A Nestlé laboratory by Rojkind Arquitectos heats up a historic Mexican city
Raul Barreneche -- Interior Design, 5/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Rojkind Arquitectos caused a big stir with a little building in 2007: a museum of chocolate for Nestlé. The pavilion, on the grounds of a Mexican factory, became an instant landmark, a crowd-pleaser memorable for its origami folds and red-lacquered corrugated aluminum skin. Duly noting the boost the museum had given the brand, management at the Swiss conglomerate—which, besides chocolate, makes everything from PowerBars, Lean Cuisine, and Gerber baby food to Purina Dog Chow—hired Michel Rojkind's firm for another project. This one would be an R&D lab, a "product technology center" in corporate parlance.
Rojkind recalls a Nestlé vice president saying, "I have good news and bad news." The good news was, of course, the commission. The bad news was that, because the site was in UNESCO-listed Querétaro, the building was required to have arches—a literal response to the city's colonial colonnades. And Rojkind's reputation is for forceful architecture rendered in boisterous colors, not genteel historicism. "Other architects might have said 'no way' to the idea of arches, but problems can become the thing that's fun in a project," he says. "In Mexico, there are not many examples of important industrial architecture. I thought we could take a sarcastic approach to the arch question and make something interesting. So we came up with forms that are more like extruded cupolas."
The 7,500-square-foot facility is really three connected buildings, a trio of two-story trapezoidal blocks with curtain walls of satin-finished mirrored glass. Each has a separate entry. The largest volume's ground level houses labs for packaging prototypes and mixing fluids; upstairs is a kitchen, a tasting area, and a conference room. Another contains a packaging lab downstairs and an auditorium above, while the smallest of the three boasts a lab below an office area with another conference room.
A colorful palette was one of Rojkind's driving ideas. "People have come to associate the Nestlé chocolate museum with the bright red exterior," he says. "A similar association with a strong color was a goal for this building. But it couldn't be red." The tasting area boasts blue floors and walls, and the office area is green-on-green. The auditorium is painted orange, as is the prototype lab, capped by a dome. To emphasize the complex geometry of the soaring space, he used a range of oranges. "It reads better than if all the surfaces were the same shade," he explains.
There's a humanistic undercurrent to the bold palette. Concerned about employees having to work in a hermetically sealed monolith, due to concerns about industrial espionage, Rojkind created as open and uplifting an environment as possible. "Optimistic colors and a connection to the landscape," he suggests, "hopefully make for a more pleasant place to work."
Construction combined high-tech and low-tech. Mexico has famously talented artisans, but most of its contractors lack the finesse required to build a geometrically complex building, using sophisticated technology. Improvising, Rojkind calculated the span of the arches as segments of large spheres and built a frame for these globes from standard-issue steel rebar, which he then cut away to create the concave voids. (Contractors built full-scale mock-ups to test the technique.) Workers then sprayed on concrete, sanded and polished it until smooth, and surfaced the undersides with bright orange resin. To ensure a precise seam with the grid of the curtain wall above, a computer translated the geometry of their outer edges into ribbons of steel.
The sweeping curves cut into the exterior's rectilinear glass walls, blurring the line between arches and domes, arcades and vaults. At the corners, where arches on two facades collide, dramatic cantilevers look like big bites taken out of a giant orange candy bar wrapped in foil.
Left: The building was required to feature arches in deference to the colonial arcades of Querétaro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Opposite: A three-way bridge connects the upper level of the building's blocks.
Opposite: Researchers test packaging prototypes in a resin-floored lab.
Left, from top: The curtain wall is satin-finished mirrored glass. Wiel Arets Architects designed the chair and ottoman in the central bridge, near the office area. Right: A staircase leads up to the auditorium.
Top: The lab shares a gated 33-acre property with a Nestlé factory that makes evaporated milk. Bottom: Of the curtain wall's panels, 57 pivot open.
Left: Tempered-glass walls intersect with the resin-coated concrete arches. Right, from top: Staircases have stainless-steel railings. The men's restroom is in the bridge.
Opposite: The domed ceiling of the prototype lab rises to 26 feet.
PROJECT TEAM AGUSTÍN PEREYRA; PAULINA GOYCOOLEA; MORITZ MELCHERT; TERE LEVY; ISAAC SMEKE; TOMAS KRISTOF; FRANCISCO GORDILLO; ANDRÉS ALTESOR; JUAN PABLO ESPINOSA; JUAN CARLOS VIDALS: ROJKIND ARQUITECTOS. VYCISA: CURTAIN WALL CONSULTANT. JFH ENGINEERS: STRUCTURAL ENGINEER. QUANTUM DESIGN: MEP.
PRODUCT SOURCES FROM FRONT DUPONT: VAULT SURFACING (EXTERIOR), FLOORING.
QUINZE & MILAN: CHAIR, OTTOMAN (BRIDGE). PM STEELE: CHAIRS, DESK (OFFICE AREA). INTERFACEFLOR: CARPET. THROUGHOUT SOLATUBE: RECESSED CEILING FIXTURES. DORMA: GLASS.
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