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6 - 24 AUG 2014





THE SITES Mexico City Xilitla - Las Pozas


THE BRIEF Academic Agenda Course Programme


THE PEOPLE Course Directors Collaborators Affiliations & Sponsors

The Las pozas Visiting School

The Las Pozas Visiting School will revisit modern precedents of abstract architecture through the production of a series of 1:1 concrete interventions in the Mexican jungle. The workshop will be based in Edward James’ surrealist garden in Xilitla and will explore the formwork techniques developed by him and his workers on the site. The Visiting School will be learning from Mexico’s rich cultural heritage, from Modernism back to pre-hispanic architecture, as well as looking at relevant examples of experimental architecture and sculpture, with a particular focus on experiments in concrete. Beginning with a thorough study of intricate wooden formworks, we will develop casting methods by rescaling, defragmenting and collaging formworks and casts, experimenting with local aggregates and incorporating contemporary techniques. On the grounds of minimalist sculpture, pre-hispanic monumentalism and geometric abstractionism, we will conclude on the one hand with precise incisions in the local community as well as a number of concrete pieces, fragments or parts, which we will take back to Mexico City for an exhibition and publication. While there are a series of mountainous sites such and remote communities that have agreed to host some of the constructions, Las Pozas in Mexico directed by AA alumni Matthew Holmes has agreed to host the Visiting School and to develop a dialogue towards new structures and designs for an artist residence quarter and new a public space within the Sculpture Garden.

MEXICO CITY While Mexico is known to have been the surrealist capital of the world for the most part of the Twentieth Century, it also has a most interesting, often underrepresented modernist heritage. Its cultural and historical axis is still continuously being negotiated, especially in relation to an influential neighbour like the United States with its powerful influence. The cultural layers of Mexico are most interesting, not least because of its rich precolonial heritage, but also the broad European migrations that happened in most of the 18th and 19th Century. Mexico City or Tenochtitlan as known originally during the Aztec Empire was the biggest city in the world in the middle ages, more than four time the size of London at the time, with a vast civilisation built in stone. Mexico’s pre-hispanic origins have led to a unique strand of modernism, often neglected in the history of art and acrhitecture.

An absolutely

unique cultural and artistic mix, which has fascinated and drawn artists and architects over the last hundred years, it has generated an interesting blend of the local and international styles such as the Art Nouveau and Art Deco architecture. But also modern examples such as Espacio Escultoricos (University Campus of UNAM) or the works by Luis Barragan and Matthias Goeritz reflect this unique cultural blend of Modernism in Mexico, which will be our departing point through visits and workshops in Mexico City before emabrking onto our adventure in Las Pozas.

Left: Luis Barragan & M. Goeritz, Satellite Towers

Above: Espacio Escultorico at UNAM

Model of the City of Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) at Antropologia Museum

LAS POZAS GARDEN The Surrealist Garden of Las Pozas (in Spanish ‘The Pools’) sits at more than 700 meter above sea level, in a subtropical rainforest in the mountains of Mexico. It includes more than 80 acres of natural waterfalls and pools interlaced with towering Surrealist and abstract sculptures in concrete. The Garden is situated near the village of Xilitla, San Luis Potosí, on an eighthour drive north-east of Mexico City. Vast sculptures, up to four stories tall, punctuate the site and the many trails throughout the garden are composed of steps, ramps, bridges and narrow, winding walkways that traverse the valley walls. The construction of Las Pozas took over thirty years and was build by English eccentric art patron Edward James. Pictured from behind below in the painting by Rene Magritte entitled, ‘Reproduction Prohibited’, he was mostly known for being a prominent patron and collector of the surrealist movement. He moved in the early 1940s from Los Angeles, California to Mexico deciding that in his words he “wanted a Garden of Eden set up . . . and I saw that Mexico was far more romantic”. His primary intention was to grow orchids - the site having been chosen as it is full of wild orchids, however the unfortunate consequences of a freak winter in the Mexican jungle destroyed his vast garden and led him to the ambition to start building a permanent Garden in Concrete. In this spirit, we will continue this tradition of experimentation in concrete within and Edward James on the construction site of the garden.

