El Rosario Redevelopment

Vertical studio project at The Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), instructor (Los Angeles) John Enright with AT Leonora Bustamante, instructors (Mexico City) Francisco Pardo and Marcela Delgado, 2016

with Kevin Ng

The Situation in El Rosario

Situated on the outskirts of Mexico City, the social housing development at El Rosario has a mixed character. Occupied to full capacity as one of the largest Unité-model residential schemes in Latin America, the neighborhood has been rattled with gang-related crime and high rates of drug addiction. The Mexican state reports rates upwards of 44% in terms of drug addiction among the area’s inhabitants.

At the same time, a thriving crafts market exists, filling a void left by the departure of manufacturing jobs from the area. This impromptu bazaar is so prominent that the government has gone so far as to implement programs to instruct locals on marketing and sales.

These are the contradictory conditions with which the redevelopment of El Rosario must content. At once appropriate and outdated, adequate but insufficient, the conditions of the area hold both the promise for improvement and the threat of further degradation. Responding to the conditions of this urban collision, the project proposes a facility containing a large open-air market, a drug rehabilitation facility and a job center.

Engagements of the Façade

In realizing these typologies, the building’s façade becomes engaged as an architectural element capable of pliantly adjusting its identity to fit the conditions of its need. In large swaths of the site, this takes the form of two specific material conditions, each tuned specifically to its scale, constituency and context.

Larger portions of the envelope are colored in abstractions of Hudson Valley School paintings, while lower level areas around the base have an applied floral texture with a slight degree of abstraction.

Beyond the phenomenological implications these attain upon encounter, each engages a specific dialogue around its reference and constituency. While the abstract colored panels above have little legibility in terms of their precedent, the floral patterns retain a high degree of fidelity even after their abstraction.

These characteristics account for the scalar difference in experience between them and the more distant, larger painting-based areas. They are specifically designed to be interacted with at a humanly scale and, thus, hold a certain referential iconography that enables them to be recognized as such.

Further implications deal with a conversation around the idea of a market place, which is indeed the program holding the vast majority of the lowest level. By contrast, the larger areas of the upper colored panels are never interacted with directly, therefore holding a more restrained, urban situation.

As the Hudson Valley school became the first Western conceptualization within the artistic cannon of the aestheticization of the North American continent by those who inhabited and raised its lands, it seems appropriate that the building’s sheathing would similarly deal with the aesthetic questions around expansiveness and landscape.

As with Otto Wagner’s Majolica House in Vienna, both approaches touch on the concept of what we might call “Urban Wallpaper”, positing that an encounter with an architectural object might become the possibility for a graphic engagement with cultural, sociological or formal qualities a constituency shares with its architecture.


Rather than resisting the tendencies of the site, this project supposes that legitimate architectural moves can be achieved within complete relegation to extant qualities of its surroundings. This approach begins with the building’s massing, which slenderly wiggles between the existing structures.

Further engagements begin to implement programmatic changes even beyond the scope of completely new construction. As the ground floors in many of the site’s structures have already been converted ad hoc to commercial spaces, the project formalizes the programmatic distinction by renovating these areas to appropriately address their designations.

Other site-based approaches include an appreciation for the existing amount of trees and pedestrian traversability, as seen in the building’s large public walkway, navigating sectionally from across the street to a nearby park.

Rather than antagonizing existing conditions, the redevelopment of El Rosario attempts to imbue itself with a certain palimpsestic quality, challenging the dichotomy between new and old as fertile grounds for architectural intervention.