Conversations: Architect Frida Escobedo
26 October 2018
In the world of architecture, women like Frida Escobedo are few and far between. These women have made an important imprint in a field traditionally dominated by men; and they have done so with a unique grace and style. As the youngest ever architect to be awarded the Serpentine Pavilion commission, Frida Escobedo’s career is a symbolic triumph for the field of architecture and design. Much like the real-life triumph of her own rendition of the Serpentine Pavilion, one of one of the design world’s most coveted commissions.
In conversation with Frida Escobedo, we talk about her love for architecture and how her Mexican heritage contextualises her work. We also talk about her strange love affair with London and how her vision for the Serpentine Pavilion was informed by the fleeting beauty of impermanent architecture. For Frida, there is not a single moment when architecture is finished, but instead architecture is a constant evolving flow of ideas, construction, and of course, context. There is after all, a tragic kind of poetry for things that are both beautiful and temporal.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you fell in love with architecture? What was the Eureka moment for you? 
I don’t think there was ever a Eureka moment for me. I’ve always wanted to do something in the creative field, but I wasn’t actually sure if it was architecture. I was in between design, architecture, and fine arts. I went for architecture because I felt like it answered to specific problems in the world. I also thought that it would give me a little structure, because architecture gives you a strong foundation for other careers in the creative field. However, I found that within the first week of university, I was already in love with it.
The Brise Soileil technique is quite prominent in your work and is a key element in traditional Mexican architecture. In what other ways does your Mexican heritage influence your aesthetic? 
I think people in architecture, as well as other creative fields, are informed by where they grew up, what they see, and the people that surround them. It is almost inevitable that your context informs your aesthetic. Your culture is what you know and is what you are familiar with. And yes, my architecture style is very Mexican because I grew up in Mexico. With the Serpentine Pavilion, I only used local concrete tiles; and so the project combined a little bit of the context of my heritage, with local materials here in England. 
You’ve worked on some stunning buildings from all over the world - from the Aztec Installation at the V&A Museum, to one of your first projects - the Casa Negra. Is there a particular project/city you’ve done that resonates with you?
For me, it is Mexico City, because it is the place I know best. Mexico City is a continuous source of inspiration for me. However, I do have a very nice relationship with London. It started when I worked on the V&A pavilion. After that, I taught at the AA School of Architecture for three weeks,  and then came back to for the Serpentine Pavilion commission. It seems that there is something that keeps pulling me back to London, and I just love it. 
What do you love most about London? Is there anything in the city that motivates your creativity?
I haven’t been able to see all of the city yet, as I only come here for a few days at a time. What I can say is that, London is a city of many cities. It’s a very socially diverse place, and you can see people from all over the world. Everything is really flowing, and I think that’s really important especially at a time when multicultural cities are no longer organically occurring. It is something that we should definitely keep pushing though, because cities are just more rich and colourful when that happens, and everything becomes better for everyone. 

The Serpentine Pavilion
You are the youngest ever architect to get the commission for the Serpentine Pavilion. What does this mean for you and your career? 
Being the youngest architect to get the commission was definitely a huge surprise and honor. So far, it has been a way for us to understand what our ethos as a practice is all about. When you are commissioned to work on the Serpentine Pavilion, you are not just designing something for the park, but are also expressing what is important to you. The challenge is how you can manifest that in a very small piece of architecture that will only be around for four months. 
As an architect, does working on something temporary like the Serpentine Pavilion change the way you approach design?
Yes, definitely! When we got the commission, it was like they presented us with the challenge of questioning what architecture is all about. The main question was if architecture always had to be permanent and site specific. In the case of the Serpentine Pavilion, it would only be on-site for four months. This really shifted everything for us, especially in our thinking. We had to reconfigure what architecture meant to us. Architecture isn’t permanent, it’s always changing and evolving. There is no one moment when architecture is finished - it’s always in the process of changing. 
What do you think makes a building/place less ordinary? 
I don’t actually know if there is a definite answer. I feel like the more a structure is being used and appropriated by people, the better it becomes. What made me the happiest was just sitting in front of the Serpentine Pavilion, and listening to people tell other people what the project was all about. When they were explaining the project to others, they were repeating those early ideas we bounced around when we were conceptualising the project, and that becomes a really beautiful moment. When you design a public building, you work for a client, but actually the final user is unknown. It’s like writing a letter to someone you don’t know, and receiving something back - it’s wonderful. 

Koya Bar Soho

Duke's Club Mayfair
What trusted ‘less ordinary’ place in London do you find yourself going back to time and time again?
I never have as much time as I would like in London, but I really like Koya in SOHO. There is also a very tiny bar called Duke Bar that I like. They have amazing martinis, but the place is very quiet and small. In terms of galleries, the Serpentine Gallery is my favourite for sure, but The TATE Modern is always nice, and so is Marian Goodman, and the Lisson Gallery. 
Which ‘less ordinary’ places have you discovered and fell in love with in other cities you travel to?
Maison Rouge
in Paris is a really nice museum. I believe it’s a private space, but they do put on some really interesting exhibitions. They are doing an amazing job of supporting artists that aren’t shown in the bigger museums, and it just feels a bit younger and fresher. 
Are there any buildings you have come across with in you travels that have really resonated with you? 
There are two buildings that have really marked me, The Mosque of Cordoba in Spain, and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. I think they are both really beautiful and important pieces of architecture. They are both emblematic and are very culturally layered. The Mosque of Cordoba is a Muslim Mosque, but inside there is also a Catholic Church. The building itself is a blur between culture and religion and its interior and exterior spaces work like a Russian doll. I love how these buildings  show that monumental and culturally significant architecture isn’t static. They can have very symbolic meanings, while also embracing the context many other symbols. Buildings are all about context - but that context is dynamic and can change over time. 
~
Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies 
APLO EDITOR SAYS 
It's important to shine a light on the people who are doing truly extraordinary things in the world; and Frida Escobedo is one of those few people. Making strides in the traditionally male dominated world of architecture. Is the future of design female? Who knows - but here are a few beautifully female-designed buildings in London that may help you make your own opinions. 

Check out these other women-designed buildings in London

 

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