Portrait of Edward James by Rene Magritte

Opposite: Concrete bamboo at Las Pozas Garden.

surrounding the site of Las Pozas.

Map of Las Pozas building, pools and sculptures.

ACADEMIC AGENDA While we will be based in buildings designed by Edward James in the middle of the Gardens of Las Pozas during our workshop as well as surrounding sites, our primary aim is not to reproduce the Surrealist endeavours of James, but rather to use it as one of the precedents in our Visiting School, especially with regarding to his formwork techniques, ambition and medium, namely experimentation in concrete. For that purpose we will start our trip by a crash course in Mexican history of art and architecture, spanning thousand years in four days, looking at the essential pre-hispanic historical sites around Mexico City as well as the best of the modernist masterworks in architecture that we will use as precedents and inspiration for our workshop. Matthew Holmes, Director of Las Pozas and AA Alumni, has generously invited us to stay for the second part of our trip within the Las Pozas Gardens for our meetings, workshops and experimentations. Staying there last summer for our research was a most peculiar architectural experience, staying among buildings that were almost designed as future ruins to be overgrown by their surroundings. We will also collaborate in the mapping and discuss the planning of potential future sites inside and outside of Las Pozas Garden.

Large scale concrete scultures at Ruta de la Amistad, comissioned for the Mexico 68 Olympics.

MOULDS & FORMWORKS Our workshop in Las Pozas will commence with a dissection and thorough study of Edward James’ formworks through the mediums of photography, digital and hand drawing, collage and abstract physical models. FORM FINDING While the existing concrete forms are mainly based on abstraction often derived from natural forms found in nature, which lead to the array of organic sculptures, we would only emulate from nature more abstractly by looking at texture and aggregate. The formal approach will derive from a series of modernist studies and architectural types and elements, while combining these with geometric abstraction derived rescaling details and elements of existing building types and details. This workshop focuses on abstract form finding through the relation of the positive and negative, mould and form, in both in its practical aspects and consequences. AGGREGATES AND CONCRETE MUTATIONS While we are looking into new forms and casting techniques, we will also consider exploring modular formworks and looking at the mobility and foldability of elements. In terms of concrete we will be doing rammed concrete, and working with a variety of experimental aggregates, forming new types of terrazzo and other industrial and organic aggregates like in the tests pictured below. An open workshop will be set up in our site in the jungle to perform our Left: Formfinding exercises on a first week one-day workshop with Foundation students at the AA exploring three-dimentional form in wireframe, plane and solid. Preparing a mold and casts.

concrete experimentations. This will allow us to be in direct contact with the materials, aggregates, textures and casting techniques that will inform the direction of our 1:1 concrete intervention.

Opposite: Rammed Concrete Modular Wall by Umberto Bellardi

Above: Experiments of texture and aggregate that will be

Ricci, Peter Zumthor burnt log formwork at Brother Claus Field

developed during the Visiting School. In this case they are

Chapel, Germany.

organic and industriial refuse materials including cables and metals trimmings.

COURSE PROGRAMME Day 1 Wednesday 6th Arrival & General Introduction of Visiting School 6pm: Gathering of Group and General Introduction by Course Directors and Tutors Introduction to the Brief and Schedule.

Day 2 Thursday 7th Pre-Hispanic : Anthropologia Museum (+Tamayo), Center Cathedral, Teotihuacan Pyramid (Guided Visit) Mexico City Center, the origin of Modern and and Ancient Mexico. Cathedral and Ancient Site.

Library at UNAM.

Day 3 Friday 8th Visit of Key Modernist Sites that will be used as a Precedent for the Workshop. UNAM - Espacioz Scultoricos, Juan O’Gorman Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Studio, Ruta de La Amistad, Luis Barragan House. The visit of the Barragan will be accompanied by a study on colour and light. Key contemporay galleries and Architectural Sites. Ancient and Modern Monumentalism.

Antropologia Museum

Day 4 Saturday 9th Leaving Mexico City via Satelite Towers. Drive with Group Bus to Las Pozas Park, Xilitla. Reception by Matthew Holmes, AA Almuni and Las Pozas Director. Stay at El Castillo designed by Edward James’ right hand man Plutarco where also all the Formworks are held and exhibited.

