More than just an architectural endeavor, working across the border in Mexico is “a chance for us to send a message about the vibrancy of the culture,” Interior Design Hall of Fame member Hagy Belzberg says. Here’s an overview of the impressive array of projects that Belzberg Architects is currently engaged in there: a resort of casitas in Puerto Vallarta and, all in Mexico City, a combined culinary institute, art gallery, and yoga studio, plus five office buildings. Every one of those efforts is ground-up, by the way. And every one is for the same real-estate developer, Grupo Anima.
This immense amount of activity started with a single commission, one of the five office buildings. Grupo Anima CEO Alberto Djaddah was always a big-picture kind of guy. “He envisioned a different kind of business, developing buildings that are all conceptually connected,” Belzberg continues. “He just didn’t know how to do it.” Obviously, Belzberg did: through diverse forms that nevertheless share an architectural language of dynamic facades.
So, did Grupo Anima request a beacon building? Or did Belzberg Architects propose something the client had never dreamed possible? A bit of both. Djaddah, who studied architecture and established a respected photography school, was already plenty design-savvy in addition to being a true community leader. “Alberto had previously concentrated on residential mid-rises. This office building was to launch the business component of his portfolio,” Belzberg notes. The five designs—two more nearly complete and two in the schematic phase—are therefore meant to stand out. “They let us do what we do,” he adds. “Push through something untested.”
Besides the shared identity established by the eye-catching facades, there are invisible commonalities. “We explored prefabrication and digital fabrication for all the buildings,” he explained. Another similarity has to do with site locations within the fabric of the city. They’re intentionally on the fringes of hip areas filled with art galleries, artisanal shops, and restaurants, helping to change the global perception of Mexico City. All five are furthermore within walking distance of one another in adjacent neighborhoods or colonias.
Sited on a prominent corner, the first building to be ready for occupancy encompasses six levels of office space, 44,000 square feet sitting on three levels of parking, with a roof terrace on top. So far, not so unusual. The elements that change everything as well as inspiring Belzberg’s nickname for the building, Threads, are the sinuous aluminum strips that swirl across and over its glass volume—set on top of the concrete garage base—and occasionally appear to pass through the glass to continue inside. Their presence is so strong that they manage to visually deconstruct what would otherwise be a blocky form, making it read as light and fluid. That effect intensifies at night when then the glass, slightly tinted for glare and climate control, appears to dissolve.
Conceiving and perfecting this stunning treatment required nearly three years of meticulous research on the part of the Belzberg team. (Bearing witness to that, a mockup, at full scale, still stands like a sculpture outside the firm’s Los Angeles studio.) Aesthetics were not the sole motivation for such a major effort. It addresses Mexico City’s building code, which states that 20 percent of a lot must be left open. Each of Belzberg’s five designs addresses that stipulation with a different strategy. “In the case of Threads, the strips shape balconies,” he explains. “We delaminated the facade, so the actual curtain wall, behind the balconies, is sufficiently set back from the street.”
Where the strips reappear inside the glass, they curve around corners to delineate function zones. Floor plans, other than that, are virtually unobstructed. They were envisioned to appeal to the no-address, flexible workforce so prevalent in today’s creative and luxury businesses—ultimately a
high-end French liquor company signed the lease. To attract prospective tenants, Belzberg staged two of the office levels, specifying furnishings and even adding built-ins.
A slat wall curves outward to form a built-in bench in the reception area. Away from the glassy perimeter, reception is warm and enveloping, anchored by a hair-on-hide rug. The space’s coziness is clearly surpassed, however, by the dramatic expansiveness of the roof terrace, with its almost 360-degree panorama. Once the five Grupo Anima buildings by Belzberg are complete, this coveted amenity will be open to all tenants.