Sunday, January 15, 2012

San Pablo Centro Académico y Cultural

Built in 1529 by the Dominicans the convent of Santo Domingo de Soriano,  known as San Pablo, has emerged to become an Academic and Cultural Center. The Foundation Alfredo Harp Helú Oaxaca (FAHHO) undertook a comprehensive restoration of the former convent and rescued a piece of Oaxacan heritage and provided the site for the benefit of the community. The former convent of San Pablo is now a cultural and academic center engaged in the study, teaching and dissemination of indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica.

To understand what the architect Mauricio Rocha faced to start the rescue of the former convent of Santo Domingo de Soriano, one must consider the history of the property.  Since its founding in 1529, it has been altered by earthquakes, land for sale in the eighteenth century, the nationalization of church property in 1860, and during the 20th century housed a set of houses, shops, a hotel, and parking garages. Before the restoration, two thorough investigations were undertaken: both historical and archaeological, by Sebastian van Doesburg and Gilberto Hernandez Diaz, respectively, which allowed the work of removal of structures, and later directed the architectural intervention of Mauricio Rocha. These investigations, as well as site restoration and adaptation, were supervised and supported by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).  Each historical stage of the property was visible in layers later construction overlaying the building’s structure and the building was destroyed in some parts.  The challenges for architectural intervention arose from the removal of floors and walls that covered and overloaded the structure of the building. The result of the measures taken during the last five years by AHHFO consisted in the removal of floors, walls and slabs mainly added during the twentieth century. 

What was recovered was the former convent with its courtyards, arcades, wall paintings, the chapel of the Rosary, the choir and the choir loft. 

In the process, archaeologists found the foundations of a house, pottery and the remains of two human burials more than 2000 years old. In addition as the result of the purchase of some neighboring houses, the old alley that allows access to the original facade of the church and convent became open to Independence Avenue. One of the hardest tasks was to reconcile the different architectural languages ​​on the site and to consider the new cultural and academic uses.  Mauricio Rocha decided to use structures of metal and wood to create a clean space. Rocha noted that the request of the president of the FAHHO, art historian Maria Isabel Grañén Porrúa, was to design a cultural space, a public-access library, and a school of Indian languages. "How could all this fit in a project if it was left as a restored ruin?  It was decided to make a contemporary intervention, and I believe deeply that you can make a statement of this century if it is done with deep respect and care."  He respected the spirit of the cloister: a building that includes a patio, a patio that has a window open to the sky.

Based on the view that art and culture are intrinsically linked to sustainable development, both economically and environmentally, the former convent of San Pablo has been built considering catchment systems for rainwater and photocells to harness solar energy.  Rainwater from the roofs of the Academic and Cultural Center San Pablo will be captured and stored in a cistern. The water collected will be used to supply water for sanitation, cafeteria and landscape irrigation.

"What we have tried to define is a cultural and academic center seat that can have different cultural and academic activities related to indigenous cultures of Oaxaca and Mexico in general. Part of this is the language, history, material culture, crafts, traditions ... but not seeing them as separate elements of folk-tourist type. This will be a place that is dedicated to reflect and understand the complexity and depth of Indian heritage, which in Oaxaca felt everywhere, "says the historian Sebastian van Doesburg.

The end the cultural center will build bridges of understanding and work among Oaxacan indigenous communities and the country. "It's about making those bridges.  Indigenous communities within the project have been marginalized politically, economicly, socially and in cultural development.  This has to do with an attitude of ancestral social segregation and discrimination, and one of the elements that we can do is to build bridges to overcome these divisions to better understand the depth, creativity, dignity, the complexity of the native cultures of Oaxaca."

For more photos please visit my picasa web album.

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