In a world of booming architecture, where the fastest is thought to be the best, Fundamental is making a bet on slow living.
Zaida Briceño and Orlando Franco, the founders of Fundamental Arquitectura, met during college while studying architecture at UADY, but didn’t connect until they got reacquainted at work.
“We discovered that we saw architecture similarly while working with Salvador Reyes,” says Orlando. ”We both shared an interest in sustainability, restoration, and public spaces. And we realized we could develop projects we were passionate about together.”
The pair first joined forces in 2014 and formalized Fundamental in 2015.
From the beginning of their journey, they have placed great care on sharing their unique design vision. In the early days, where projects were slow, the couple invested in creating a furniture line and developing interior design projects.
“Architecture was always at the center,” remembers Zaida, “but we started creating furniture because we couldn’t find pieces that worked with the spaces we liked. And, since we were a new firm, it gave us a chance to showcase our style and our abilities without big clients.”
This approach gave them a new layer of sensibility which helped them understand the use of color, high-quality materials, and the function the pieces would fulfill once placed in a space.
The Mérida retail-gallery-restaurant complex Lagalá on Calle 56 and 47 was the first project where they joined their interior design experience with their architectural background.
With three different brands, Lagalá became a meeting ground for emerging artists in Mérida and a high-end boutique to showcase their creations, opening in 2018.
Fundamental designed the entire project and handled the interior design. They designed most of the furniture pieces and the rest they selected from existing collections.
“We became consultants, not just part of the project,” says Zaida. “Ana Carolina Leyva Peralta, the owner of Lagalá, really involved us in the decision-making process. We worked alongside the branding studio, and I think that’s noticeable once you walk into the building. How cohesive the brands and architecture feel to one another.”
They note that while branding and architecture regularly work together, it is not often that a brand and a project get developed hand in hand. Fundamental and Bienal, the branding studio, worked together from the get-go. Orlando remembers the color palettes, mood boards, and sketches they brought into their meetings, and how that helped to view the project as a space for a narrative.
“We love working with people looking to build a story,” says Orlando, “whether that be a commercial or residential project. Architecture becomes a consequence of that story. We don’t think only in terms of light, color, and texture. We also try to see how the space will work with its narrative.”
Once the project was finished, the architects printed copies of a small book to capture their process. Although this was only an internal gift, for the owners and investors of Lagalá, it is an omen of the care and love Fundamental places on their projects.
“People think of architecture as something ethereal,” says Orlando. “They are not always aware of the work behind. And I don’t mean the drawing sessions, but the fact that you’re leading a team far beyond your own. Builders, electricians, painters, clients. Sometimes even end-users. It’s a heavily involved process, one we do with all the care we can give. And the book became a way of immortalizing that process.”
This intimate portrayal is something they try to replicate with every large project they embark on.
For the last one they took on, the La68 cultural center, they note that, sadly, the book is still in draft form.
“It’s a shame we only got to experience La68 at its fullest for a couple of days,” says Zaida. “The pandemic hit right after the inauguration, so we’re yet to see the space become truly alive. But even though people haven’t been able to enjoy it as they should, we’re incredibly happy with the result.”
This is the second time the studio has remodeled a public space created for art and culture, but their approach for LA68 was different.
“We knew we were creating a space for dialog. A blank canvas where messages stood out. The project itself is two separate houses joined by a large corridor. We had to create a space that felt cohesive as a whole, but that also respected the independence of each room, each brand. Somewhat of a neutral ground.”
Similar to the Lagalá project, they worked remodeling an already existing space. But Zaida notes that they do not think of their process as restoration, but rather a form of recycling.
“Restoring is an art and a really complicated process. Finding the right materials, the exact moldings. But our projects don’t necessarily need, or want, to have everything back to how it once was. And that’s not what we want either. We want to honor what’s already in the space, use it to our advantage, and transform it to work with its new purpose.”
Today, Fundamental is working on two residential projects, and they’re trying to preserve the greenery and life present in both plots of land. Maintaining nature, and seeing it as another protagonist of the project, goes hand in hand with their sustainability efforts, which form part of their core philosophy — slow architecture.
“The way in which we are plundering the space is terrible,” says Orlando, “especially when we have beautiful places which could be repurposed. Clearing up a space is not necessary for building something new. We are choosing to take the time to understand and honor the spaces upon which we design. To preserve what we can, and fill what we create with a second life.”