Protective concrete for a better future

Mexico City has many faces: ruins of the former Aztec settlement, irresistibly charming quarters with large tree alleys and quarters full of crime and poverty meet. For the "Club de Niños y Niñas" project, the architects at CCA deliberately looked for a building site in a problem district and found one in the outskirts of the gigantic metropolis in Ecatepec. Due to the rapid and uncontrolled growth of the city, the district developed into one with the highest population density, insecurity and crime rate in the region.

The "Club de Niños y Niñas" is based on the successful concept of the American foundation "Boys & Girls Club of America". The aim of the club is to provide a protected environment for young people between the ages of 6 and 18 in situations of social vulnerability. In the club, the children are given the opportunity to explore their interests, abilities and talents after school and to build a healthy environment.

For the tenth and so far largest club in Mexico, the Foundation turned to the architects CCA in 2015. From the beginning, it was clear that the role and responsibility of the architects in this project would go far beyond their traditional role: Once CCA had identified a location for the club where the impact of the facility was most likely to be high, the challenge began of convincing other planners, experts and contractors to work on the project without payment - like the architects themselves. With the motivation to give 2000 children a better chance in life every year, numerous forces could be mobilized. During the construction phase, the community's trust in the architects and the foundation was built up through communal cooking courses, free-of-charge health checks and collective painting of 370 neighboring houses. This trust laid the foundation for the success of the project and is at the same time not a self-evident fact in a country where fraud and abuse are commonplace. After four years of strenuous project development, the "Club de Niños y Niñas" opened in 2019.

The size of the project and the mass of concrete evoke memories of brutalist architecture. An image that does not seem entirely appropriate for children. But this contemporary brutalism is not a sought-after expression, but rather purpose and necessity. With remarkable persuasiveness, the architects achieved a donation of 1,700 m3 of concrete from the cement manufacturer Cemex. Thus concrete visibly becomes the main material of the club. The dimensions of the buildings are based on a modular system that is derived from the size of the wooden formwork so that the buildings are characterized by rhythm.

The campus-like complex is organized around a central arcade of 24 interlocking round arches. The connecting axis symbolically represents the 24 vertebrae of the human spine and is intended to embody the better future that lies ahead for children. Accessible from the main axis are a one-storey educational building, a two-storey art and dance centre with a semi-open auditorium and a sports hall, as well as various outdoor sports and leisure areas. Similar to the grey neighbourhood, colourful windows, doors and metal structures appear like refreshing spots of colour. As is typical for CCA the protective concrete buildings were created in a precise and solution-oriented working and design method based on collaboration. Social responsibility and the will to achieve as much as possible with as little as possible is particularly important to the architects.


This essay was published 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.