A house made of concrete may seem an odd choice for a family of four. But for Pedro Reyes, Carla Fernández and their two young children, there are few spaces sweeter than their sprawling Brutalist abode. At first glance, it’s a sea of gray. But a closer look and a half-hour’s conversation reveals its playful peculiarities – and its purpose.
More than just a living space, the house serves as creative headquarters for both Pedro, a renowned sculptor, and Carla, a fashion designer whose cutting-edge garments have found an eager audience worldwide. For the couple, who share a fierce passion for the preservation of Mexican culture, it’s also the physical embodiment of a long-standing mission to draw attention to the country’s vibrant artistic history and traditions. Strategically placed hits of lemon yellow and magenta are a tribute to Mexican architect Luis Barragán and a number of the walls are built of cement bricks handmade in-house by community craftsmen. “Our home is a laboratory,” says Pedro.
“Mexico City is a cultural superpower. It’s a fantastic place.”
It’s also something of an exhibition space, housing a diverse collection of Pedro’s furniture and sculptural work, Carla’s textiles and a vast array of books. On top of it all, however, the home is a gathering place, host to a revolving door of visiting friends, family and local artists, many of whom take up temporary residence while working with the couple on their many collaborative endeavors. “It’s a social space,” says Pedro. “We are always welcoming guests or hosting the artisans on our teams. It’s a little like living in a factory – but also a playground, too.”
This portrait is part of our ongoing collaboration with ZEIT Online, who presents a special curation of our pictures on ZEIT Magazin Online.
“Our library is meant for both work and leisure. Most of our conversations here revolve around books – we spend a lot of time taking them out and then rearranging the collection.”
“Just last week, I came back from Japan with two suitcases full of books.”
“Our home is a laboratory”
“Mexico City is a mix of heaven and hell. It’s a very good place to create because you really feel alive here. There’s endless inspiration.”
“My family and I have always been the first ones to move to a new area that hasn’t yet been developed”
“Being an artist means coming up with your own definition of what art is.”
How long have the two of you been married?
Pedro: Eleven years, but we have known each other a long time. We were friends in the ’90s, in what we now call “the underground.” And we went to college together. Carla used to wear pants she made herself. They were purple plush. It was hard not to notice her.
Appropriate attire, it seems, for a future clothing designer. Have you always been interested in fashion, Carla?
Carla: I have two degrees, one as a seamstress and the other in art history. But my focus has always been fashion. Now I have a label under my name, and we design clothing in collaboration with 11 different communities in Mexico City, and 19 co-ops. We work with local craftspeople in an effort to protect Mexican textile and patterning traditions.
Pedro, as a sculptor, your work often incorporates social interaction, as well. Tell us about that.
Pedro: I think of sculpture as something that will facilitate activity. Participation is just another material that I work with. I’m interested in how art can help solve problems or present opportunities to produce change. For instance, in the case of gun violence, I once organized a campaign to collect 1,500 weapons to melt into 1,500 shovels to plant 1,500 trees. That was an example of a transformation of matter, with the hopes for a psychological or social transformation in the process.
As a couple, what do you feel the two of you have in common creatively?
Pedro: We are both naturally driven to create things that are a mix of opposites. Carla’s work mixes social justice and fashion, innovation and tradition. I like that she has the drive to fuse things in order to create something new. We also share a love for Mexican traditions – both modern and indigenous – and the hope that our work can be of some service for improving conditions here.
Carla: Overall, we both love what we do. We love our work. And we have many stories to tell.
Have you always made your home in Mexico City? What do you love about it?
Carla: I lived for one year in Paris and another year in Miami when I was very young, but we’ve spent most of our time in Mexico. As for why we love it – you’d have to visit to understand.
