SPACE10 Mexico City: How We Created a Liquid, Democratic Spatial Design
Photo — Niños Heroes
Written by Bella Luna
We teamed up with Niños Heroes to create a dynamic home for our pop-up in Mexico City. Highlighting flexibility, movement, and local materiality, the space offered a welcoming commons to meet, eat, discuss, and inspire one another.
Following our pop-up in Delhi, we had the beginnings of a recipe for creating an inviting, flexible space that would foster diverse conversations, while celebrating local materials and heritage. Our Mexico City Pop-Up was to be more fleeting — an ambitious two-week program exploring the theme ‘Beyond Human-Centered Design’. So how could we stay true to our values of responsible design and no waste despite the ephemeral nature of the space? We invited multidisciplinary studio Niños Heroes to collaborate with us on this journey in Mexico City.
‘From the very beginning working with Luis Urculo, Nuria Urculo, and Gabriel Romano of Niños Heroes has been a collaborative effort. It’s like an ongoing jam session,’ says Kevin Curran, SPACE10’s spatial design lead.
Our blank canvas was LOOT, an ever-evolving gallery in the neighbourhood of Roma Norte, which we carved into two main configurations — an exhibition area and an office space. The exhibition area presented a diverse line-up of designers, technologists, artists, farmers, architects, water experts, materials researchers, academics, entrepreneurs and activists across daily panels and keynotes, plus a program of exhibitions and workshops — which put a lot of demand on the space itself. And we had a lot of questions.
‘How do we stay true to who we are, as well as inviting in Mexico City? How do we think of design as a platform, as the system that enables us to do things, rather than a finished product? How do we create something that is flexible and adaptable that we can always repurpose?’
Spatial Design Lead, SPACE10
Inspired by the way people gather on Mexico City’s streets, Niños Heroes designed the space to transform along with the activities each day, inviting guests to experience a fresh configuration each time they return — whether to a talk exploring tomorrow’s neighbourhoods or a hands-on workshop unfolding the relationship between materials, the landscape, and culture.
‘We approached the project as a liquid image, something that was not fixed,’ says Luis Urculo, co-founder of Niños Heroes.
‘What we have created is a board game with thoughtful design elements. With these elements in place, the SPACE10 team could decide how to best play with them. The limits of the spatial configuration and the image of the project are endless. There is a certain territorial democracy in the project that I find interesting.’
The space was designed to be malleable to multiple discussion topics and events. We wanted it to be a place where the local creative community could gather to exchange perspectives on solutions to some of the major shifts expected to affect people and the planet in the near future — from rapid urbanisation to the scarcity of natural resources.
‘The spatial design is focused on creating the right circumstances that invite conversation, not one-way dialogue. We’re here to learn. There are no stages or fixed barriers. It’s more about balance and spatial equality.’
Spatial Design Lead, SPACE10
Change and adaptability were ever-present as we remixed the installation to enable dialogues like Ministries for the Future, where What Design Can Do invited politicians and designers to engage in group therapy. The modular tables and objects were playfully reconfigured to welcome an IAM Everython workshop, where an interdisciplinary group of participants from design, art, journalism, tech and social innovation came together to collectively imagine how everyday life in Latin American cities can change one billion seconds from now.
One evening, Lucio Usobiaga of Arca Tierra and Martina Manterola and Carmen Serra from colectivo amasijo joined us to envision regenerative food futures. We arranged a long, low table in the centre of the space and sat on the floor amid woven rugs and baskets of wild herbs to share stories and tamales.
We asked Tezontle to contribute ready-made sculptures that could create sites of interest for people to interact and come together.
‘We recognise the importance of open creative spaces accessible to the artistic community as a means for dialogue and expression.’
Carlos Matos and Lucas Cantú
The space as an echo of the city
Niños Heroes translated phenomenologies of urban dynamics into objects and material solutions. ‘One fascinating thing about this city is that the street is an opportunity to create social relations, eat, sell, cook, and dance,’ Luis Urculo says. ‘You can paint your car, run a taco business, play in a band, and meet with people. We wanted to make some glimpses, or reflections, of Mexico City in the space. Sometimes they are details, colours or movement.’
