Architects Jaqueline Lessa and Francisco Pardo on How Looking to Mexico’s Past Helps Them Design for the Future

Based in São Paulo, Brazil, Jaqueline Lessa established her architectural atelier Entre Terras (translation: “between lands”) two years ago in order to answer human questions through craft. This ethos is evident in all of Lessa’s work, from her airy, minimalist design for São Paulo’s Haight Clothing Store to her free-flowing exhibition settings for the likes of the local Bergamin & Gomide gallery.

After studying in New York, Francisco Pardo moved back to his hometown of Mexico City in the early 2000s; from here, he established himself as a leading architect on the international stage. He did this, he said, by embracing the local way of “mixing things up”—a creative freedom that is vital to his work on projects such as Casa Aguacates, where he built a house under an avocado field in Valle de Bravo, a lake town outside of Mexico City.

With Midnight Publishing Group News, Lessa and Pardo discussed how they arrived in their careers, what drives their work forward, and their mutual admiration of Mexico as an endless source of inspiration.

Francisco Pardo and Jaqueline Lessa. Courtesy of the architects.

Francisco Pardo and Jaqueline Lessa. Courtesy of the architects.

What is the story behind each of your decisions to pursue a career in architecture?

Jaqueline Lessa (J.L.): I’ve thought a lot about this. I was born in the countryside, in a small city called São Lourenço do Sul, in the southernmost state of Brazil. My childhood was very related to nature and [the] earth. I’ve tried to remember all of the moments that I had and that probably made me aware that I wanted to have a creative practice.

I was very close to my grandmother and spent my childhood watching her growing vegetables and cooking them for our family. I think this simple gesture of changing something and then creating intimacy between people through her work, or something she was passionate about, was something that awakened my sense to the possibility that some activities [bring] a new perspective to an ordinary condition.

But I didn’t know I would be an architect until the moment I had to choose it.

Francisco Pardo (F.P.): I was [planning] to be an industrial designer, but got caught up in architecture—it was the only career [choice related to] design at my university. I fell in love the first day; I thought it was fantastic.

I had a similar experience to what [you] described, Jacqueline. My grandmother was a painter, and I was very close to her. She was also an interior designer at some point in her life. I never really saw her work, but she talked about it.

So there was a connection with family, but [for me,] the decision [of what to pursue] was random. It was a lucky thing that I ended up here.

Inside Pardo's Casa Aguacates. Photo: Diego Padilla.

Inside Pardo’s Casa Aguacates. Photo: Diego Padilla.

What do you believe is the most imperative factor in maintaining a creative career?

F.P.: That’s a very complicated question because there’s a lot of factors [in] the commitment to do something. I’ve given [it] a lot of thought lately, especially as an architect—you get involved in this profession and then end up thinking that everything revolves around architecture.

I think the pandemic helped me to understand that’s not true—that your profession doesn’t define your life. So, I’ve been trying to get out of the field in my free time and do [other] things that I like. I like to watch cinema, I like to go to art festivals, and I like to just walk on the street in different cities and see [what’s around me]. That’s the way that I learn [about] architecture.

J.L.: I agree with [you,] Francisco. I think it’s being able to perceive lots of aspects of life aside from architecture; it’s coming back to the things that will feel true.

I’ve thought a lot about Paulo Mendes da Rocha this year. I think he was a very good architect, not because he knew how to draw, but because he understood life.

Can you explain what drew you to Mexico as a fruitful setting for artistic production?

F.P.: I lived in New York for five years. It was a very complicated city, with [a lot of] competition. I realized that to make it in New York would be very hard. You’ll probably be 40, 50 [years old] before you even get a good chance to do architecture.

I come from Mexico. It’s a country that is hands-on. I arrived [in] Mexico, I opened a studio, and I was building five, six-story buildings by the time I was 28. My friends from New York were doing probably an interior [project] at the most, and they were trained as architects.

I think I was lucky because I entered into a new era of Mexican design. A lot of things—from artists, architects, chefs, and all [of] the creative scenes—have been booming for the last 15 years.

Lessa's ceramic sculptures from her residency at Pocoapoco in Oaxaca. Photo: Luvia Lazo.

Lessa’s ceramic sculptures from her residency at Pocoapoco in Oaxaca. Photo: Luvia Lazo.

J.L.: The last time I was in Mexico, I was a resident at Pocoapoco, in Oaxaca. It’s a very special city, very much rooted in the presence of traditions. [In] Mexico, people are a little bit more aware of [their] past. In Brazil, we are still discovering things.

I feel [like] Brazil is an island in Latin America [due to its language and distinct culture]. Going to Mexico was a way to understand Mexico, but I was able to come back to Brazil with more understanding about who I am as a Brazilian and who we are as a country. I also wanted to come back with questions about things that I don’t know about, that we are trying to understand.

Can you talk about your creative processes?

F.P.: For me and my team, it’s very important to look at every project as a different entity, a different prototype. I try to open the discussion formally and programmatically. Every project has its own conditions, so the result [is always] different.

I focus [on] what the site has to say. Each site gives you information—the elements, the local materials. [After] research, the design process is very simple. Lots of the planning, very little with the execution—that’s the main idea.

