“I don’t drink coffee, but if I did I would never sleep,” says Gerardo Recoder (above middle), lead designer and coprincipal of REC Arquitectura, based in Mexico City, with a satellite office in Madrid, Spain. Talking to Recoder, you wonder if he sleeps at all, despite his lack of caffeine. The work that he and his coprincipals — his engineer brother Ivan and designer Maria Jimenez, who runs the Madrid outpost — have accomplished in the scant eight years REC has been in business is impressive, if not hard to imagine. Since graduating from the Autonomous Metropolitan University in Azcapotzalco, Mexico, in 2000, Recoder has started and maintained his now-10-person practice while still working for and with other firms — including TEN Arquitectos and Abraham Zabludovsky in Mexico — earning an M.Arch. from the Madrid Polytechnic University in Spain, and completing at least a dozen projects, from private residences to multifamily housing and a showroom, a bank, an office building, and a retail store. Another handful of projects is on the boards, including houses for Habitat for Humanity. “We like to run,” he says, “and we don’t mind carrying weight when we do. It’s not easy, but it’s good for us.”
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To Recoder and his team, running doesn’t mean jumping on the bandwagon, especially when it comes to sustainability. Take photovoltaics, for example. “We have to be smart when we are designing,” he says, “Things need to have the right reason behind them. When the energy used to make solar panels is more than what you can save by using them, then it doesn’t make sense. We use them when it’s appropriate, such as for the lights in a parking garage we did. We’re always investigating and trying to do more with less.”
More with less can mean experimenting with passive solar, ventilation, and green-wall techniques, like REC’s Ivy office building in Cuernavaca, Mexico, exploring new uses of common materials such as a wall of “Zote” soap used in the firm’s Origami showroom, or the “palapa,” or thatched wall, used in its Petatglass retail space. It can also mean reusing what was already there, as the firm is doing with the 41,000-square-foot arts complex for the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Mexico. The three-phase project will include adaptive reuse and result in an “arts village” with classrooms, an animation lab, cafeteria, auditorium, library, gallery, and general administration space.
While most of the aforementioned projects are in Cuernavaca, a city Recoder says is especially open to architectural innovation, it’s only the surplus of Mexican projects that is keeping the firm from seeking more work worldwide. “To know where you’re from, you have to get away from it. Being away from Mexico has made me understand more what’s needed here in the built environment. And what’s needed here is community.” Recoder says he’s a fan of medieval cities, where “the carpenter lived above his workshop. We always try to give the street more life.”
And how big does he want to grow his firm? “It’s more important for us to adjust than to grow,” he says. “Remember the Concord? How did the Concord close down while Ryan Air is still in business? Better to be Ryan Air in these times than the Concord.”
PRINCIPALS: Gerardo Recoder, Maria J. Jimenez, Ivan Recoder
LOCATION: Mexico City, Mexico; Madrid, Spain
DESIGN STAFF: 10
KEY COMPLETED PROJECTS: Banjercito Principal Bank, D.F., Mexico, 2004; Petatglass, Morelos, Mexico, 2007; Origami, Morelos, Mexico, 2008
KEY CURRENT PROJECTS: Art Center, Morelos, Mexico, 2010; Zacate Library, Morelos, Mexico, 2010; Dos Torres Skyscraper, D.F., Mexico, 2011
WEB SITE: recarquitectura.com
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