Tatiana Bilbao
Tatiana Bilbao

Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao is the 2016 Jeff Harnar Award Lecturer, presenting, “Working for People,” on Friday, March 4. She will speak following the presentation of the Harnar Award for Contemporary Architecture. The event starts at 5:30 p.m. in the UNM School of Architecture and Planning’s Garcia Honda Auditorium on The University of New Mexico campus and is free and open to the public.

Born in Mexico City to a family of architects, Tatiana Bilbao has been practicing architecture since 1996. In 1999 she established Laboratorio de la Ciudad de Mexico, an exceptionally creative studio and one of the country’s first contemporary architecture firms. Her own firm, Tatiana Bilbao SC, was launched in 2004 and she has since worked extensively in Mexico as well as in China, Belgium, Spain, France and Switzerland.

Bilbao is not simply a designer of buildings, nor does she just pay lip service to the principles of site investigation and awareness of context. Rather, she brings a deeply-felt conviction that her work should engage with the social, political and economic conditions at play, wherever the project. At the 2015 Chicago Biennial, she presented her urban minimum housing prototype, a low-cost, expandable and adaptable house that was the informed by more than 2,000 interviews with prospective residents.

“It’s very important that what I do uplifts the lives of the people, that it really enhances their lives. For me, part of that enhancement has to do with aesthetics.” – Tatiana Bilbao

Her work has encompassed a wide range of programs, including private residences, a botanical garden, social housing, a university research institute and an ‘open chapel’ built as part of a restoration of a pilgrimage route near Guadalajara. Committed to collaboration, Bilbao has worked with artists Ai Weiwei and Gabriel Orozco and architects such as Herzog & de Meuron, and she firmly believes that no single mind or person can adequately apprehend and address the increasingly complex milieu in which architecture now operates – that a successful project requires the input of planners, scientists, sociologists and others.

Gary Boyd, senior lecturer at the Cork Center for Architectural Education in Ireland, described Bilbao as, “the creator of apparently simple forms, yet the collaborative profile of her practice is designed to allow an intersection of disciplines to provide the means necessary to deal with the complexities of social life. Thus, from the specific contradictions of contemporary Mexico has emerged an ‘enabling’ architecture, one that allows things to happen, that embraces the multifaceted ambiguities related to building and the way things go.”

More analog than digital, Bilbao’s intuitive sense of materiality is rooted in her process, one that favors physical models over computer-driven design, scissors over algorithms. She has built with steel and concrete, and also wooden pallets and rammed earth. Each material is chosen not simply for reasons of experimentation or appearance, but also in consideration of what is available locally and what the labor force is capable of.

Selected awards include the 2010 Emerging Voices Award from the Architectural League of New York, the 2012 Berlin Art Prize and the 2014 Global Award for Sustainable Architecture. She has taught architecture at many universities, including University of Cambridge, University of Texas in Austin, Peter Behrens School of Architecture in Dusseldorf, Yale University and others.