The creative process for me has to do with the simple stuff—what is [on] site, the sun, the wind, any natural elements. For example, in Casa Aguacates we wanted to keep an avocado field intact, so we decided to bury the house; by [building below ground] we did not affect the view.

Looking down not the avocado fields where Pardo built Casa Aguacates. Photo: Sandra Pereznieto.

Looking down not the avocado field where Pardo built Casa Aguacates. Photo: Sandra Pereznieto.

J.L.: I agree with you that when we’re building something in the countryside, the context gives you information, more strategies maybe. In the beginning of our practice, we [Entre Terras] had more commercial projects. With those, I didn’t feel that we had much information.

Now, we are developing residential projects in a rural area of Juquitiba, which is known for having the largest green areas in the state of São Paulo. We are very much considering the context in a way that we weren’t when we were building commercial projects.

In one of [Italian-born Brazilian architect] Lina Bo Bardi’s fantastic teachings, she said that she always starts a project by a function of aspect, imagining the future of the space—not in a formal way, but in a very humanistic way: how dinner will happen, how people will coexist. We always discuss a project imagining this moment of use, the life that the space could hold. What kind of moments are we creating? What levels of intimacy are we generating?

Oftentimes, art-making is rooted in research around a specific interest or inquiry, with the work reflecting a unique perspective from which to consider the world we live in. What points of concern do you consider to be most urgent today, and do you tackle those issues in your personal practice?

J.L.: I think probably the most urgent issue [we] have right now is climate change. This is an issue that we have considered a lot in the houses we are developing. [And as an atelier], we try to build less.

I believe architecture is an area where the idea that the future is ancestral applies: We look at the past to understand things from the present and to imagine a future. So, [the past] is something that we are researching in the office.

We try to incorporate traditional solutions that take advantage of and consider the environment, while at the same time we look to technology by doing research on materials and incorporating energy solutions that are more environmentally responsible.

A view from Haight Clothing, designed by Jaqueline Lessa in São Paulo. Photo: Ruy Teixeira.

A view from Haight Clothing, designed by Jaqueline Lessa in São Paulo. Photo: Ruy Teixeira.

F.P.: Mexico City is probably the oldest active city on the whole continent; there are other cities that are now ruins, but Mexico City is the only city that is pre-Colombian and active. It has layers, which is not a metaphor.

I tend to not take down or demolish buildings because I think that’s a bad idea for a city. It is more sustainable to reuse an existing structure than to build the most “sustainable” building from scratch. I’ve convinced clients not to demolish and instead to do restorations of buildings.

Like [you] said, the best architecture is the one that imagines a possible future. I always ask two questions: Is this thing that we’re doing beneficial to people and society? And are we making an effort to have the least impact? Because we always have an impact.

If [either answer is no], then we’re doing it wrong.

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook:

The New Art App Limna Helps Collectors Discover Artists in Their Price Range (and a Whole Lot More)

This weekend, as art lovers explore fairs across the new Armory Art Week in New York, some would-be collectors might be seen swiping on an exciting new app. Limna, which debuted in July, is not the art world dating app we’ve all been waiting for—but it can help you find “the one”: the perfect artwork for your budget, and even assurance that the price is a fair one.  

Limna has been billed as an “AI-powered art advisor in your pocket,” and for good reason. The app allows users to explore the works of 700,000 living artists (those included are required to have had at least one exhibition in a recognized institution), as well search functions that sort by dimension and estimated price range, which is based on analyses of vast database systems that blend momentum and cultural recognition. Unlike other databases, the app is focused squarely on primary market purchasing—as opposed to auction results and provenance.

“We conceived the idea of Limna to enable more people to buy fine art with confidence, with a focus on the contemporary primary market, and thus support more living artists,” said founder Marek Claassen. 

Marek Claassen, founder of Limna.

Marek Claassen, founder of Limna.

Now, just this week, Limna launched a new feature called “Discovery,” which allows would-be collectors to not just validate pricing, but to search through the app based on price range, scale, medium, and even artists’ gender or nationality.

“We’re excited to open up the market even further to a new set of potential collectors or even one-time buyers, as well as provide a new way in for existing collectors,” said Claassen, “We are giving them a starting point from which to dive into the art market. Whether that’s based on what’s personally important to them (such as supporting younger, emerging women artists), their maximum budget (because we all have one!), or the limited space that they are trying to enliven with a new painting.” 

Limna's interface.

Limna’s interface allows users to search artists by increasing momentum.

Claassen says that in the research stages of creating Limna, the commonly cited barrier to entry for potential collectors was simply not knowing where to start. This sense of confusion entailed uncertainties around price and value, but also with the artist names themselves. The app has tried to allay these concerns by providing a range of artists that match a budget (and other needs) alongside further information on each artist, along with a contextual comparison to other artists. 

Claassen believes that the app can offer collectors a certain level of confidence. That said, he still believes seeing art in person has no comparison—which is why the app’s “Available In” filter is his favorite. “It’s truly great because I can ask Limna to show me real art around the corner (so to speak) that fits my budget, by displaying artists who are on show or have recently shown in my chosen city.” 

Follow Midnight Publishing Group News on Facebook: