Javier Sordo Madaleno: “Building city with responsibility”
Wrriten by: Redacción Sordo Madaleno | November 5, 2019
This text was originally published as “Dynasty in Architecture” in the May 2019 issue of the Líderes Mexicanos Magazine. The interview made by Líderes Mexicanos’ editorial team to the chairman of the board of Sordo Madaleno, Javier Sordo Madaleno Bringas, exposes the professional career of the Architect through the testimony of the design of shopping centers and mixed-use projects more important and representative of the country.
The first shopping center in Mexico City was Plaza Universidad (1969), designed by the father of our interviewee, the architect Juan Sordo Madaleno, which as well as an anchor store had an anchor cinema, the iconic Dorado 70. In the same year, the emblematic Plaza del Sol mall opened in Guadalajara. Subsequently, the Plaza Satélite shopping center, designed by the same architect, was inaugurated in 1971 in the expanding suburb to the north-west of Mexico City. The third major shopping center was Perisur in 1980, which in its time was the largest in Latin America. And it was in the same decade that construction began—on former garbage dumps—of the Santa Fe mall, also designed by Sordo Madaleno, opening in 1993.
The history of the Sordo Madaleno Arquitectos (SMA) studio now helmed by Javier Sordo Madaleno Bringas is a long one and has been covered in our magazine on another occasion. For this reason, we chose to ask him to tell us about what has happened since the inauguration of a major retail landmark of Mexico City, the Antara Polanco mall that opened in 2006, with its pleasant promenades, walkways, and circulation routes.
In this regard, the architect commented that “After it opened, Antara Polanco became a very successful mixed-use venue where people are able to walk around, and this is a good way of making city. I could even say it became a phenomenon, as a shopping center open to the sky, just like the first one in this city was: Plaza Universidad. That was built by my father Juan Sordo Madaleno in 1969, and decades later we had to roof it over due to air pollution problems.”
Today, Javier Sordo notes, Antara receives 16 million visitors per year, and preparations are underway for its expansion. In 2008, Grupo Sordo Madaleno was created to consolidate the real estate side of the business, including operation, commercialization, new business, construction and everything necessary for real estate development in a unique, multifaceted mixture.
After the success of Antara, the firm scored another major hit with the development of Plaza Andares in the city of Guadalajara, which is also a very special place for the architect Sordo Madaleno. This city in the west of the country was marked by the arrival of this shopping center and its contiguous residential building opened in 2008 in the district of Zapopan. Andares continued to have an impact, completing its master plan with an office tower and a hotel tower including Hyatt Regency residencies in 2017.
On the work undertaken by the firm in the shopping center sector, Javier remarks “Not only do we design, rent, manage, and operate the centers, but we do all the organization right down to the real estate advertising; we have a great deal of information because we handle all these areas. For example, Artz Pedregal, opened in 2018, is a very special project that is breaking records for visitor numbers, as well as being one of the most successful ever mixed-use projects. All the office spaces are already rented, even if they are not all fully occupied yet.”
There is no doubt that Artz is a very special place, starting with its excellent location in the Pedregal district of Mexico City, where all the best brands have come together as part of a very well-defined sales strategy. The intention, as in all the shopping centers designed by this firm, was to generate spaces that help to build city, by providing pleasant internal parks and incorporating sustainable technologies that are better for the environment, for visitors, and for neighbors.
It should be noted that Artz Pedregal includes a zone—still not opened—that gives the center its name and concept. The intention is for this venue for the arts to open in the summer. “The idea is to create a foundation that deals with art and helps to connect Mexican and international artists with the people who come to the center,” explains Sordo Madaleno. The aim is to bring artists into contact with those who are interested, bringing art closer to all, a noble endeavor. Already, visual art on show in Artz Pedregal includes work by artists of the stature of Ai Weiwei, Daniel Buren, and Tania Candiani, who fill the commercial space with creativity and art.
A firm with a family heart
With a pride he cannot conceal, Javier Sordo remarks that in the firm and the group everything is done in a very personal manner together with his three sons. Javier and Fernando, both architects, head up the architecture and urbanism office, while Jose Juan is in charge of the financial and real estate development department.
“We like to establish a relationship of friendship and of professionalism with the brands, the clients and our partners. In this regard, we have earned our name over the decades; people know us and trust us.”
Meanwhile, he informs us that projects are underway or nearing completion in cities including Querétaro, Guadalajara, Veracruz, Mexico City, Monterrey, and Cancún. He remarks that worldwide the shopping experience is changing as more people are buying online. However, he believes that in Mexico it will be a long time before online shopping comes to dominate as Mexican people are fond of the experience of wandering around a shopping center, and enjoying an afternoon buying or simply window shopping.
When asked why the firm has not sought to build outside Mexico, the architect responds: “Firstly, because we know the country very well and this has given us the opportunity to always have work here. But we’ve looked at some possibilities; there are things in the pipeline in Spain, in the United State, in Colombia. Nothing concrete as yet, but there are plans and we hope they come to fruition.”
The latest: Proyecto Reforma Colon
Today, Grupo Sordo Madaleno is working with the central government on the Reforma Colon project, which is being built on the site overlooking the Glorieta de Colón (Columbus Plaza), a strategic site just to the west of the Historic Center of Mexico City. On this project, Javier Sordo remarks: “This is a site of over 40,000 square meters intended for the development of a new city and living concept. It will include a tower with offices, hotel, residential, and retail. One of the goals is for the people who live and work around the project to be directly benefited, and this is why we’re working with the Mexico City government to create a development that will be beneficial for the city and the immediate surroundings, namely the Juárez and Historic Center districts.” The Juárez district is one of the few in the city where the population has decreased; it is an area with many plots and where this new city concept can be developed.
“We want the people who work in this development to be able to live nearby. There will also be a green area on the roof. We firmly believe that the Proyecto Reforma Colon will be an urban landmark in Mexico City for many reasons, but above all in terms of sustainability. At the present moment, we are in the process of obtaining construction licenses. We hope to start building in November, and then we have 36 months of arduous work ahead of us.” As the architect has noted on many occasions, it is a question of “building city with responsibility.”
To conclude the interview, we asked his opinion on the present situation in Mexico. His response: “I trust that Mexico has a great future. I think that the changes in the government regime, like we are experiencing now, take a long time to get off the ground. Nevertheless, I do believe that the economy will gradually reactivate. In our case, our firm and our group is carrying on just as we’ve always done. We haven’t stopped working for a moment. We are in the process of obtaining licenses for a number of projects; getting used to the new modes of operating and forming good teams with the groups that have entered the new government. We have a pretty optimistic outlook.”
The architect concludes with the words: “As Mexicans, we have a responsibility to show support; we have to give our backing to the country. For my part, I’m always making an effort to work for Mexico. I haven’t withdrawn, I haven’t stopped; we’re carrying on as before, trying to resolve the issues we need to resolve.”