Photo Credit FGP Atelier

Interview with Francisco Gonzalez Pulido, Founder and Principal, FGP Atelier丨Lightness is a property that I value not only in buildings but in life.

Release Time: September 17, 2019

We strive for depth in lightness, we dream of space defined by endless connectivity. We believe in the building as the critical cell in sensible urban development, as the unit that generates new social forms, ways of thinking and new life in a community.

—Francisco Gonzalez Pulido, Founder and Principal, FGP Atelier


Over 25 years of professional practice in architecture field, Francisco Gonzalez Pulido, Founder and Principal, FGP Atelier shows his passion for work as an architect. He strives for beauty through knowledge, innovation and intelligent use of resources. It is in the context of architecture that his creative energy has found its most concrete form and broadest public presence. In each project, his work is driven by solving a specific problem through the form, texture, color, light, function, and general atmosphere that he creates. He strives for lightness and transparency as he believes these concepts resonate deeply with our civilization, cities and lives.

During this interview, Francisco Gonzalez Pulido talks about his design idea and shares his experience and opinions as a senior architect. He said, “We don’t pursue styles or signatures but we strive for ‘performance’. Our architecture relies on multidisciplinary inception and advanced engineering and its implications on context, form, materials and systems. We believe in a holistic approach in which rational, technical, constructional, and technological factors shape the building’s image through systems and components. Our architecture represents a continuing evolution from a technological approach toward a social activity.”

verse editorial: Could you please talk about a few projects you completed over past years that you appreciate most? Or that left you deep impression?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: It is of course difficult to single out projects as all are really quite impactful in their own way. The Diablos Rojos Stadium was, however, one of the most significant projects of my career. Not only was it an opportunity to work in a new building typology, but it was a chance to build a very significant piece of urban infrastructure for my country and the city in which I was born. Beyond the stadium, I have a special fondness for the Orchid Educational Pavilion. This humble building embodies a number of the key principles of our practice: sustainability, transparency, modularity, contextualism, and a very refined level of detailing and craftsmanship. It also is an educational tool that attracts a wide range of visitors and engages the community. In this sense, it is more than a greenhouse, but a cultural building.

Diablos Rojos Stadium Courtesy of Rafael Gamo

verse editorial: You have been running studio for many years, and what makes you establish FGP Atelier? What is the intention behind it?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: In many ways, I started the work that would become the foundation of FGP Atelier 6 years prior to actually forming the business while President of Murphy/Jahn. I was essentially running my own design studio within the broader practice, winning jobs, and building very large complex buildings. At a certain point, it made sense to deliver these jobs under my own brand. At the same time, founding The Atelier gave me an opportunity to work in typologies and at different scales that would have been difficult within Murphy/Jahn.

Orchid Educational Pavilion Courtesy of FGP Atelier

verse editorial: We notice that your studio mission begins as “We strive for depth in lightness, we dream of space defined by endless connectivity.” We wonder what kind of projects are you focusing on now? Could you please share some experience of doing this kind of project that is unforgettable?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: I think that the Land Rover Regional Offices in Shanghai that we completed in May of 2018 is a good example of this motto. The façade is created by 54 different fritted panels that have been combined in different manners to create a unique pattern that transforms over the course of the day under different lighting conditions. In some cases, the fritted portions of the façade appear to be almost opaque while at other times of the day, the building appears very transparent. The result is a sense of lightness and etherealness. In terms of the urban master plan of the buildings, we advocated for creating a plaza that could be a passage connecting different points of the city while also trying to make the edge of the development as porous as possible to allow for maximum points of contact with the rest of the urban fabric.

Land Rover Regional Offices in Shanghai Courtesy of Dmitrii Iagovkin

In terms of the projects that we are focusing on now, we have a wide range underway at The Atelier. Our most recent significant commission was for the new Mexico City Airport. The project will serve 25 million passengers in the first phase and 100 million passengers when complete. We are also working on a culinary school that anchors a mixed use commercial, retail and residential development in Puebla Mexico. We have a restaurant underway in Mexico City as well as a restaurant and art gallery in Oaxaca that is housed within our renovation of an 18th century mansion. In our home city of Chicago, we are also working on the renovation of a municipal building as the headquarters for a workforce training company. We also have a tower underway in Nanjing and are working on couple other projects in South America. In this sense, we have a very diverse practice and are eager to work in typologies that we have yet to explore.

Nanjing Tower Courtesy of FGP Atelier

verse editorial: Lightness of architecture can be seen in many of your projects. For example, the ultralightweight structure in La Hoja will create different sceneries when sun moves. Could you please share your opinion on lightness? How to choose materials for a specific lightweight architecture?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: Lightness is a property that I value not only in buildings but in life. Our ability to use less as a society is in opposition with our endless desire to consume. Reducing embodied energy, procuring daylight use, natural ventilation, reducing emissions, eliminating waste, reducing the weight of things as well as pushing systems to perform more than one task are all important factors in achieving the so-called Lightness.

