At first sight, the building is a shock. It’s a perfect square, 76.5 by 76.5 yards, in a clearing that is also itself a perfect square. The land is wild, and if you were to come upon it on a dark night, as photographer and author Tim Street-Porter did, with “a carpet of stars overhead,” you might think it an apparition, a cross between an ancient temple and a futuristic coliseum. “I remember seeing it as an acropolis,” says Street-Porter, describing his first glimpse of the massive structure rising from the jungle floor about 30 minutes outside of Mérida, Mexico. The monolith—three years in the making—represents Javier Marín’s most ambitious undertaking to date, housing both a workspace and living quarters, along with studios and rooms for visiting artists to take up residency projects.
Born in Uruapan, Mexico, in 1962, Marín, whose monumental figurative sculptures have been exhibited throughout the world (his pieces can also be found in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City), is one of ten brothers, including Jorge, an artist, and Arcadio, an architect, who helped him construct his working palace.
The building, which he considers the embodiment of his art to date, represents Marín’s conviction that “the production of an artist depends on where he produces it.” To that end, Marín thinks and works big. When he felt he had outgrown his studio in Mexico City, he purchased 125 acres of land to create a new studio in the countryside. His opus references architectural traditions: the imposing volumes of pre-Hispanic styles like Mayan and Olmec temples, and haciendas, with their exterior walls, inner courtyards and airy corridors for ventilation. These would provide industrial and private space, clearly reflecting how Marín sees his building functioning. But this spartan Shangri-La also incorporates aspects of colonial convent designs with its monastic bedrooms and communal bathrooms.
Marín is a purist who delights in using simple indigenous materials for construction as much as for his art. Made of poured cement, the building has been put together, as he describes it, “like Legos.” He designed individual molds for the modules, then transported the pieces by truck and assembled them on-site. There’s no air-conditioning; the water that will eventually surround the building will act as a natural cooling system as well as a watering hole for the area’s animals during dry season. There’s no window glass; instead, netting keeps out mosquitoes. Nor is anything painted or refinished. “I wanted it raw and exposed. It can age with time and the weather,” Marín says. “I like the raw patina of things, the effects of abandonment and decay. The old colonial buildings are now ruins; you can see the original materials, as if they were naked.”
The huge arched metal entrance door can accommodate large-scale artwork and also provides a smaller rectangular door that people walk through—against the landscape, the natural metal patina provides the only color.
But to really understand the construction, you must look outward to the courtyard, which includes a pond that frames a square island filled with wild trees. This is where Marín began building his undertaking, on the virgin patch of jungle, starting from the square and building toward the outer walls. “That center is the heart of the building and the heart of the whole idea of observing and respecting nature,” Marín says. “It is the symbol of the entire project.”