Pedro: Mexico City is a mix of heaven and hell. It’s a very good place to create because you really feel alive here. There’s endless inspiration. After New York, I would say it’s the second capital of the continent in terms of cultural programs. In this city, we have 25 institutions devoted to contemporary art alone, and over 200 museums. That’s not to mention the food, music, film, architecture, design, literature – there’s an incredibly rich scene. Many scenes, actually. Mexico City is a cultural superpower. It’s a fantastic place.
From The People’s United Nations to The Floating Pyramid:
Some of Pedro Reyes’s installations from the last decade
Floating Pyramid, 2004, Puerto Rico. Photo courtesy of the artist
Disarm Mechanized, 2013. Installation view at Lisson Gallery. Courtesy of Lisson Gallery, 2013. Photo: Dave Morgan.
Sanatorium, 2011–present. Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes, Installation view of Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, 2015. Photo: David Johnson.
The Grasswhooper, 2013-present. Photo: Mauricio Castillo.
pUN (People’s United Nations), 2013-present. View of Queens Museum, New York, 2013. Photo: Ramiro Chaves.
“I think of sculpture as something that will facilitate activity. Participation is just another material that I work with.”
Color So Bright It Might Blind You:
The latest from Carla Fernández’s fashion line
How long have you lived in this incredible home?
Carla: We’ve lived here two years now. We used to live in a neighborhood that was hip and becoming very expensive. I wanted to move. I think that urge comes from my parents – my family and I have always been the first ones to move to a new area that hasn’t yet been developed. Here, we were able to find a beautiful house for the same price as our old one. It’s huge. We saw that we could transform this space into a home, but it also had potential to be many other things. In the middle, we have a residency area where the indigenous artisans we work with can come and stay. We have a little office. We found it and thought, “Let’s see how this evolves.”
How are your artistic sensibilities – and your love of Mexico – reflected in the design of your home?
Pedro: It is a house that is handmade in the sense that we utilize very humble materials and amazing Mexican craftsmanship. The masons here are very prodigious and the details have the kind of warmth and care you won’t find in industrial work. However, our house is quite Brutalist. It has a science fiction feel. And on top of that, we are very much influenced by ’80s graphic design and furniture. It’s a peculiar mix. It’s a lot of fun.
With your impressive collection of artwork and furniture, it also feels a bit gallery-like. Where do some of the stand-out pieces come from?
Carla: The artwork is mainly Pedro’s. Some of the furniture, too. We have the geodesic dome and his hand chair, which I love. We also have some amazing woven chairs that are Hispanic designs. But really, we don’t have that much. We have books. That’s been our investment.
Pedro: We’re building more shelves to hold them now.
Your work is very creative, but so is your way of life. What keeps you driven?
Carla: I cannot say it’s any one thing. But part of it is that we want to prevent the extinction of Mexican crafts. My clothing is very fashion-forward but if you look at how it’s made, you’ll understand that it has traditional roots. I’m always thinking, how can we allow these people, who do such amazing work with their hands, to keep their skills? That’s why our house is the way it is. It incorporates the work and traditions of Mexican artisans, and embodies that uniqueness that our country still has.
Pedro: I do art because it’s a cultural platform that allows one to do whatever one wants. Being an artist means coming up with your own definition of what art is. Not all of my interests translate into works of art, however. Some are just intellectual curiosities. I read something recently that said that the role of the intellectual is to understand. So I think sometimes I do art in order to study what interests me – everything from film to philosophy to history to literature. I’m very promiscuous in terms of interests. I buy about 70 books every month.
Your collection is enormous. What sorts of reading material do you gravitate toward?
Pedro: Our collection is very diverse. Just last week, I came back from Japan with two suitcases full of books, including an atlas of sand and a book about caterpillars. It all seems random – but it’s not.
Thanks, Carla and Pedro, for opening your doors to us. Explore more of Pedro’s large body of work, and you can see all of Carla’s piece on her website.
Mexico City is a bright, fascinating place that never fails to inspire us – check out the other times we’ve visited the city. If you’re interested in other fantastic homes built in the Brutalist style, check out more of our architecture stories.
Interview & Text: Shoko Wanger