Casa en El Torón

El Torón Reserve is located on the coast of Oaxaca, at the southernmost point of the Mexican Pacific coastline and a few kilometers from Mazunte, between Mermejita and Ventanilla beaches. It is a protected 30-hectare area characterized by mixed vegetation and rugged topography, with steep cliffs and hilltops creating hard-to-reach spots and a unique natural beauty.

The House in El Torón is the first to be designed within this reserve, and its conception emerged from two premises that enabled us to question and rethink the idea of a house on the coast. The first was to show maximum respect for the site, and the second was to seek to understand and learn from the vernacular and contemporary architecture of the region, which represents so many years of accumulated wisdom and experience, and tends to offer unmatched functionality.



Since the 1970s, architects like Marco Aldaco, Mario Lazo, Diego Villaseñor and José Yturbe presented a ‘new architecture of the sea’ without doors or windows that encouraged a close relationship with nature and at the same time transferred the gestures employed in traditional coastal architecture to large-scale projects: the use of palm roofs, local materials, cross ventilation, light-colored floors, are some of the design strategies that today we take for granted, as well as the knowledge we need to apply to any beach-based design. This makes rethinking coastal habitation difficult: but questioning the principles and its future is a task that falls to our generations, which must seek balance in development and evolution, while considering the interaction between the global and the local.

In a few months in 2020 we witnessed uncontrolled growth in the number of developments implemented along the coasts of Mexico. The exploitation of communal or ejido lands and their conversion into private property—for holiday home or weekend house developments—is not something that can be carried out in a healthy and ordered manner in the next few years. That is why it is the responsibility of architects and designers—not to mention the developers—to proceed in a coherent manner. The future of the coast depends on us, and we must ensure that the landscape and its flora and fauna are treated with care and responsibility. It is necessary to implement ideas of architecture and urban design with regenerative aims in mind. This means making sites better places and seeking to preserve their values: not only maintaining their current state but restoring them to what they once were, leaving them in a better condition than we find them today.

Regrettably, we are witnessing a failure of coastal urban design, based on a harmful model of division into micro-lots that seeks the greatest profit but only serves to transform the landscape, damaging the ecology. Instead of seeking to understand these zones, the same model is followed as in urban areas. Meanwhile, the architectural projects are unsuitable, hasty and disconnected from the time and place where they are built.

In light of this, how can we improve the way things are done? What can architecture do to help change this dynamic? What values must future beach house projects embody?

It’s clear that public policies to ensure appropriate land-use planning for these zones must be strengthened. However, where such planning does not yet exist, we believe it is necessary to act in a manner coherent with the context, while thinking about the common good. If we intervene in these spaces it should be with slow, tranquil architecture that takes care of and protects our environment. An architecture that, for once, places the surroundings before the user.


The Project

For the House in El Torón we imagined a lightweight architecture that questions the scale, the physical relationship between the building and its surroundings, and the use of a number of elements such as palm roofs. An architecture where we imagined living only on terraces or on a coastal palisade. An architecture that “touched” the site as little as possible and, where it did, that was as careful and respectful as it could be.

The construction employed only local materials; certified tropical wood for the structure, door and window frames, local stone—mostly from the excavation itself—for the foundations and containment walls, and stucco and clay from the local area that require little maintenance. The structural system combined timber and concrete to create frames with 4.8-meter modules bearing lightweight slabs in each of the volumes. These are covered with the chippings from the stonework, endowing them with a thermal quality that, together with the frame design, minimizes the energy required to cool the rooms.

No large machinery was used in the construction process, with all the materials being brought in using an ATV and a trailer, following narrow pre-existing tracks. The perimeter landscape was cordoned off during the works and 80% of the vegetation that was located under the footprint of the buildings was replanted in the immediate surroundings.

The project program is divided into three principal modules, designed separately and independent from each other. The first contains the common areas on the upper floor, and the master bedroom and a studio on the lower floor. The second houses the guest bedrooms, while the third module is a small two-floor volume with two bedrooms on the lower floor and common areas on the upper floor.

After being laid out on the site, these modules were connected by plazas, walkways and open paths to enable fluid circulation around the compound. The plan of the whole complex was the result of this process, and was the final project drawing completed.

Dividing the program this way enabled us to position the different volumes on the site more freely, while working with independent volumes meant we could control the scale of the house, leaving the existing vegetation intact and providing each space with the necessary privacy and unique viewpoints.

The result is a series of intermittent spaces: interiors, exteriors and roofed outdoor spaces that merge with the landscape and enable the architecture to disappear in an ambiguous relationship of natural and artificial within a continuous panorama of unaltered spaces.


Mazunte, Oaxaca, 2020

850 sqm

Photographs: Onnis Luque

Website IUA

Our new site presents our work through carefully selected photographs, drawings and texts that together display our way of understanding and doing architecture.  We share a selection of the projects that we have undertaken over the last 12 years, organized into three principal blocks that dynamically reveal the evolution of our work:


The first block displays the projects that are currently underway and those that we have developed from 2019 to the present.


The second block presents three significant moments in the transition to the studio where we are now based, illustrating the conclusion of the first stage of our career and the beginning of the new one: The Emerging Voices award given by the Architectural League of New York in 2019, the publication of the monograph Ensayos. El proceso arquitectónico de 2008-2018 and the exhibition of the same name.


The third block summarizes the Archive 2008-2018, a careful selection of the most interesting and representative projects designed by Ignacio Urquiza and his team in the first studio.


We use this website as a tool for recording processes, as an ongoing logbook for our work that is in constant transformation: it includes the studio’s new projects and through them the evolution of our thinking and how we produce architecture.

