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Mexico: Organic Architect Javier Senosiain Thinks Outside the Box

Image: Javier Senosiain

Mexican architect Javier Senosiain poses for a photo in an indoor garden of his project, the Nest of Quetzalcoatl, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Marco Ugarte / AP

Mexican Architect Javier Senosiain looks out over his sinuous snake's nest of a building, providing relaxation and tranquility to those who live in the very edge of Mexico City's urban sprawl, and reflects on over 30 years of building egg- and cocoon-like dwellings that are quite literally out of the box.

"The idea here is to break with the box," he said, pointing to the 10-apartment complex that, like much in the 2-acre (1/2 hectare) compound, looks like a snake with eyes in its body — architectural homage to Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec "feathered serpent" god of light and knowledge.

At the project known as the "Nest of Quetzalcoatl," enormous snakes are conformed into passageways, bridges, fountains and walls. The people who live there pass through gigantic snakes' mouths to reach their destination: spacious cave-like dwellings filled with soft angles and curves.

Image: Javier Senosiain
In this Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016 photo, Mexican architect Javier Senosiain poses for a photo while standing on a lookout bridge that is part of his ???Nest of Quetzalcoatl??? project, on the outskirts of Mexico City. He???s used whales, snails, sharks and mushrooms as inspiration for previous projects. His buildings often merge into the landscape, sometimes half buried. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) Marco Ugarte / AP

Senosiain has just opened a retrospective exhibition of his work at Mexico's premiere cultural venue, the capital's Palace of Fine Arts, and the display includes a proposal for prefabricated, low-income housing in a shape that can be be compared to an organic Airstream trailer made of concrete or, as he describes it, a peanut.

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Given the super-light spray-concrete-over-metal-frame design, the homes can just be picked up and placed on a footing with a crane.

"You just hook up the light, water and sewer lines, and it's ready," Senosiain said.

Image: Javier Senosiain
In this Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016 photo, Mexican architect Javier Senosiain sits front and center in the amphitheatrer of his architectural project, the ???Nest of Quetzalcoatl,??? during a tour for journalists, on the outskirts of Mexico City. Senosiain has spent 30 years building egg- and cocoon-like dwellings that are quite literally out of the box. ???When a child is born we put him an incubator, which is a box,??? says the 68-year-old. ???Then we put him a playpen. The child is placed in a succession of boxes throughout his life, and then when he dies, he is put in another box.??? (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) Marco Ugarte / AP

He proposes placing about 60 of these 300-square foot (28-square-meter) micro-homes (they're modular and can be combined into bigger houses) together in a neighborhood, where no house is more than an eight-minute walk from urban services like schools or stores.

So far, no developer has taken him up on the plan, though its time could be near.

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Mexico's big low-income housing builders were hit by a crisis in 2011 and 2012: Some went bankrupt, and others came close, acknowledging the projects were a mistake. Apparently homeowners - don't like: tiny, rectangular, cookie-cutter boxes placed far outside city centers, far from services, jobs and schools.

Senosiain's work has attracted so much attention that he is building a visitor center and extensive gardens and plans to turn the Nest complex into an educational park for school visits.

Image: Javier Senosiain
This Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016 photo shows a view of the architectural project, ???Nest of Quetzalcoatl,??? on the outskirts of Mexico City. Architect Javier Senosiain sinuous snake???s nest of a building is conformed into passageways, bridges, fountains and walls. The 68-year-old has used whales, snails, sharks and mushrooms as inspiration for previous projects. His buildings often merge into the landscape, sometimes half buried. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte) Marco Ugarte / AP

"When we built the first house 31 years ago, people thought it was strange. They said, 'I like it, but I wouldn't live there,'" Senosiain recalled.

"Today, people see it very differently. There is a lot more environmental consciousness, and that is an advantage."

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