Jardín Botánico Culiacán by Tatiana Bilbao 19.08.11

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Tatiana Bilbao has recently completed the first four buildings of her masterplan for the redevelopment of the Botanic Gardens of Culiacán in Mexico. The project involves the installation of 36 site-specific artworks by some of the world's leading contemporary artists, such as Gabriel Orozco and Olafur Eliasson, as well as the creation of 16 pavilions housing a range of functions from horticultural laboratories to cafes and seed libraries. After six years, the scheme is only now approaching its halfway point.

At first, the project was envisioned as the installation of a selection of art works donated by a collector who sits at the head of the garden's board of patrons, but as the project grew it became apparent that the improvements required an overarching structure. "They decided the project was too ambitious to just put the artworks there so they invited me to develop the masterplan," Bilbao explains. Her strategy was to upgrade the botanical facilities and create visitor centres in order to "reinforce the most important collection that the garden already had, bringing it to at least the same level as the art".

Organising the plan is a diagram abstracted from images of a tree in the garden. Somewhat arbitrary, yes, but it makes for an interesting variation to the familiar meanderings of 19th-century gardens. The diagram helps organise not only the location of the pavilions but also their forms. Completed thus far is a separate open auditorium displaying an introductory video, as well as a cluster of three buildings that surround an artwork by the collective Tercerunquinto: a closed multi-purpose auditorium, a service building and an educational room for children. The buildings are realised in a simple but confident angular concrete idiom with warm timber furniture and details.

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Bilbao is the first to admit that this is not a run-of-the-mill cultural regeneration project – the state of Sinaloa has a rather different set of problems than the decline of industry. "It's a peculiar city because in Mexico we know it as the capital of the drugs trade," Bilbao explains. Many leaders of the Sinaloa cartel that runs the local trade are based in Culiacán. "The client really wants to change the face of this city, put it in the name of different people, not just in the news with the drug dealer issue."

Bilbao has at least partially made her name within the art world, via her construction of Orozco's Observatory House in Roca Blanca, Mexico, or through her association with detained Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. The Botanic Gardens of Culiacán project is an example of her understated yet confident architecture, although it still has some way to go before it's fully realised. "We will be working on this project for another six years or more," she says. "I don't mind, it's my favourite!"

 

Image

Sergio Pirrone

 

Words

Douglas Murphy

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We will be working on this project for another six years or more

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