La Hoja Courtesy of FGP Atelier

When it comes to choosing a specific material, the context is very important. This determines the use, the climate, the desired durability, the need for a certain appearance, and the overall atmosphere of which a specific material will be a part. It is important to consider the performance of the material over time while also remaining open to the introduction of new materials that could enhance the performance of the building.

verse editorial: You value “Transparency, Openness and Freedom”. And we wonder how do you deal with the space between indoors and outdoors?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: This is always a challenging moment and great opportunity in a building. Many of our building blur the line between interior and exterior. This can occur through the use of glass and minimal columns that create a division. It can also occur via how the space is configured and how one gradually enters rather than crossing through a grand threshold. This is certainly true with the Diablos Rojos Stadium.

verse editorial: What is a traditional Mexican architecture like? And what is a contemporary Mexican architecture like?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: This is a complex question. There is, on one hand, the architecture of the Meso American Civilization such as the Aztec and Maya that built the great cites of Monte Alban, Chichén Itzá, and Teotihuacán. On the other hand, there is the Colonial Architecture that the Spaniards brought to Central America. The former is defined by monumental public spaces and iconic forms. The latter is defined by the legacy of classical Western European architecture that led to the creation of grand palaces and mansions that often emulated the courtyard form of their precedents in Spain. In crossing the Atlantic, the architecture took on a local appearance via added use of color and pattern. At the same time, the mineral wealth of Mexico led to the extensive use of gold and silver in the many churches of the Baroque era.

Contemporary Mexican architecture has its roots in the European Modernism. We can see the significant influence of architects such as Le Corbusier on the concrete forms of architects such as Luis Barragan. I feel that contemporary architecture in Mexico has taken the legacy of these great architects and combined it with a deep investigation of context, material, and form while also being influenced by trends of the leading global practitioners. Of course, given the global nature of our society, there are so many architects working in Mexico and defining Mexican Architecture who are not Mexican. Although I am Mexican, my practice is based in Chicago and I work globally.

RECTORIA Courtesy of FGP Atelier

Facet Courtesy of FGP Atelier

verse editorial: What is the difference of doing projects in different countries? For example, the difference between Mexico and USA?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: As a practice based in Chicago helmed by a Mexican American architect, we place considerable value in creating architecture that is contextual. Beyond striving to reflect the history, culture, economy, politics, and habits in the buildings that we create, we seek to incorporate the local building tradition into our work. We hope to do so while also showcasing the high standards for design and construction that we have developed over decades of practicing in some of the most rigorous building cultures. We have refined what these standards mean to us in our essays on the aesthetics of the sustainable, our manner of working at the intersection of architecture and engineering, and the ethics that guide our approach to design and the profession. We think of the process of designing within a particular context as a process of adapting or adaptation in much the same way that one might think of an animal adapting to their environment through evolution. We like to call this process of adaptation “technical contextualism.” The ultimate result is a building that addresses sun, wind, rain, habits, history, color, access, and desire through the form and organization that it takes.

The process of adapting universal values that guide our practice to a local context is a more complex process. First, it involves looking at the specific building tradition of how buildings have been put together in the past. This is, fundamentally, to ask how space has been created. On one hand, it can be created through carving out space from a solid. It can be created by setting stakes to mark the limits of a future enclosure. It can also be created by adding solid material to other solid material to create a volume. Wood joints can be used to connect elements, straw can be combined with mud to create walls, and liquid concrete can be poured between temporary planes to eventually create a solid volume. Each strategy for creating space implies a specific set of expertise that must be accounted for. Moreover, each is the reflection of a particular climate, access to materials, and set of habits of the end-user related to how they use space. Through carefully considering the values that are reflected in these choices and how traditional building methods relate to global building trends and technology, we are able to create rather unexpected formal, spatial, and organizational results that clearly reflect the tradition while also attaining a precision and, in some cases, scale and connectivity with other building systems – often very advanced – that might not necessarily have been the case historically. In doing so, we create new opportunities for the building to perform for those within the local context.

