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“Spaces that are strictly defined rapidly become obsolete. By contrast, anonymous and ambiguous spaces are resilient and multi-faceted, allowing their significance and purpose to shift among users.” That’s how the Mexico City–based architects at Vertebral describe El Terreno, their uniquely versatile project in the Mexican capital.

The new community garden and educational nook is a distinctly flexible space — though hardly an anonymous one. Constructed using recycled materials left over from the studio’s other projects, the subtle intervention transforms a local hill into a multi-use social destination.

“El Terreno is a fantastic project — and a very important one in this moment. We have to dream that we can build like this: very simply, but with impact.”
Patricia Urquiola, Az Awards 2021 Juror

At the heart of the space, volunteers from the neighbourhood assembled a pavilion using stone walls excavated at the site and a roof of discarded wooden trusses from old concrete formwork. Accompanying this semi-enclosed community destination, the surrounding hillside encourages small-scale urban agriculture.

Completed amid the pandemic, the pavilion soon became an outdoor kindergarten, offering learning beyond the confines and COVID-19 risks of an indoor classroom. Meanwhile, the plants and vegetables (harvested through an educational program) are now sold to local restaurants and cafés. Not bad for one year in.

And while the lack of a prescriptive program makes for what can be described as an “anonymous” space, the contextual and cultural sensitivity of Vertebral’s design renders it a gathering spot that reflects its community. The design succeeds precisely because it is not defined by its designers.

Team Elias Kalach and Teddy Nanes (Vertebral) with Michelle Kalach (El Terreno)

Winner: Social Good
AZ Awards 2021 Winner: El Terreno

“Spaces that are strictly defined rapidly become obsolete. By contrast, anonymous and ambiguous spaces are resilient and multi-faceted, allowing their significance and purpose to shift among users.”

Explore more Award Winners

2019
People’s ChoiceSocial Good
Firm
Loci Architecture, U.S.
Team
David Briggs with Elise McCurley and Benjamin Wellington
2020
Award of MeritSocial Good
Location
Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada
Firm
La SHED Architecture, Canada
2017
WinnerSocial Good
Location
Venice, Italy ­
Firm
OPSYS, Toronto, Canada