A building like an ambitious piece of music

In Mexico, the renowned architectural offices work predominantly for very wealthy, private clients. Due to the country's politically disadvantageous situation, the high level of corruption and nepotism, publicly financed projects that promise high-quality architecture are a rarity. The State Archives of Oaxaca are such a rarity.

A large, gold-colored volume rises from the small, colorful urban fabric just outside the center of Oaxaca. Despite its massiveness and the chosen architectural language, between brutalism, modernism and industrial architecture, the new building at the edge of the park appears surprisingly warm and inviting. Seen from the park, a camouflage effect is created in which the very present color of the surrounding earth merges with that of the large archive building.

The centuries-old documents on the history of the state of Oaxaca had previously been stored in unsuitable premises, thus the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation was strongly advocating a new archive building. The state government offered the Las Canteras Park as a building site for a new State Archive, a convention center, sports facilities, an exhibition center and other public uses. At the invitation of the Foundation, Spanish architect Ignacio Mendaro Corsini designed a masterpiece of art: from the master plan of the entire park to the last screw of the furniture.

Cathedral of Memory

The archive that protects the historical heritage of Oaxaca is accessible from the two park facades. A considerable volume marks the main entrance hall. Next to it, a long, north-facing shed roof covers the " Researchers' Hall". In the entrance hall, two windows allow insights into the two parallel worlds of the premises: the public exhibition hall and the introverted working area of the researchers. Although the main function of the building is dedicated to archives, the building is seen as an extension of the park with protective walls for the entire population. The lower floors contain the cultural and event rooms and the upper floors provide rooms for the researchers and their restoration workshops. At the heart of the complex are seven building volumes with shelves sixteen kilometers long.

The complex is divided into different volumes, some of which are connected by eye-catching bridges. The location and size of the buildings were determined taking into account the existing tree population, topography and the earthquake statics that are essential for Oaxaca. Amidst the splendor and seriousness of the story, the courtyards, filled with silence or the laughter of playing children, are filled with plants, light and shadow. The architect also guides the visitor through the building by using daylight. The boundaries of the rooms are often barely perceptible, as the interior and exterior spaces merge seamlessly into one another.

Hidden Sounds

The ochre-colored exposed concrete of the interior and exterior walls is contrasted and combined by a series of constructive elements: numerous works in black steel for window and door frames, railings, as well as an approximately eight-meter wide entrance gate whose impressive pivot system is reminiscent of bank vault doors, interior doors and furniture made of tropical wood, and finally grid-like brise soleils and sculpturally formed concrete gargoyles.

The State Archive in Oaxaca is one of those buildings that one would like to discover for hours or even days. It is like one of those pieces of music that you hear again and again in search of hidden sounds. The design is well thought-out, sophisticated and coherent despite the numerous elements and the size of the complex. The struggle of the architect and the foundation for a successful project - which is still not entirely complete - is not noticeable.


The book on the work of Ignacio Mendaro Corsini in Oaxaca can be purchased from the Mexican publisher Arquine. It contains numerous photographs and charming hand sketches by the architect. The texts are in Spanish.


This text was published in german on werk, bauen + wohnen.

© LEARNING FROM MEXICO 2019 by Laure Nashed

 Die Beiträge von «learningfrommexico» entstehen in Zusammenarbeit mit der Schweizer Architekturzeitschrift werk, bauen + wohnen.