GICC Courtesy of FGP Atelier

A critical component of a particular building culture is the extent to which that culture seeks to hide or reveal the systems or purpose of a given building. Some cultures have sought to create a high level of illusion where atmospheric affects appear as if by magic. Other cultures have, by contrast, endeavored to create buildings where every structural elements, duct delivering air, and piece of conduit powering the systems are visible. Structural forces can be clearly visible through the form that the building takes and how gravity is reconciled with the ground. In other cases, the building can take on a purity of form that hides the systems that makes it stand. In still others, gravity defying formal gestures can occur that provoke a sense of wonder. In each case, the level of visibility and honesty of a building reflects the values of the culture that built it. While our own values are grounded in lightness, transparency, formal and programmatic legibility, and an honest use of materials, we must be cognizant of cultures with other values and seek ways of bringing our own perspective to a collaborative design process. In some cases, this might involve a juxtaposition. In other cases, we might explore a more layered approach. In still others, we might see an opportunity to bring values that critics feel are lacking within a given culture to a specific site and program via architecture.

In each case, the culture has a memory of the confrontation that may be positive or negative. When designing in these contexts, we must take this memory into account as well as the local aspiration for the future of the society and building culture. While some groups may denounce the interference of a foreign tradition, others might embrace that tradition as emblematic of modernization and seek to excel within that tradition. In either case, we must take this process into account and explore how it is represented in our design work as well as how this design work should be represented globally.

It is important to keep in mind that no culture, building tradition, or context is alike. While they have common attributes, we must break down any notion of a “they” into the specific situation of engaging a client and community through a design process. This allow us to understand how best to pursue research informing the process, structure contractual obligations and collaboration with local designers and consultants, incorporate advanced digital design tools and digital support services, relate to adjacent fields such as tradition, culture, and art, and reconcile our technical knowledge and values with the local context via a powerful building.

Shanghai International Financial Center Courtesy of FGP Atelier

verse editorial: What is your favorite architect? What influence does he/she bring to you? Please talk about it in details.

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: I value architects whose work embodies a high level of honesty and authenticity. In many ways, I have been quite influenced by the legacy of modernism and the work of its great master Mies van der Rohe. I love the purity and poetry they are able to bring to their work. At the same time, I greatly value those architects whose work intersects with engineering such as Felix Candela. In many ways, I strive to emulate this intersection in my own work. I think that it is also important to remain engaged with the contemporary field and with my peers. I have enjoyed collaborating with Daniel Libeskind and his studio tremendously in the past and greatly respect the geometric rigor that he brings to the form of his buildings. The work of Jean Nouvel has also been quite inspiring. I love how he is able to bring a unique approach to each project and context. In many ways, this approach mirrors my own desire for each building to really feel like its own species uniquely adapted to its environment.

verse editorial: What is a good architecture in your eyes? What are the architects’ responsibilities on society when doing design?

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido: On the surface, one would think that designing and building are two very straightforward activities. A building is a collection of various material components bound together hierarchically in order to serve some purpose. They resist gravity and environmental conditions. Historically, they have done so very honestly through a clear relationship between material / form and the specific structural system and building enclosure. One can see how a column caries a load or how water is diverted away from the surface and foundation of the building via collection channels. As such, it is the architect’s responsibility to reflect the honesty inherent in a building. This honesty is tied to the building as a reflection of what it means for us to dwell and, at an even more fundamental level, to be here in this world with some purpose directed towards an ends and guided by a value system both individually and as a community. This purpose of the building is reflected in the form, material, and style it takes on that not only supports the activities inherent to dwelling, but communicates this support structure to others and to the next generation.

In an ideal situation, our habits are themselves honest, ethical, and oriented towards promoting the greater good. While this by no means implies that we all need to live in glass houses that display how honest we are through transparent facades, it does mean that the form of the dwelling and the things encountered are reflective of a clearly good intention rather than covering over some more nefarious use. This is also not to say that buildings cannot be used for violence, merely that their form should reflect this use and that the purpose to which they are put should be guided by an ethical framework. In this sense, while wars may in some cases be necessary, we must ask whether a potential war is ethical and whether those called on to participate even at the level of an architect are not violating their own ethical framework and are fully aware of what they are contributing to.

Shenzhen Gate Courtesy of FGP Atelier

Buildings have, of course, come to play a role that their designers could not have imagined and people go to extreme ends to hide habits that they do not want others to discover. Secret rooms are built, doors are locked, and files are encrypted. At the same time, buildings are repurposed for new ends that may go against the original architectural intent, owners subdivide houses and apartments and pack them with people in terrible living conditions, they charge high rents to those unable to find any other place to live, and they invest earnings from real estate in companies that produce weapons and degrade the environment among other activities that might be deemed unethical and that go against the desires of the designer. At the same time, architects might be tempted to stray from an honest expression of program and material by so called ‘advanced’ building systems that turn a building into an illusion. This occurs through façade systems that simulate a particular material, systems that appear solid when they are in fact hollow, dropped ceilings that disguise building systems, false floors that hide systems, and even through parametric surfaces and daring structural forms that make the building appear as an alien form without scale, proportion, or anything to which the human can relate beyond the spectacle of the feat of their virtuosic construction.

