Pasaje Ventus, a new retail and office building, asserts an iconic form in the fabric of Ciudad Juárez.
Architect Jorge Urias Studio
General Contractor Inmobiliaria Bensa
Structural Engineers Ricardo Fierro-Stevens; Braulio Bonilla; DICEBSA
Facade System AL-TECH/Aluminio y Tecnología de Chihuahua
Ciudad Juárez is the most populous city in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Known until the late 19th century as El Paso del Norte, Juárez and its sister city, El Paso, Texas, form the second largest binational metropolitan area on the U.S.-Mexico border. In general, border cities seek to grow in ways that attract tourists (and, in some cases, businesses) from the other side of the border. Ambitions in this direction can clearly be seen in cities where the sister city on the other side of the border is held to be more glamorous. This is the case, in Juárez.
Jorge Urias, an architect based in Juárez and New York City, is among a generation of businesspeople, artists, and researchers who want Juárez to grow and who believe that iconic architecture can be instrumental in creating a new era of development. Designed by Urias and his Juárez studio, the perfectly named Pasaje Ventus (wind passage) is undoubtedly an architectural production that expresses this vision. This mixed-use (commerce and office) building gets its defining shape from volumes superimposed around central open passages. Separate volumes on the ground level are dedicated to commerce, with parking spaces in front of each unit; a larger, two-story office space presides above the commercial volumes; and additional parking spaces are available on the underground level. The upper and lower volumes are connected by means of a central core of services, including a floating staircase that gives one a feeling of being outdoors.
Situated on Paseo Triunfo de la República, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Pasaje Ventus acts as a catalyst between the busy commercial area of the street and the low-rise residential area to the north of it, reflecting Urias’s concern with design tailored to context. This quality can be seen in his work at different scales, from recessed textured patterns in tilt-up concrete panels in a commercial project in Anapra, an undeveloped Juárez neighborhood, to his limited-edition, steel-fabricated bench, designed based on the interaction and complexity of New York City blocks and their inhabitants. In the case of Pasaje Ventus, the building appears to be a direct response to its context, both its immediate surroundings and the city itself. Projecting an understanding that the city has a dearth of public spaces, Pasaje Ventus — with its open passages and central plaza — creates a pleasant space where people can enjoy the shade, as well as a shortcut for people walking to and from the residential neighborhood to the main street. As Urias sees it, the architect has a responsibility to propose open public spaces. In his words, the design, with its central public space, reflects this position by “open[ing] the building to the public from the inside out, and link[ing] itself into the neighborhood.”
In response to the harsh sun of the Juárez desert, the envelope of the main volume consists of three translucent layers that protect the interior: linear aluminum panels angled to respond to the strong winds in the area; a screen attached to those panels; and a glass box covering the interior space. A wraparound corridor, with the interior glass layer on one side and the exterior screen and aluminum panels on the other, creates an evolving interior-exterior space. Whereas the corridor on the third floor merely provides access to the mechanical shafts and the HVAC system, on the second floor, changes in the corridor’s depth created sufficient space for the addition of two terraces: a smaller one on the east side looking to the side street, and a larger one on the south side looking to the main street. The east terrace is still between the interior and exterior layers, whereas the south terrace comes out of the envelope, providing an outdoor gathering space. The relationship between the aluminum panels and the inner glazing layer also plays with the sun to create patterns of shadows, both on the exterior, where the zig-zagging edges of the volumes project onto the other volumes and onto the passages, and on the interior, where a unique pattern of linear shadows can be seen.
I could not agree more with comments by César Valles and Luz Maravilla, members of the design team, that the building will have a great impact, not only on the immediate surroundings, but also on the architectural environment of the city. Juárez needs icons, and Pasaje Ventus is a worthy icon that serves the people of the city in a new way.
Mahyar Hadighi is director of historic preservation and design at Texas Tech University College of Architecture in El Paso.