular holes to allow for drainage. Why drainage? Look directly overhead to see the three concrete trunks rise sheer towards a patch of sky. If the tree analogy holds, this zenithal view is akin to exhilarating moments experienced deep inside some ancient forests. The elongated concrete cores are linked by taut, horizontal membranes of clear glass and by harlequinade, or chequered, strata of yellow plywood and white glass spandrels. This architecture frames far above a polygonal glimpse of sky, a ceiling across which, in the changeable weather of early summer, clouds move at speed.

The base of each core tower is eroded to reveal a single lift entrance with designated access to respective office floors. These floors are differently sized (106sqm, 127sqm, and 200sqm), yet each has a principal entrance plus service access that doubles as a secondary escape. Clients purchase one, two, or all three decks, then organise them accordingly (some are already customised with recinto walls and floors together with opalescent glass partitions and sliding doors). The steel cantilever structure that allows for office interiors to be column-free is in places exposed. The perimeter is made of floor-to-ceiling glazed curtain wall, some sections of which slide. Beyond this transparent screen is an outer cloak, that is visible from below, made from thin battens of treated pine in a steel frame. Office workers can step out onto elephant grating in the interstitial gap between glass and battens and operate horizontal panels in this porous membrane.

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There is no need for air conditioning. Not only is Guadalajara blessed with an enviably clement climate, Pinos's double skin allows for sun protection and generous ventilation simultaneously. The airiness and sense of being raised from the ground is manifest, to somewhat vertiginous effect, in the perforated zone between inner and outer layers of the office decks and, in a strikingly topographical way, on the communal terraces that interrupt the vertical extrusion of the decks at entry, second floor and fifth floor levels respectively. These latter, three-storey porches allow air and light into the central void of the building; they also have a social function, as do the staggered rooftop terraces at the very top of the tower. The expansiveness of these voids is in contrast to Pinos's minute planning of stairwell, lift and both male and female bathrooms in the triangular, almost boomerang-shaped towers.

The pragmatic solution of shared terraces on different floors results in a somewhat cubistic composition that provides generous shade. Bathed in sunlight, the concave exteriors of the three core towers introduce a sensuosity to the building mass. Pinos's resolution of the archetypal high-rise problem of the connection between vertical and horizontal elements is to crack open and fold the ground surface, to create a fragmentary landscape of manicured garden, expansive stairs, balustrades that turn into benches, and fissure-like gaps offering hints of the underworld. A lift for visitor use terminates in a glazed box at reception as the cores emerge from this ersatz terrain to carry the office decks far above. Conversely, they continue deep below grade to be ringed by parking ramps splashed in gentle shards of sunlight. The ground is held back by a sinuous rim so that soffits of the cantilevered offices hang freely above the upper parking tray.

Many of Pinos's designs, including the fairground envisaged for the JVC Center, are hybrid landscapes. Her elemental and typically horizontal structures stretch and bridge and shelter, fusing with topography so that the ensemble is of communal benefit even if the interiors are not strictly in use. This instinct for landscape is suggestive of pleasure and ritual. In Guadalajara, Pinos has planted a bravura structure that has a welcome monumentality in the newly urbanised district, a character infected by light and shade, from the pivotal and soaring patio to the operable lattice screens outside each office. Even below grade, on all four subterranean trays, human scale is recognised. Ramped surfaces and inserted sets of steps lead to a foyer, paved in recinto, in the space between elevator entrances: a small plaza or meeting place amid the roots of the behemoth.

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Article Details
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Author:Ryan, Raymund
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:1MEX
Date:Aug 1, 2006
Words:1383
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