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The water seeps through the cracks and bare walls and conquers hidden spaces of the strange architectural massif, north of the city of Guadalajara, Mexico. Water, the city and ecosystems are omnipresent in the design of what will become the largest and most avant-garde scientific museum in Latin America.
It is the Museum of Environmental Sciences of the University of Guadalajara, a sanctuary from the Anthropocene, the era in which humans became a kind of geological force, almost always blind, frequently destructive. Its director, Eduardo Santana Castellón, with Cuban-Puerto Rican roots and training in ecology and ornithology, serves as an excited guide through these incomplete dens of 23,000 square meters (7,000 for exhibitions) where scientific knowledge, modern poetry, ancestral culture and misunderstood city are located in the same territory.
Projection of the main entrance to the museum.
The marvelous work, which is already 80% complete in its physical structure, will gradually open its doors to the public, due to the budget cuts it has suffered since the start of works in February 2016. Coinciding with the International Fair of the Book of Guadalajara, in November 2023, only the Educational Garden will open, while the ground floor of the gallery will be inaugurated during the FIL in 2024, and subsequently the others, gradually.
12 thematic gardens, 7 permanent exhibition galleries, 2 temporary exhibition rooms, 4 rooms for school workshops, an auditorium and a community development laboratory… The work is so ambitious that some find it excessive. The numbers seem to corroborate it: 1,035 million Mexican pesos. This figure is around 60 million dollars; an equivalent to the average annual income of 19,300 humble households. And it is estimated that this investment will reach 100 million dollars.
Culture and knowledge are difficult, but “this project is designed and intended primarily for the poorest families; it is a public good that not only seeks to exhibit and show, but is also proposed as a tool for these families to dialogue with knowledge and with their most pressing daily problems. It is a space for them,” warns Santana Castellón. This museum will be a university space, built jointly with its community and aspires to become a catalyst for socio-ecological transformations in its neighborhood environment.
Central courtyard of the Museum. Roberto Antillon
Scientists, teachers, students, artists, neighbors… more than a hundred people shaped the building from stone, gravel, sand, shells and textured concrete, “selected for its durability and its resonance with vernacular landscapes.” It is also an intelligent building, which incorporates the most innovative technology to reduce its energy consumption, whose organization moves away from traditional museums.
Instead of taxonomic organization (mammals, birds, reptiles, plants…) or by ecosystems, the scientific heritage is organized by landscapes that are defined by the cultural use of natural space, integrating human beings in a pioneering way. Thus, its galleries organized in landscapes do not have walls, “because nature does not have them.” The visitor will be located by the colors, shapes, textures, aromas and sound environments.
Its design was carried out by the Norwegian-American firm Snøhetta. The architects were inspired by the colonial architecture of the historic center of Guadalajara, but recognized the limits that nature imposes on the city, evoking the process of erosion by water that sculpted the Barranca del Río Santiago, the geographical mark that has contained the city. to the north and east. Without forgetting the semi-dry plateau of Los Altos de Jalisco, the coniferous and cloud forests of the south and west and the Wixárika region of the Sierra Madre Occidental. “Water erosion gave the building an organic shape and linked its interior patios into a central “canyon” open to the passing public,” its website reads.
The city as the central axis of the “eye of God”
In addition to water and ecosystems, the central axis of the “eye of God” is the city, the fundamental invention of sapiens, according to the scientist. “In the city are the political, economic, military, religious, scientific power… the powerful urbanite is going to define the future of nature and, however, he is the one who least understands the dependence of the city on the ecosystem services of those natural landscapes of its surroundings,” reflects the director. “Being able to understand from the city how nature prevents cities from collapsing is the fundamental premise. The military of the Middle Ages knew this when they besieged cities, cut off ecosystem services and collapsed.”
Virtual model of what the entire finished museum will look like.
Its construction was slowed down for six more years (it was planned to open at the end of 2017) due to budget conflicts between the country’s second university and the Government of Jalisco, which stopped support as a result of the pandemic. In the background, an old political hatred of Governor Enrique Alfaro towards the University group, under the orders of Raúl Padilla López, the strong man who detonated the University Cultural Center. The death of the university leader last April paved the way for dialogue again, but there are 140 million pesos (more than eight million dollars) committed by the Government of Jalisco, which have not yet arrived. This case, linked to a broader legal issue about university autonomy, is in the hands of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN).
Excessive or not, the echo of the project has resonated strongly among world architecture spaces. The museum has been awarded the International Architecture & Design Awards in the category of “cultural heritage landscape concept”, awarded by the Architecture & Design Community (AD-C). He was also honored with the international DNA Paris Design Awards, based in France. The gardens of the museum space, which will be made up of western Mexican landscapes, were recognized with the Gold Award, the highest in its category. This museum in full creation, impregnated with social action, vision of rights to knowledge and sustainability strategies, is giant in its construction and also a representation of the communal and local.
Museum interior. Roberto Antillon
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