Avoiding illusion and dishonest use of materials and systems that disguise the underlying reality of a building is something that we place as a fundamental goal of every project that we undertake. It is unfortunately something that we see all too often in projects whose primary goal is profit rather than good architecture. What constitutes “good architecture” is, of course, up for debate. We feel that it has a great deal to do with an ethical architecture more so than adherence to some specific aesthetic, stylistic, or cultural system. In our work, we have come to value a wide range of buildings from different places and for different peoples as “good architecture.” They inspire how we make form, organize space, manipulate material, and create community. In many ways, the diversity of buildings that inspire us form the grounds of what we call “technical contextualism.”

Any utopia that we imagine, however, must be grounded in realities of the world that we inhabit and the practical levers of force that can be manipulated to alter the world in the future. Doing so will help us to better model the present in order to understand the variables affecting the future and how to bring about a desired end that will ultimately help reduce the risk inherent in any new building endeavor. This will reduce the waste of buildings that live only short lives and the violence inherent in their destruction. More importantly, perhaps, it will help us to reduce the violence that results from poorly planned cities that use infrastructure as a means of control, segregation, and the perpetuation of inequality. Ultimately, this will help to support broader sustainability of the built environment as the ethical horizon towards which the field of architecture must remain oriented.

La Mina Courtesy of FGP Atelier

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido‘s Profile

Francisco Gonzalez Pulido (FGP) is an international architect based in Chicago where he leads FGP Atelier. FGP leads a team that is currently focused on designing buildings across a range of scales and typologies that contribute to social and economic advancement through the alignment of Design, Science and Technology. He does so by drawing on nearly three decades of experiences spanning three periods of practice: leading his own studio in Mexico City (1993-1998), collaborating with Helmut Jahn and becoming business partner and President of JAHN (1999-2017), and now as founder of FGP Atelier.

It is in his current role leading FGP Atelier that he has the opportunity to cultivate his own brand and realize his specific vision for the future of the built environment. After having mastered the global scale and a range of typologies, FGP wanted to turn his focus to the level of the detail and begin designing experiences that would allow different programs to depart from their standard form and typology in order to become their own unique species. The experiences that FGP Atelier creates are defined by their atmosphere, bespoke attention to detail, connection to the local material construction tradition, and lightness in the way that the building touches the ground and skillfully becomes integrated with the context in which it lives. They are derived from site, program, material, ecology, and energy performance in order to create an intelligent building. The result is a cinematic experience that at once makes the building at home within its environment and, at the same time, creates an elevated experience that transports the inhabitant so that they might learn, live, love, and thrive in the world.

Although FGP Atelier is the first time that FGP has designed exclusively under his own brand, he has expressed his vision in independent projects from his first period in Mexico City, via projects that bare his unmistakable vision while collaborating with JAHN and serving as President, and through independent projects he did outside of Jahn during that period of practice. Highlights from the Mexico City period include a summerhouse in the ‘Huasteca Tamaulipeca’, Casa Museo M5, Casa Zárate in Oaxaca, and Casa Paredes in Mexico City as well as work for corporate clients such as General Motors, Lucent Technologies, and Price Waterhouse. While at JAHN, he left his distinct mark on Veer Towers in Las Vegas, Leatop Plaza in Guangzhou, Doha Convention Center, and Japan Post Tower among many others. It was during this period that he realized the award-winning Spacecraft – executed independently – in Valencia in 2014 for Porcelanosa as a modular prefabricated micro-dwelling allowing for variable configurations and extreme efficiency. FGP also designed and built the Orchid Educational Pavilion as an educational tool in the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca. The pavilion was constructed by local craftsmen from local materials and utilized a range of passive systems in order to be entirely self-sustaining. The Orchid Educational Pavilion was nominated for the prestigious Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize in January of 2018.

After ending his collaboration with JAHN, FGP founded FGP Atelier on September 1st of 2017. FGP Atelier is currently focused on the following projects among others: Tecnano (30,000m² Nanotechnology Lab and Corporate Accelerator at Monterey Tec that will be completed in 2020), Diablos Stadium (100,000m² baseball stadium under construction in Mexico City that will be completed in 2018), Shenzhen Gate (240,000m² 200m tall office and retail complex under construction that will be completed in 2018), Land Rover HQ Shanghai (200,000m² office and retail complex under construction that will be completed in 2018), Shanghai International Financial Center (550,000m² 220m tall headquarters, office, exhibition, and trading complex under construction that will be completed in 2018), Guangzhou International Cultural Center (GICC) (150,000m² 320m tall office building that will be completed in 2020), and the Rectoria at Monterey Tec (a renovation of the historic administration building to be completed in 2018).

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