A Conversation with designboom and Javier Sordo Madaleno de Haro
Wrriten by: Redacción Sordo Madaleno | August 29, 2017
We share the conversation that Javier Sordo Madaleno de Haro held with designboom, one of the most important websites of international design and architecture. A talk that reveals the insights of our history through 80 years of continuous work, our current architectural practice, as well as Javier’s ideas.
designboom: Growing up as a third generation architect, did you always want to be involved in architecture?
javier sordo madaleno de haro (JSMH): To be honest, I didn’t always want to get into architecture, in fact sometimes I did my best to escape from it! I think that all children go through a process of rebellion towards their parents, and I was no exception.
I grew up in a world in which everything revolved around architectural design, and since I was little it became an important part of my life without me even realizing. When I decided to study architecture I didn’t account for the responsibility that is inherent to the profession, and in my own case the responsibility of carrying on and innovating the firm that has defined my family.
With the voice of experience, today I can be thankful for the distinctive perspective I have as a result of the influence of architecture throughout my life. Today more than ever, I understand the responsibilities of this profession which impacts on so many different aspects of human life, the development of society and how it can change people’s lives.
DB: What influence did the work of your father and grandfather have on you? what particular advice did they offer?
JSMH: I think that the family always has an influence on the next generation, one way or the other. although I never knew my grandfather, he influenced my father and my father influenced me — for the better, in both cases! the connections that arise when it comes to designing are undeniable. However I think that the balance is changing as now I also have a lot of influence on my father, we question each other directly and harshly. Which leads to great results (and some arguments, too)! A key piece of advice is to look for your own work so that you can design freely, rather than waiting for clients to knock on your door. Although the path is far from easy, it is great fun and helps you to discover your own limitations.
DB: As SMA’s architecture director, what does your role involve on a daily basis?
JSMH: In Spanish we use the word ‘todólogo‘ which does not mean exactly the same as ‘multitasking’, it means doing a bit of everything, but not at the same time! I try to invest my time as best I can, from securing new projects, dealing with clients, supervising the design and execution of the 65 projects we currently have at different stages of completion (concept, in design, under construction), researching new technologies, some aspects of real estate development, and being there for the whole team. The studio is organized into small working clusters (8-15 people per cluster) who I engage with continually. Each cluster is led by a project director, of which we have 8 in architecture, 2 in interior design, 1 in engineering and 1 in marketing.
DB: Overall, what would you say is your biggest strength and how have you developed that skill over time?
JSMH: it feels a bit strange to talk well of oneself, but… I think my greatest strength is to have a positive impact on the city, while knowing how to conceptualize the bigger picture in the urban approach of each project. Observe, experience and study the context in order to integrate it into the design and achieve the objective established at the outset: to improve the urban surroundings. Two examples of urban transformation can be ‘antara’ (2006) which continues to grow and ‘parque toreo’ (2014), next is ‘ARTZ pedregal’ (2017) and ‘reforma colón’ (2020).
DB: With a portfolio of work that spans 80 years, how do you build on SMA’s history while bringing the company forward?
JSMH: Right now we are in a very good position with our experience of the past, our feet in the present, and with a perspective towards the future. Adapting all this tradition to the rhythm of work today and to the great challenges of our epoch (environment, globalization, mobility, population growth…) has not been easy, but it has definitely been worth it.
At SMA each generation has contributed something better to the firm, improving its own circumstances, innovating in design and in how to run the studio. I think that my principal contribution has been to face up to the current challenges, integrating solutions into our projects that have a positive impact at a broader level than the project itself. I am also focused on updating internal processes, implementing best practices in the studio, and employing new technologies, which I am always interested in.
DB: Is there one specific project you have worked on that has given you particular satisfaction? is it possible to have a favorite?
JSMH: Sure, they are all important but I do have some favorite projects, because of the process they involved. ‘Luxury hall’ (2010) is special because it was the first one my brother José Juan and I did together, from the initial analysis to the fine details. ‘Nobu Polanco’ (2014), in a smaller-scale was a really satisfying project where we could play around with the restrictions and overall guidelines of the client. ‘ARTZ pedregal’ (2017), which is currently under construction, is already one of my favorites because of the urban impact we expect it to have, and the cultural aspect that is open to the public — we included works of art by major artists in the open-air spaces, as well as an art gallery.
DB: Can you tell us about any projects you are currently working on that you are especially excited about?
JSMH: Without question ‘Reforma Colón’, which is the most ambitious project in the entire history of the firm. construction begins in mid-2017. it is a vast mixed-use project in the heart of Mexico City and on its most important avenue: reforma. It comprises five towers (three office buildings, one hotel and one residential) above a three-story plinth of retail space, making it a very permeable development.
It is our own real estate development to our own design, meaning it not only required architectural creativity but also financial creativity, vision, strategic relationships and a lot of patience! It is a project in which my father and my brothers have all played a very important part.
DB: Which architects or designers working today do you most admire?
JSMH: There is a great number of architects and designers I admire, but it is what links them that I admire most of all: they are forward thinkers, game changers and curious minds. To mention two in particular, in Mexico I admire the design of Alberto Kalach because he really understands the context in which he develops his projects, with a strong identity. abroad, I have great admiration for the firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro because of the positive impact and regeneration they have achieved with their projects in urban areas.
DB: Outside of architecture, what are you currently interested in, and how is it influencing your work?
JSMH: I have always been attracted to contemporary art in all its forms (photography, painting, sculpture, music…) and I want to keep discovering more. There is a great affinity with architecture, and collaborations with artists who create interventions in buildings are really valuable to the overall project.
Art is constantly attracting my attention, and I recognize its huge contribution to people’s lives. It influences my daily work because in several ways but mostly because I am always seeking to generate synergies between art and architecture, in an integrated project.
DB: what advice do you have for today’s young architects and designers?
JSMH: It sounds simple but is important to understand that you cultivate the things that you dedicate attention to. That is why you have to give your attention to what really matters: actions that change the future for the better.
I also believe that it is important for aspiring architects to consciously prepare for the strong competition that lies ahead, gain strength from whatever experience they can acquire, and never, ever give up. I would also suggest not to put all their effort in trying to achieve large scale projects since there is a huge charm and talent required in the small scale designs, which I’m personally fascinated with.
Finally, I would like to thank the designboom team for the opportunity to express myself on this platform, and I hope that my small contribution may be of use to colleagues, students, and future friends.