After gaining a Master’s degree in Art, Design, and the Public Domain at Harvard, Frida Escobedo has been working on architectural and design projects, and recently branched out into homewares with a beautiful collection of tequila sipping vessels.
Splitting her time between Mexico City, where her practice is based; Houston, where she teaches at Rice University; and London, where she was recently named an international Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects, the young Mexican architect is gaining a cult following. Chief among her recent creations is the Frida Escobedo for Maestro Dobel Tequila Limited Edition collection. Escobedo spoke to Luxury Defined about her creative ethos to solving design problems.
What drew you to architecture as a career?
I was always interested in art and design but chose to study architecture, with all its practical problem-solving, because I’m quite shy, and expressing myself as an artist seemed a bit too personal. A Master’s degree at Harvard changed everything for me. I could never have imagined I would get a place at the same time as winning a competition to redesign La Tallera, the former home of the artist David Siqueiros.
After that first commission I no longer saw architecture as just buildings—there were so many other ways of thinking about space.
You say you were drawn to architecture by its practical solutions. Do these manifest themselves in your residential as well as public work?
Yes. Casa Negra, my second project after graduating in architecture from the Universidad Iberoamericana, is a black box on stilts on the edge of Mexico City that I built for friends. The black box references the owner’s work as a photographer, and acts almost like a camera obscura in that you enter through a tiny door and find a double-height window framing the landscape. But it is also a practical design. Raising it up was one way to build on the sloping site and achieve as much room as possible on the smallest footprint, creating additional living space beneath the house.
For Mar Tirreno—the apartment building I’ve just completed in Mexico City—the challenge was to create a private courtyard for every unit, even those on the upper floors, none of which are overlooked by neighbors.
Your work has broadened of late to include sculpture and objects for the home. Can you tell us about that?
One result was my work for the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, which looks like a screen but is actually more like a giant piano. A sort of sound sculpture that reminds you of children pulling sticks across metal fences. The work has moveable steel pieces to vary the sounds that can be produced.
I recently created an edition of 20 corner-shaped chairs in raw copper, two of which have already been bought, and seven screens in a special reflective glass. I see the chair as an interior sculpture, while the screens are more playful, a contemporary take on those in traditional Mexican homes. My grandmother had one, everyone did—it’s where you went to get dressed and undressed. Mine are made from glass that is mirrored on one side and transparent on the other, allowing the owner to choose whether to be seen or not seen. It’s quite flirtatious, addressing notions of femininity, and can be seen at Masa Gallery, a new home for collectible art in Mexico City.
You chose to design a jícara, which is the name associated with tequila drinking vessels in Mexico. What was behind this decision?
These shallow cups are a simple shape, usually made from the fruit of the calabash tree, but I’m drawn to work in complex, almost precious materials. We don’t really do shots in Mexico, and this shape is perfect for sipping fine tequila like those produced by Maestro Dobel, the 200-year-old family firm who commissioned the set.
I decorate mostly by trading with friends, the kind of collaboration that happens a lot in Mexico City
I chose obsidian—a volcanic glass material—to work with. I enjoy the different colors and have used the red and silver-gray as well as the better-known black form, matching each to complement three different expressions of the tequila.
Can you give us a snapshot of your own lifestyle?
I’m lucky to be living in a building designed by Mario Pani, one of the country’s most important Modernist architects. I can see the park from my apartment and walk to my office. There are lots of small shops and galleries nearby, but I decorate mostly by trading with friends, the kind of collaboration that happens a lot in Mexico City.
An artist in my building exchanged one of his big pieces for one of my chairs, and I find beautiful pieces in vintage shops and flea markets. My mother is a sociologist who works with women’s groups from whom she brings me textiles, and my dad, a doctor, loves cooking. I have inherited some of his copper pans and he is always thinking about clay pots for my kitchen. My sister has contributed some of her own homemade ceramics, too.
What about future projects?
I’m currently working on two houses, a couple of hotels, exhibition designs, and a publication, as well as teaching and curating at the upcoming Toronto Biennial. My practice is now a little bit of everything and I really like it that way.