Floor-to-ceiling curtains divided the main space into three separate configurations when needed. This dressing and undressing of temporary space is seen at local markets, called tianguis, where textiles are used to improvise temporary spaces.
‘The markets have the same spirit — they are pop-up. They make a market and then they disappear. How can we learn from that? How can we bring those elements inside?’
The city’s dynamism and temporality are part of its identity. Handcrafted neon sculptures in swirling silhouettes reflect movement and a playful nod to cotton candy stands used by street vendors, while carritos represent the ongoing displacement of objects. These heavy-duty carts are used to wheel food, plants and other goods around the city’s streets, and were adapted for the space.
‘I love this idea of making solutions with things that you have around. Rocks and stones are traditionally used as a construction solution for structural support. The furniture adopts this language with the use of volcanic stones,’ Luis says.
Temporary does not mean disposable
Niños Heroes production lead Nuria Urculo had the challenge of delivering no-waste designs. ‘We used only a handful of materials and processes: pine wood, metal and soldering, nails to arm and easily disarm the functional pieces, fabric that creates synergies between the two main spaces,’ Nuria says. ‘We tried to make everything so it can be deconstructed and reused.’
Niños Heroes chose whole planks of pine for the production of the curved tables to eliminate waste and extend the possibility of the wood’s life beyond the pop-up.
Our playful exhibition Updatables lined one wall as we discussed the possibilities and challenges of giving furniture a voice and a sense of intelligence to everyday things. Another exhibition, Pieces of Home, invited visitors to consider how we can design, make, and build our homes and everyday objects in connection with place, culture and time — and in regenerative ways. Both exhibitions will travel to new locations beyond the pop-up.
Home and away
The upstairs office was home to the travelling SPACE10 team. Curran and Niños Heroes looked to Enzo Mari — a pioneer of democratised and open-source design — for the temporary office’s desk, chair and lounge elements. Melding global with local, the furniture was combined with local artisan objects like woven cesta baskets that were transformed into stacked light fixtures, with the intention to create a calm, clean workspace.
SPACE10 and Niños Heroes combined minimalist Danish design sensibilities with colours and materials that celebrate Mexican design traditions. ‘It’s a mix, the details make a conversation,’ Luis Urculo told SPACE10 Radio. ‘It’s liquid — you don’t know where the Mexican elements start and the Scandinavian details end.’
By remixing local materialities with blue textile reminiscent of the colour palette seen in the meatpacking district of Copenhagen, the space fosters a sense of familiarity and a reminder of home for the travelling team. ‘It’s important that these temporary spaces reflect our aesthetic at SPACE10, which is very much based on Scandinavian design and minimalism, while celebrating the design traditions of Mexico City,’ Curran says.
The SPACE10 Mexico City Pop-Up featured 45 inspiring speakers from Mexico and beyond across 15 events, three workshops, two exhibitions, and a hackathon. It was held at LOOT in Roma Norte from 28 March to 9 April 2022. Listen back to the panel conversations via SPACE10 Radio.
Niños Heroes is a multidisciplinary creative studio working between Madrid and Mexico City. Led by Luis Urculo, Nuria Urculo, and Gabriel Romano, the studio comprises professionals interested in developing and creating projects related to architecture, design, communication and visual arts, and the possible relationship between these disciplines, while questioning formats and languages.
Tezontle is a multidisciplinary studio based in Mexico City. Employing the tools and methodologies of architecture and sculpture, Carlos Matos and Lucas Cantú deliberately place themselves at an ambiguous point between the two disciplines. Drawing on different aesthetic and historical references, they construct idiosyncratic imagery that refers to a bucolic utopia — at once modernist, pre-Hispanic, and primitive.
Andrés Saavedra is a designer known for minimalist wabi-sabi design. His projects merge conscious hospitality and design practices as well as social commitment. He founded LOOT as a concept gallery, theatre space, cafe-restaurant, and shop in the heart of creative Roma Norte. An ever-morphing international hub designed to appeal to the senses, LOOT is a place of optimism and connection, rooted by an appreciation for simple, but polished experiences.