Sport City in Mexico is a modern green structure that was realised by combining traditional construction wisdom with local materials and craftsmanship.
Most sports centres tend to define themselves as temples of modern technology. They are slick and high-tech, full of mascots of speed and efficiency.
In this universe of thought, Sport City is an earthy and welcome aberration. Its 16,000 sq. mts. girth may rely on a relatively Spartan façade, but its aesthetics have been defined by much deeper thinking.
Sport City is located in Oaxaca de Juarez in South Mexico, a teeming tourist hub home to the UNESCO World Heritage structures.
To construct a towering temple of synthetic materials, would have been a blasphemy here.This fact was understood well by b-rOOtStudio and Arquitectos Artesanos.
They avoided any such bad moves by instead immersing their plans deep into the treasure trove of construction legacy of Oaxaca, and roped in the help and counsel of local people, including skilled craftsmen.
Completed in 2013, the sprawling centre today houses gymnasium facilities, as well as outdoor accommodations for tennis, swimming, basketball and much more. But in this entire scheme, the design team is most proud of its use of “local and noble” materials.
The walls of the main building hold a fascinating example of how intimately close this project was to the local legacy.
A senior local named Don Julio helped the team recover the mortar mixture for the wall, by taking them to the exact spot his grandfather used to draw earth for construction.
Local craftsmen mixed the earth with sawdust, black clay, and horse dung, and let it mature for 3 days, to help build the 33,000 coffee-coloured adobes that make up the wall today.
In spite of the architects’ confidence, there was an ironical chapter in this story. “Due to the lack of trust in the materials, it was necessary to conduct laboratory experiments (mechanical ones) on the earth and on the bamboo poles. These analyses assured the clients and the contractor that the materials were safe and capable,” the team states.
To further display the versatility and strength of this mixture, the walls were built without any concrete reinforcements, which is a fantastic risk of faith in a seismic zone like Oaxaca.
Still acutely aware of the practical requirements, the team infused a joint in every 12 mts of the long walls, repeating the pattern in the steel-supported roof as well.
The columns have 50 cm wide gaps of space between them and reinforced concrete angles in the walls bring in some solid balance of weight.
The foundation here is of stone, with the stone basement carved out manually, and then treated with an age-old, trusted lime and sand mixture.
The other remarkable sub-structure here is the august bamboo ceiling that connects an adobe building with another made of concrete. The symmetrical bamboo sticks are held up by stout concrete columns through metallic connectors, and the entire swathe is held together in a solid embrace by plywood.
Water-resistance is offered by a finish of asphaltic cardboard, and fixtures of tiles made by the locals. The traditional materials and methods involved naturally led to a gathering of architects, locals, students, and academics into the building process to whet, affirm, and realise this brilliant roof.
The industrial quality of the shed roof, with its succession of triangular openings, is reinforced by the thin metal sheet covering.
While the material sends a nod towards a low-cost approach, the flaky sweeps of 11 colours point to a fun-loving quality. The ventilation in the structure is natural, flowing through the openings across the adobe walls.
It is important to notice that all the 140,000 red bricks, and 22,000 tiles used in the complex were manually produced in local communities and demonstrated to have more quality than the industrial ones. Each red brick or tile is unique as they have the fingerprints of the craftsman that made the unique pieces, giving the construction both heart and aesthetics the team reiterates.
Text By Shruti Nambiar
Photographs Courtesy The Architects