how SO – IL and IMUVI designed and built an affordable housing project in león, mexico

Apr 13, 2021

in 2016, SO – IL began working with the instituto municipal de vivienda de león (IMUVI) to develop plans for a social housing project in central mexico. now, after four years of design and construction, ‘las américas’ has opened to residents in the city of león. ‘IMUVI, the municipal housing authority who was both our client and partner on this project, has the main task of helping the informally housed population have their homes formalized, so they have access to services. these settlements occur at the fringes of the city,’ florian idenburg, founding partner of SO – IL, tells designboom. ‘in the case of ‘las américas’, we are building close to the city center, with much more services and transportation directly available close to the project.’

now complete, ‘las américas’ aims to offset the city’s unchecked sprawl, serving as a catalyst for urban regeneration and improved quality of life in low-income communities. ‘IMUVI carefully selects the residents for the project, as they will provide the mortgage,’ idenburg continues. ‘the first resident, who was handed the key during the opening two weeks ago was a single mom and her 13-year-old son. she works in the informal economy, making a living in a nail parlor and selling shirts. she is an example of someone who would benefit from being closer to the city, especially also for her son. currently, as I understand it, they have found residents for about half of the units.’

eventually, SO – IL says that project will provide homes for up to 60 families. conceived as a scalable model for urban cohabitation, the design is articulated around two landscaped courtyards, maximizing the plot’s buildable footprint, and even includes parking. ‘interestingly enough, and somewhat unfortunately, we provide 0.5 parking space per unit and most people still want to have a car,’ says the architect. meanwhile, a commercial base forms an important part of the building’s ground floor.

idenburg explains that, because of mexico’s climate, the design of the façade could be quite simple. ‘we initially planned to use precast concrete panels,’ he tells designboom. ‘this however would mean that a large part of the budget would go to a precast plant located four hours away, a trucking company, and a crane operator.’ so, instead of using construction components that require expertise and heavy machinery to assemble, the design team worked with local fabricators to develop a modular unit. ‘we developed a simple concrete block which is exactly the maximum weight a worker can carry in mexico, 17 kilograms (37 lbs). this allowed the construction budget to benefit many more people.’

image © iwan baan

used to ensure privacy and shade, while lending the project a distinct character, the block has a hollow interior that can be filled with either grout for strength, or with insulation. to assemble the walls, the individual units slide over a framework of rods before being secured in place. these elevations help shape a collection of shared patios along a public staircase that strengthens the sense of community, offering residents the ability to socialize with neighbors. the units are arranged along an exterior courtyard-facing corridor with no two units facing each other — enhancing the sense of privacy.

‘we are very excited about the opening of this important project,’ says idenburg. ‘we have always believed housing to be an essential part of every city, and that quality housing should be a right for all. unfortunately, in many places it is left to the market to decide who lives where under which circumstances. what is most powerful about this project is the fact that a group of stakeholders came together and put in the effort to show how housing can be done differently.’

‘in ‘las américas’ we wanted to express an idea about the change of direction that we seek in our urban development towards a more integrated and dense city,’ adds amador rodriguez, general director of IMUVI. ‘a building that could be a portrayal of our public policies not only for housing, but for urban design and the reconstruction of our social fabric. we feel very fortunate to have found in SO – IL an amazing partner to materialize these concepts.’ see designboom’s previous coverage of the ‘las américas’ project here.

site plan image © SO – IL

floor plan image © SO – IL

section image © SO – IL

section image © SO – IL

isometric image © SO – IL

scale model image © SO – IL

project info:

name: las américas location: león, mexico client: IMUVI development city of león program: affordable housing design: 2016 completion: 2021 area: 3,000 sqm / 32,300 sqf SO – IL design team: florian idenburg, ilias papageorgiou, isabel sarasa, seunghyun kang, sophie nichols, pam anantrungroj collaborators — executive architect: IMUVI león structural engineer: ICNUM facilities: CIE general contractor: COSEBA photography: iwan baan