The Sunlit Studio a Son Built for His Photographer-Mother

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By Luisita Lopez Torregrosa | New York Times Style Magazine

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ON A COLONIAL back street in historic Coyoacán, in central Mexico City, a three-story brick tower rises above the low-roofed adobe homes in a labyrinthine neighborhood. The fall afternoon’s fading light tinges the building’s facade — walls of porous bricks laid at right angles to let in air and light while shielding the interior from view — a burnt sienna. This is Studio Iturbide, the latest project by the Mexico City-based firm Taller / Mauricio Rocha + Gabriela Carrillo, who built it for Rocha’s mother, the photographer Graciela Iturbide, whose portraiture, most famously of weathered women in Oaxacan villages, is in the permanent collections of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Centre Pompidou in Paris and the Brooklyn Museum.

The 75-year-old Iturbide is waiting at the doorway, diminutive, her black hair short and wavy, her complexion milky. “Mauricio will be here soon,” she says, as we enter her monolithic workspace, which is constructed of little more than red brick and wood-framed panes of glass. The architects created a hundred models before agreeing on the current design: three nine-foot-high, 300-square-foot rooms stacked atop one another, along with two interior bricked-in patios on the first floor furnished with clay pots of cacti and other regional plants, which offer the only visual disruption of the house’s earthen hues and exacting lines. Inside, the brick walls are adorned with little but the shadows of the day’s moving light.

Taking the broad wooden stairs, which are joined by invisible steel supports and appear suspended in midair, Iturbide walks us from the formal first-floor living room, with its Isamu Noguchi paper lantern and low, modernist sofa, past the casual second-floor family room and up to the top floor of the building. “This is my studio, where I work,” she says, her arms outstretched to take in the airy 16-by-19-foot space, lit by the sun coming in through two wall-size windows. Here, on a nine-foot-long oak table, Iturbide edits her photographs. Forty years of archives are stored in dozens of flat, black boxes on custom hardwood bookshelves that rise from either side of the table. “The interior space is very important for me and my work,” she says. “I need to be alone often.”

This is not the first time Iturbide’s son has made her a building: Across the street is her main house, a cream-colored adobe structure that Rocha built in 1991, when he was 25 and had just finished architecture school. In 2014, seeking more space (and freedom from her belongings), Iturbide purchased an empty lot and asked him to build on it. Her only condition was that it be made of brick: “What I wanted was to be tranquil in my studio,” she says. “I gave him total freedom.” The result, which took two years to complete, combines four kinds of brick — handmade in different dimensions in Puebla, a city known for its ceramics — with tzalam, a heavily grained hardwood brought from Mexico’s tropical south. Iturbide calls the building her “small factory of bricks.”

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