Day 5 Sunday 10th Formwork study - Drawing, digitally and by hand and model making in paper, foam and card. Modular arrangement and collaging of formworks. Subdivision into formwork types. Presentation and Lecture on Texture, Aggregates and Colur in concrete.

Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo studio by Juan O’ Gorman

Day 6 Monday 11th Moving to the Las Pozas Site. Las Pozas Tour Introduction by Matthew meeting and Intro Site walk. Subdivision into groups according to research topics and types. Mapping of the Site according to types, context and content. Finding of potential aggregates, eg organic and inorganic. Meeting with tutors to discuss next step.

Day 7 & 8 Tuesday 12th & Wednesday 13th Formfinding workshop - with wax, clays, wood foam, and a variety of materials. Collaging and rescaling of formwork types. 1:1 formwork experimentation in foam and wood. Testing and experimentation with concrete and aggregates. Designing Fragments and ruins, Archeology in reverse as a process of designing . We will be designing modular formworks according to the types we have been studying: columns, plinths etc

Concrete Sculpture at Ruta de la Amistad

Day 9 Thursday 14th Student Presentation on Findings. Identification of 4 potential Incision or Intervetion Sites in Xilitla. Two sites are chosen. After presentation we go for a walk/trek in La Trinidad Township & surrounding area.

Day 10 Fridat 15th Layout of Final Proposal, Schedule & Planning of One Site Intervention and a series of Concrete fragments to take back to Mexico City Gallery. Beginning of Final Formwork Construction

Jose Horna with a model of El Castillo.

Day 11 Saturday 16th Formwork Design and Construction. Initial tests with aggregates and mixes. Experimentaion with Rammed Concrete. Following some test design of formworks initial castings will be made.

Day 12, 13, 14 Sunday 17th, Monday 18th & Tuesday 19th Finalising Formwork design & evaluating casting tests accordign to texture, colour and finish and evaluation of which techniques to take further and develop.

Day 15 Wednesday 20th Final casting of pieces and preparation for on-site installation. On team will work on the curation of final pieces in the Mexico exhibition. Curing of concrete and preparetion of community event the next day.

Day 16 Thursday 21st

Inside of El Castillo in the town of Xilitla.

Inauguration of Built project with barbecue on site. Curing of concrete and preparation for Return of students and transport of concrete pieces

Day 17 Friday 22nd Return drive to Mexico City via the Sierra Gorda. Delivery of pieces at the gallery.

Day 18 Saturday 23rd Installation and Exhibition Opening at MARSO Gallery in Mexico City. Wrap up party and final dinner with group.

Day 19 Sunday 24rd Departure from Mexico City to London and other parts of the world.

View from inside Las Pozas.


Carlos H Matos

Kanto Iwamura


Carlos H Matos is an architect and artist

After graduating from the Architectural

academic education with a BA in Social

based in Mexico City. He graduated from

Association in 2010, Kanto Iwamura has

Anthropology & Development followed

the Architectural Association in London

worked as an architect in London, Tokyo,

by a Master’s in International Relations

and received his Diploma in 2011.

Bangkok and SaoPaulo.

Studies SOAS. Following work in Human

His work involves photography and

Kanto has experimented widely with

Rights and various other fields, he did

constructed detailed imagery as well as

concrete throughout his studies and later

his full degree at the AA and received his

abstract models.


After graduating Carlos worked for

He currently runs his own interdisciplinary

He has worked in different practices such

David Chipperfield Architects in projects

design practice from Tokyo where he

as Ron Arad Associates and Stanton

in Istanbul and London. He also has

works on projects that range from street

Williams Architects and currently runs

experience working for art production


his own studio in London.

Umberto is

institutions such as Media Lab Prado

fabrication as well as design-build

Studio Master at the Foundation Course

in Madrid, working across a range of

wooden structures such as tree houses.

at the AA and has also taught in the AA

projects between installation art and

Summer School in London.


Umberto Bellardi Ricci Umberto




from the School of Oriental and African

AA Diploma in 2011.




Las Pozas AA Visiting School Mexico 2014  

Las Pozas Visiting School will revisit modern precedents of abstract architecture through the production of a series of 1:1 concrete interve...

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