For the Mexican Embassy in Berlin, architects Francisco Serrano and Teodoro González de León make a point with monumental proportions.
Abby Bussel -- Interior Design, 5/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
"Mexico," says architect Francisco Serrano, "is more than sombreros," dispensing with the clichéd view of Mexico as a place for fun in the sun with colorful buildings and fashion accessories. It is a point made loud and clear with the new Mexican embassy in Berlin, which Serrano designed in collaboration with Teodoro González de León. Beating out seven other teams in an invitational competition sponsored by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the two architects, who run individual practices in Mexico City, designed an all-white concrete building that posits a different view of Mexican architecture and culture.
Built on a full city block at the intersection of two important thoroughfares in central Berlin and across the street from the new Nordic embassies complex, the Mexican embassy is a taut composition of linear and cylindrical forms. And the composition is monumental in scale, starting with a 60-ft.-high entrance façade of slender, chiseled-concrete columns. With the irregular orientation of columns facing the street, the architects aimed to "create a building that possessed an unmistakable image," a memorable marker on the streetscape of Berlin. The building reveals itself in layers. The main façade serves as a giant portal created by the intersection of two columned planes—one warped, the other stepped inward. The effect is dynamic, resulting in a façade that is both transparent and opaque. Pedestrians standing in front of the building can see directly inside through the glass plane that sits behind the columns. From an oblique perspective, the façade becomes a solid plane. The effect is not unlike that of a curtain—albeit one rendered in a highly textured concrete—that can be opened and closed, depending on the viewer's position. In fact, the columns sit within a rectangular frame, like a proscenium arch.
Behind the folded planes of the street façade is an equally monumental 60-ft.-high concrete drum, a great hall that serves as the ceremonial heart of the embassy and the site of large gatherings and receptions. Capped by a massive skylight and punctured on its curved walls by cylindrical portholes, the drum is all about natural light. It evokes the "lightness" of concrete, its dual character, simultaneously delicate and weighty. The drum also houses the building's vertical circulation core (elevator and glass bridges), rendered in clear glass, juxtaposing a crystalline, jewel-like presence against the concrete walls. A terraced, interior garden, bringing the greenery of the nearby Tiergarten indoors, adds a third monumental element to the great hall.
The Mexican embassy, which was realized in association with Assmann of Berlin, has six levels. A semi-sunken basement houses service areas and a parking garage. The double-height ground floor holds the interior garden, the entrance hall, a multipurpose room, and an information center. The mezzanine level contains consular and cultural services. The chancellery occupies the next two levels. At the top there is another garden, from which one can view the Tiergarten and the monuments of central Berlin. While the architects designed some furnishings for the interiors, most of the pieces were selected for their strong modern lines and simple geometries. The idea to use furniture by a variety of designers, not necessarily Mexican, was in keeping with the architects' intention to create a building that both represents their country today and speaks an international language.