September 18, 2013

Breaking Barriers

2013-08-28 15.07.02

Amidst a city that is clouded with images of violence, and where distant spectators could easily assume the fatality of the circumstance inhibits the opportunity for innovation, Mexican Architect Francisco Lopez demonstrates that a creative spirit cannot be contained.

It is the Mexican border town of Matamoros, Mexico, where Lopez was born and raised. After graduating from High School, he was eager to further his education and broaden his intellect in a big city so he packed his bags and headed to Monterrey, Mexico.  Even before earned his undergraduate degree in architecture from The Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, one of the largest, private and nonsectarian universities in Latin America, Francisco Lopez was already busy at the universities’ department of architectural projects. For five years, Lopez designed classrooms, sports and cultural complexes and executed landscaping plans for the university. “From the time I was a student, I became very passionate about the creative aspect of architecture. I cherished solving design problems using tools such as space, materials, light and color,” said Lopez.

By age 22, this passionate young architect graduated, and found a job that would transform his life and open a window into the world of urban development. “This is where I discovered my second passion; urban design,” said Lopez. “Cities and their physical manifestations is something that has me obsessed, for I am convinced that design, when applied at a city-wide scale, solves not only physical and practical problems, but social and economic challenges as well,” he said.

Eight years went by before Lopez returned to his hometown to establish an independent practice. In 2006, he opened a design studio he named Francisco Lopez Arquitectura. His unique designs soon raked in clients from both sides of the border, and since then he has designed several public and religious buildings and private residences. From his contemporary studio in Matamoros, Mexico, Lopez works adamantly on new designs placing a particular emphasis on staying away from his own work history. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “all that I do, all I produce, is a result of my history, but I design new things without relating to that history as much as possible.” Lopez really pinpointed this reaffirming that he looks for ways to be creative and not necessarily reactive.

It is his emphasis on thinking outside the box that astounds his clientele. “Sometimes the client is afraid of certain proposals and modifies to a ‘safer’ design which presents a greater challenge for me, and it is these challenges that push me even further to find the best solutions,” said Lopez stressing the importance of the client-architect relationship. “We are co-creators, the client and I, and it is important to be on the same channel,” assessed Lopez who said his best projects “flowed” through him because of three aspects: the client, the site and the program of needs. What is most interesting about Lopez is his fascination with non-traditional approaches, and his drive for excellence. But these same qualities can make finding a suitable builder even more complex. “I look for builders who will get excited about projects,” stated Lopez who wishes the community would be more receptive to finding different – not necessarily radical – solutions to common design problems. Then there is the matter of spirit, for Lopez believes each of his designs has a spirit of its own elevating the imperativeness of a suitable builder. Once the project begins, Lopez said part of his services includes supervising and making sure the spirit of the project remains intact.

Common design problems are not the same for clients living on opposite sides of the border, and Lopez has learned to deal with these distinctions when designing and selling his ideas. Years of work led him to realize there are some marked differences in the expectations of residential architecture in the United States and Mexico. In his opinion, Mexican homes are built not for one, but for several generations. While in the United States homes are to a certain point disposable. Even the building process he said is much faster in the US facilitating series production unlike in Mexico where the process is much slower. “From a parallel perspective we have the fashion industry. In the US, people opt for “prêt-à-porter” (ready to wear), while in Mexico architecture can be “bespoke” (personalized and tailored). And it has nothing to do with income, but with the disposition to invest towards the long life of a home which could be more than 100 years,” reflected Lopez.

One of Lopez’s most popular buildings is the one he designed for Mr. & Mrs. Jesus Gonzalez owners of NIU Furniture Showroom in McAllen, Texas. This 40,000 square-foot, three-level glass building was completed last year, and has become tantamount with the company’s world class style.  Some of Lopez’s designs can be found in residential neighborhoods around Mission and McAllen, and others have not been built yet, because it is the nature of the industry where even decades may pass before a new design materializes. For now, he is busy with new projects, and devising a non-profit organization based on the Creative Placemakers concept of urban revitalization.

Back in his Matamoros studio, Lopez reflects on his future. “I see myself designing private and public projects in different cities of Mexico, United States and the world that will contribute to the better functioning and beauty of cities and to the enrichment of people’s soul.”

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About the Author

Tapia - Gonzales
La Vida Valle is where I write about "la vida" living in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Life, art and culture, poetry, prayers, travel, and camping! yes, that's my new thing. I blame the heat and high humidity for the madness. Contributions and comments are always welcome .