I was awed the first time I saw the work of Tijuana-born architect Jorge Gracía. I was driving through Baja’s wine area, the Valle de Guadelupe, when from my car I looked up and saw these incredible little buildings on a bluff.
It was Gracía’s Hotel Endemico--comprised of 20 separate “eco-lofts”. Their design was so seamlessly embedded into the hillside, I almost confused them with the giant boulders around them. These modern, elegant, and sophisticated structures were perfectly situated within the landscape, and as I learned from talking with Gracía, totally sustainable.
Though still in his 30s, Gracía is credited with creating some of the most important and innovative new projects in Baja to date. From the Baja Culinary School to TJ’s La Caja Art Gallery, to the “eco-pods” of Grupo Habita’s Hotel Endemico, Gracía is changing the traditional look of Mexico’s red-tiled roofs and adobe haciendas from TJ to Oaxaca.
He started his career designing maquiladoras (factories located in Mexico) for the Samsung Company. He explains that by understanding the American, Korean, and Mexican aesthetics, he is better able to translate a design idea to its construction, and then completion—all done for less money by only using locally sourced materials.
“I love design and I’m intrigued by building systems. The wood we get in Mexico isn’t good. So, I build with steel and concrete. I use metal studs and not wood studs--all of which is much cheaper and easier to get here. But budget is the biggest concern when you’re building in Mexico, so we also can’t waste time, and we plan every detail before we begin to build. Ultimately my goal is to give a superior design at a lower budget,” Gracía says.
“Jorge has shown a strong talent in a series of projects. What’s exciting is that often when young architects find success, they have a tendency to copy themselves. Jorge pushes himself. He’s one of the most important young architects in Mexico. And that's not just me saying this, it’s spoken about in many circles in this community,” says Mexico City-born, modern architect Sebastian Mariscal; credited with a string of AIA awards under his belt along with projects that range from homes to restaurants to hotels and even a winery.
In addition to Gracía’s various commercial projects like the Liverpool Duty Free shops in Cancun, La Paz, and Playa del Carmen, his residential projects are examples of some of his finest work. His own house Casa GA was his first solo project. Built in 2005 in Tijuana, it looks like two houses, but actually connects with a glass and steel center structure.
Gracía explains his feeling of connection between indoor and outdoor, “One shouldn’t play a more important roll than the other. Even moving from room to room, I’d like the inhabitants of my residences to feel not only inside but the exterior architectural features of the home,” Gracía says.
“Gracía’s designs include such a respectful expression of the natural landscape. Endemico is a wonderful example of this. He makes nature the protaganist. It’s a very new approach to design and important in today’s world. He almost pushes you outside of the structure while at the same time, his buildings maintain a strong sense of protection and safety when you’re inside,” Mariscal says.
As a person who’d like to buy a house some day, I asked Gracía about building costs in Mexico. He assured me that labor costs were the same from project to project, but land is less expensive than the US. In one of the more trendy and cool new neighborhoods called “Hacienda Agua Caliente,” for example, Gracía is currently building a house for his brother on a 2500 square-feet piece of land that costs around $67K.
Gracía tells me he could build one hell of a house on that little plot for around $250K. With such stunning designs, at such a great price, in the short time it takes him to build (about 4 months), Gracía makes me think seriously about moving to TJ.
Rebekah Sager is a nationally published lifestyle and culture writer. She's a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. Follow Rebekah on Twitter @Rebekah_Sager.