The constantly changing and dynamic content ascribes equal importance to the three principal elements and tools we employ in our design process: drawing, image and text, organized into triptychs that permit a complex reading of the projects.



As architects, we are devoted to drawing. We convey ideas, proposals and solutions through drawings, which when interpreted by different people come to take material form in works of architecture. Our interest in drawing is committed and meticulous: we use it to express the spatial relationships we explore with each project and its relationship with the user.



A fundamental tool throughout our entire design process, we use images as a reference and source of inspiration, as a means of exploring what we have researched, and as a record of the development of our ideas.




Words are the archive of knowledge and the foundation of our ideas.


Designed by Priscila Vanneuville and developed by the Laboratorio de Conciencia Digital, our new site presents our work through carefully selected photographs, drawings and texts that together display our way of understanding and doing architecture.


PILARES 03 Azcapotzalco

PILARES (which stands for Puntos de Innovación, Libertad, Arte, Educación y Saberes or Innovation, Freedom, Art, Education and Knowledge Hubs) is a project of the Mexico City Government to establish spaces for education and culture that contribute to recreation, gathering and exchange among the city’s inhabitants.

The PILARES are a series of strategically located public buildings across Mexico City, sited in areas of high levels of vulnerability and poverty.

These community-oriented spaces offer areas designed for study and learning, together with free artistic, sports and recreational activities and workshops for entrepreneurship, skills and professional development. Programs include continuing education, a robotics lab, and screenprinting, electricity, cookery, and jewelry workshops, among others.



Mexico City covers an area of around 1,400 km2, a diverse and complex territory that is divided into 16 boroughs. It forms part of the Metropolitan Zone of the Valley of Mexico which has a population of almost 22 million inhabitants who lack spaces for education and cultural activities. The PILARES are established at strategic points in each of these boroughs, where poverty rates are high and access to education and culture is limited. The sites selected for their construction form landmarks in the urban fabric, enabling the population to identify them as community meeting centers that promote the regeneration of social life.



The proposal is rooted in public space: the development and activation of these hubs promotes peaceful coexistence in the communities where they are established. The basic concepts of the project are as follows.


  1. Park

Public space is the physical reflection of a community’s values. In the park, exchange of these values is promoted by virtue of care and coexistence. The park has an open and fluid dynamic, so the project is understood as a park with a building, an oasis within the city where what matters most is the open space, the conservation and recognition of the existing vegetation and the experiences that are originated there.


  1. Spaces

Three spatial typologies emerge: the exterior, the covered exterior—a transitional space or roofed park—and the interior. The proposal is born and lives in the intersection of these three spaces.


  1. Flexibility

The architectural program is specifically designed for each location and site. Its flexibility is rooted in the identification of three different elements: the “servant” spaces for services and installations, the flexible and open space of the program and the programmers. These latter are independent, changing elements that give a particular character to the use of each space and serve to activate the project. This differentiation makes it possible to organize everything in a clear fashion, and optimize the spaces to ensure they can be used flexibly. At the same time, it leaves open the possibility for changes to the program over the lifetime of the building, allowing it to evolve and adapt freely.


  1. Identity and color

The use of color in Mexican architecture is an element that has been transformed and reinterpreted in the hands of different artists and architects. Color together with the material qualities endows public buildings with character and identity, while ensuring low maintenance costs by not requiring periodic recoating.


  1. Materials

The principal material selected is exposed concrete with a ridged texture on the exterior and smooth on the interior. It was chosen for its construction and structural efficiencies as well as its thermal and aesthetic qualities. In appearance the volume is simple and compact, with a strong character that confirms its role as a public building.


Conceptual studies

PILARES 02 Álvaro Obregón and PILARES 03 Azcapotzalco are positioned on sites with similar physical characteristics: both are located at a road intersection on corner properties with existing vegetation. The arrangement of the volumes takes into account the natural elements of the site, maintaining a number of mature trees and incorporating them visually into the buildings.

The dominant diagonal of the ground floor provides clear and free-flowing pedestrian routes in any direction, inviting users to walk around the park and enter the building. The diagonal walls set in the plaza serve as a curtain and transition between the exterior and interior spaces.

The ground floor is open with the interior space marked by a lightweight glass façade that can open outwards, expanding the park space across street level, making it accessible to pedestrians and to the whole community for use as a place of encounter and to enjoy cultural and social activities.

The 1.50 x 1.50 meter grid used to modulate the structure determines different zones and orders the program, freeing up the multipurpose areas and grouping services and building facilities, which are identified by yellow boxes. These run throughout the height of the building, granting visual coherence to the complex.

The three floors are organized into four displaced platforms that are articulated around a central void that acts as a starting point for the vertical circulations while providing natural ventilation and illumination to all parts of the building. Each independent platform is connected by means of stairways and the central elevator. A number of them are further connected by ramps that also function as multipurpose spaces; others take advantage of their independence for activities that demand purpose-built spaces.


The ground floor of PILARES 02 includes an access platform that also serves as both an auditorium and staircase for cultural activities. The first floor houses the continuing education rooms on two platforms, and the second floor the robotics and cookery workshops, which includes an outdoor area for growing herbs and vegetables.

The program for PILARES 03 contemplates a multipurpose lobby, continuing education classrooms on the first two floors, and screenprinting and jewelry workshops on the upper two floors.


The sloping roof produced by the incorporation of half-stories serves as a fifth façade, with the terrace used for the generation of energy with solar panels to store solar energy for the complex.


IUA Ignacio Urquiza Arquitectos in collaboration with WORKac (Amale Andraos & Dan Wood)

Azcapotzalco, Mexico City, 2020

440 sqm