The new pavilion realized by Mexican architect Michel Rojkind for the Swiss-based multinational, Nestlé, is another gem of a project. Two years ago Rojkind built a clever pavilion - bright red, like the Swiss flag, and with a folded, origami-like envelope - at that company’s chocolate factory, near Toluca on the outer fringes of the Mexico City conurbation. Now he has constructed a more permanent-looking structure at a second Nestlé plant. This industrial facility is on the periphery of Querétaro, the distinguished colonial city a few hours north of the Mexican capital.
Rojkind has placed his new structure forward of the factory proper, on a swathe of smooth green lawn next to Querétaro’s busy ring road. It’s a pavilion or casino in the sense of freestanding, and somewhat ornamental, little building. It’s also an advertisement, an enigmatic three-dimensional icon that works, without words or graphics, to signify a sleek contemporaneity (close by, more traditional billboards and a painted water tower directly brand such Nestlé products as Carnation Evaporated Milk). Rojkind’s new building is in fact a small laboratory.
You notice first the elevations, or curious façade morphology. The building has two stories with a contiguous flat parapet and flanks that are remarkably sheer. Initially, these may appear to be of some pale-colored metal. As you approach, however, you detect the hue of the exterior adjusting to light and realize that its outermost membrane is in fact glass: flush panels of glass with a satin finish on the outer surface and mirror on the reverse or inner face. As you circle the building, this cool exterior patina blurs from silvery grey to blue to green according to reflections and shadow.
In contrast to this sleek ethereal skin, each lower façade is eroded to create bulbous niches. Painted an almost shocking orange/yellow (saturated papaya?), this combination of geometry and vivid coloration instigates a formal and aesthetic tease within the architectural object. Recollecting in an unashamedly futuristic way the arcades and Baroque volumes of Querétaro’s urban core, these erosions from rectilinear purity represent the latest step in Rojkind’s exploration of biomorphic design. They open to hemispherical chambers with generous perimeter illumination.
This play with geometry is not a neo-Enlightenment project concerned with universal form and space, as may be the case with projects by the Spanish architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg or the very different Los Angeles architect Eric Owen Moss. As befitting an architect of the computer generation, Rojkind is concerned more with the cellular than the singular, with replication or reproduction, and hence with patterning. In Querétaro, the geometric motif is hinted at by the pale circular disks set into a serpentine concrete pathway, at once molecular and channeling 1960s Op Art.
Rojkind’s pavilion splays apart to reveal three constituent buildings whose upper floors are linked by an interstitial deck. At ground level the principal interiors are chamfered hemispheres painted a vivid yellow. Here you find men in white coats testing the sugar, salt and fat content of Nestlé products. An open steel staircase ascends into a double-height volume swelling up into the largest of the triplet buildings. The upper floor hosts a “sensory evaluation laboratory” where scientists track color, texture and viscosity. Much of the work involves powder and other dehydrated food substances.
The sight here of laboratory equipment and of technicians going about their duties is both gently amusing - reminiscent even of a science fiction movie - and evocative of such classic work environments as Eero Saarinen’s General Motors Technical Center (Detroit, 1948-56) and Verner Panton’s chromatic interiors for Der Spiegel (Hamburg, 1969). If arriving to Querétaro from the south, the poetic, painted towers along the highway (1957) by Luis Barragán and Mathias Goeritz will already have signaled the importance of color for Mexican design. However nearby structures by Félix Candela and by Mies van der Rohe for Bacardi Rum (1958-62) symbolize another Mexican reality: the fusion of business and Modernism.
Climate of course helps. As with Rojkind’s Falcon building - a modular, double-skinned pavilion set in a mature garden in Mexico City - the gap between his key architectural forms is open to the elements. In Querétaro the chambers eroded from the three primary ingots are cave-like yet also exposed to the surrounding lawn via planes of glass. The absence of mullions to these walls and doors greatly assists a sense of openness and the legibility of volume. Upstairs, the interstitial deck hosts an external terrace (for smokers) and a white, unisex washroom with a yellow/green basin surface.
Downstairs, the inscription by Rojkind of circular voids into solid trapezoidal plans results in irregular corner conditions, peripheral poché or residual zones that both accommodate the building’s steel structure and several service spaces (open storage, a lavatory, and a “controlled ambient” laboratory). Although the double-height laboratory intruding upward is an intriguing globular mass, the upper floor has typically vertical walls. Each of the three wings is branded by color: blue for kitchen and tasting area next to the exposed dome, brown for a generous meeting room, and green for offices.
These colors may already have been glimpsed (in drive-by?) from the exterior. The pavilion’s upper floor is not punctured by orthodox window openings; rather, vertical panels in the glass skin hinge outward to allow for ventilation and limited views. This creates a gill-like effect on the facade, with subtly different hues to the projecting glass surfaces. Inside, the opening planes are faced with single sheets of mirror, planes that direct not only light but, like horizontal periscopes, swatches of the outside world to the interior.
Another example of Rojkind’s clever design sensibility, a sensibility that explores geometry without forgetting sensory pleasure.