Luxury Outlook 2023
An ambitious exploration into high-end residential markets across the globe.
Mexico City’s most exciting new hotel is tucked away on a little-known street running parallel to Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s grand, skyscraper-lined boulevard. Hotel Volga opened in June in Colonia Cuauhtémoc, a sophisticated neighborhood known for its good Asian restaurants and mix of apartment and office buildings. The 50-room boutique hotel was designed by Aisha Ballesteros of JSa, an architecture firm that has played a key role in turning the almost 700-year-old Mexican capital into the vibrant art and design mecca it is today.
Hotel Volga’s facade is a grid of 56 concrete squares filled out with textured glass that glows after dark. Behind this is a cassette-like block—containing a garden, a concept store, and a mezcal bar—that, when glimpsed through the grid, animates it with depth and movement. Things are no less dramatic inside. A copper-colored sculptural staircase cast in solid steel leads to the public areas, located below ground. But the real showpiece is a 10-story U-shaped well that pierces the building top to bottom. Open to the sky, the rotunda bathes the basement lobby with natural light, while affording every room a peek at its neighbors. For privacy, sliding screens create a constant play of light and shadow, which, along with the abundant translucent surfaces, give the building a sense of dynamism as users circulate through it.
The hotel—whose interiors the firm also designed—expands the aesthetic toolkit JSa has steadily assembled since its founding in 1996 by Javier Sanchez. Early on, the studio made a name for itself with subdued residential projects characterized by clear volumes, complex sections and exposed materials, such as concrete and blackened steel. The firm is closely associated with Condesa, a leafy neighborhood with lively parks and stunning art deco buildings that coexist with sleek condos by some of Mexico’s leading contemporary architects. JSa helped to convert Condesa into the sought-after enclave it is today by promoting a sensitive approach to urban regeneration that included restoring existing heritage structures. In this, Sanchez was a pioneer—25 years ago developers were more likely to demolish buildings than preserve them.
JSa’s housing schemes emulate the natural fabric of the city’s vibrant barrios, or quarters, where different uses and demographics collide in a variety of interwoven indoor and outdoor spaces—patios, promenades, and penthouses are all part of the mix. The recently completed Juan de la Barrera apartments comprise six tall buildings of different heights designed around a 2,000 sq m garden that retains the plot’s massive old palms. The complex incorporates two meticulously restored Spanish-style mansions from the 1930s, now converted into duplex townhouses, and abuts Conjunto Veracruz, one of JSa’s first residential buildings, begun in 1996. Here, in the heart of Condesa, JSa has come full circle. Few architecture studios get to develop an entire block—JSa has very nearly done so, with its brand of textured minimalism that enriches and reflects city life here.
Distinctive spaces for dining and drinking are another studio specialty. As Mexico City has emerged as a global foodie destination, Sanchez and Ballesteros have become the go-to architects for the scene’s biggest names. In the smart Polanco area, a recycled 1960s house is home to Pujol, Enrique Olvera’s temple of Mexican cooking. In the trendy Colonia Roma neighborhood, JSa designed a jewel-box of a bar for Salón Rosetta, the restaurant of award-winning chef Elena Reygadas. It is based around a series of wallpaper panels recovered from the home of Mario Pani, the local mid-20th-century architect and urbanist.
One of Pani’s most iconic designs is a 1962 pyramid-shaped tower in Tlatelolco, and it can be seen from the roof of La Fábrica de Hielo, JSa’s new fully sustainable premises in a converted ice factory in industrial Atlampa. The panorama is impressive, spanning the quilt of historic neighborhoods that JSa is helping remake, past the super-tall central district skyline, and across to the surrounding mountains. Just as breathtaking is the space below it, a 9m-high open-plan workshop that nods to Lina Bo Bardi, the great Italian-Brazilian artist and architect, with its tactile concrete walls tempered with wood and playful openings that flood the cavernous nave with sunlight. In this cathedral-like space, Aisha Ballesteros and Javier Sanchez talked to RESIDE about the past, present, and future of their work.
Aisha Ballesteros: The kitchen is the heart of a restaurant. Where it is located and how it functions is crucial. And yet, the kitchens of some of the city’s most emblematic eateries had a generic design that had little to do with the restaurant’s ethos. A few years ago, chefs started calling us to design kitchens more aligned with their auteurist cuisine and mission. The considerations for a world-class restaurant’s kitchen are different to those for a regular establishment. Inside, it is like a ballet, highly dependent on a precise division of responsibilities among more than a dozen workers and a seamless flow between these different functions. Our work is to understand the exact needs of each chef and come up with the most intelligent and efficient layout possible. These days, the experience is as important as the food, which makes design and architecture critical. What sets us apart and has positioned us to be working with the leading figures in the field is how involved we get, and how customized our work is. What we do with these restaurants exceeds questions of decor. Every detail needs to be controlled. If the result is aesthetically pleasing, which it tends to be, it comes from treating every small practical decision equally. We are like bespoke counselors to the city’s star chefs.
AB: Elena [Reygadas] wanted Salón Rosetta, an intimate bar above her restaurant, to feel like someone’s home. She loves antiques and is always scouring auctions and shops for special pieces. She had found these Asian-inspired wallpaper panels that came from a house that belonged to Mario Pani. We decided to base our design around them, which was a challenge, since two of the paintings are curved and the room is rectangular. The solution was to integrate the furniture and the panels into one design built into the space. We took inspiration from Gio Ponti’s designs, with their organic, rounded forms. The result looks like it has always been there, but if you look carefully, there are contemporary elements. To unite it all, we used mint-green tones for floors, doors, windows, and the upholstered banquettes. What characterizes the space is a tension between Elena’s penchant for ornate, maximalist things, and our own language, which veers more toward restrained, muted gestures. It was a push and pull project.