Award-winning international architect Enrique Norten examined the growing social and environmental demands placed on architecture to an eager audience of more than 200 in the University Theatre.
The second speaker in the Henry Woo Lecture Series, Norten was on campus in October to receive the 2015 Richard Neutra Award for Professional Excellence from the Department of Architecture in the College of Environmental Design.
“As the world starts getting more urban, we have a huge responsibility to our cities,” said Norten, who founded the Mexico City-based design firm TEN Arquitectos (Taller de Enrique Norten Arquitectos). “Democracy does not exist without the occupation of public space. … Without public space, architecture has very little meaning.”
Norten is the creative force behind major projects such as the Guggenheim Museum in Guadalajara, the Rutgers University College Avenue Campus redesign and, most recently, the CENTRO University campus in Mexico City. He shared his insights on his firm’s projects, as well as the processes behind the 53rd Street Library in New York City and MUNET, a 500,000-square-foot energy institute and educational museum in Mexico City.
Norten grouped the responsibilities of architects into three areas: environmental, societal and political. Recurring themes were “architecture as landscape, architecture as infrastructure and public space.”
For the new Acapulco City Hall, the firm incorporated public gardens into various levels of the structure, melding the building’s functions with public space used by everybody 365 days a year.
“It’s a place people can really occupy and really inhabit. Every one of those terraces is open to the public. Every one of those terraces is a small park with views of the ocean that are amazing,” Norten said. “So, the people that live in Acapulco come here and have picnics regardless of the activities that are going on in the bureaucracy.”
In Puebla, Mexico, the firm faced the challenge of designing a new museum space in a series of historic colonial buildings. “It’s a big issue in our country…. We understood that we could design buildings that could be inserted into the voids that would become architecture that didn’t need a façade.”
We recognize Puebla as a city with an enormous amount of towers and domes that create a magnificent skyline.” Norten said. “As I told my clients at the beginning, they have this fabulous city that must be taken over, that must be used as part of the collection of the museum itself. The roof of the Amparo Museum has become a very important new public space, a new way of really seeing the city.”
Reflecting on the influences in his work, Norten said, “every tree, every relationship, every book you read – [becomes] your baggage. As architects, we filter that information and learnings, and somehow they get transformed into architectural work … and that’s how as a society we keep going.”
His work encompasses more than 50 projects in Mexico and the United States, including the National School of Theater and Arts, the Americano Hotel, the National Laboratory of Genomics for Biodiversity, the University Museum of Chopo, the Emblematic Monument of the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Puebla, and the Mercedes House in New York.
What I most admire about his work is how skillfully it mediates between the universal expression of globalization and the idiosyncratic character of a specific place or group,” said Sarah Lorenzen, chair of the architecture department.
Norten is active on international juries and has lectured around the world. Since 1998, he has held the Miller Chair at the University of Pennsylvania.
He is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Smithsonian Institution’s 2007 Legacy Award. He is also an appointed board member of Deutsche Bank’s International Forum, the Mexican Cultural Institute in New York, and the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
Past recipients of the Neutra Award include former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Tadao Ando and SCI-Arc founding member Michael Rotondi.
Click here to view Norten’s entire lecture.