For Mexican architect Manuel Cervantes, creating architecture that has a real sense of authenticity—and remains true to its surroundings—is key. “We’re never seeking the newest material or most innovative system,” he says of his practice, “instead, we try to exalt context and culture.”
Founded in 2004 as CC Arquitectos, Cervantes recently renamed his studio Manuel Cervantes Estudio. At the start of this year, he cemented this new identity with the completion of Casa Estudio, his family home in Amatepec, Mexico, which also serves as a show space for clients. Here, he tells us about this “window to his work” and his other standout projects.
Was it always your ambition to be an architect?
No, my intention was to study art. My father convinced me to go to architecture school, which I did in Mexico City.
When did you establish your practice—CC Arquitectos—and when did you change the name?
I started the workshop in 2004, and we changed the name to Manuel Cervantes Estudio four years ago. We wanted it to have a personal name, given that we pride ourselves on the personal attention we pay to our clients.
We don’t use a material as an aesthetic, we use it to relate to the climate, the region, and the culture.
You recently completed your own home, Casa Estudio, in Amatepec. Can you describe it to us?
The house studio is our way of understanding the domestic part of architecture. I believe in personal relationships between clients and designers, and the house helps us to have a homely atmosphere when we work with clients. I prefer to have lunch or dinner instead of meetings.
How was it designing for yourself rather than a client?
It was easy to think about the atmosphere because it’s related to our culture, our region, and Mexico City.
What did you want to achieve with the house?
A family atmosphere with a Mexican vibe. It works well because it was designed for us, for our traditions.
You use a lot of wood and concrete in your designs. What do you like about these materials?
We use the materials that connect us with a site. We don’t use a material as an aesthetic, we use it to relate to the climate, the region, and the culture. Also, materiality creates atmosphere—designing a subway station is very different to designing a house—and materials are part of the story of the project and its context.
How do you begin a commission, and how do you like to work with your clients?
I start with the site, then the clients bring their vision of the project and together we do what is right for the commission.
Let’s look at a couple of your standout projects, tell us about Santana House…
It’s a cabin in the woods, made from the pines from the area, a simple project that tries to “disappear” into the landscape. It’s the story of a family in the forest, trying to avoid the city and create a weekend getaway.
And what about Club de Playa Canalan? How does a commercial project differ from residential?
The difference is clear—with a house you explore a personal journey, while on commercial projects you try to imagine scenarios and relationships with places, but you never have the element of personal life to work with.
How has the pandemic changed the way you work?
Completely, now we have a screen between team members and that’s difficult. As designers we need personal contact to create empathy. We are also learning a lot of things, such as new ways of distributing time and space, and I think that’s pretty interesting.
Banner image: Inside Casa Estudio. Cesar Bejar