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Agustín Hernández: gravity-defying emotions

Challenging and emotive. These are two words that could be used to describe the work of Agustín Hernández Navarro, a Mexican architect who has called on science to create gravity defying buildings that evoke Mexico's Pre-Colombian roots.

Some consider Agustín Hernández a Romantic, a poet of architecture. He considers himself neither: just an architect but definitely not a builder.

Born in Mexico City in 1924, Hernández grew up surrounded by materials, plans and buildings. He would accompany his mother to construction sites and listen to tradesmen talk about bricks, cement, spaces, lines and curves. Curious to know how they worked, he would take apart and rebuild all things mechanical and electrical but it wasn't long before he realized his calling was to build monumental things that could be admired for their beauty and perfection.

Studying Architecture at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) allowed him to do just that. The faculty molded his rebellious spirit into a forthright character even before he left its classrooms. He even had the audacity to send his thesis –a project for a cultural center deemed bold, original and innovative by the experts– to the artist Diego Rivera, who had nothing but praise for it.

Paradoxically, by breaking with the architecture of his day, Hernández has rescued the symbols, identity, culture, traditions and history of Pre-Colombian Mexico. The salvaging of this ancestral knowledge has gone hand in hand with a conscientious choice of materials.

It was a leap back to the past that heralded a vision of a Mexico of the future in each of the magnificent buildings that personify the architect's aesthetic.

Yet Hernández has never identified with one particular school of architecture, not even the one he himself created. "I've never claimed to have a defined style, neither in architecture nor sculpture. It would be too easy. Now that there are so many construction materials and techniques to choose from, I'm more interested in experimenting. Following a style would bore me," he said in interview in 2002.

Architect of projects like House in the Air (1991) and the Calakmul Corporate Center (1994), it was the Military College that posed his greatest challenge –and brought him the greatest gratification. Based on Monte Albán, the ceremonial center of the Zapotec civilization in Oaxaca, the building was applauded by the military authorities of the day as a "historic feat".

In 1970, he defied the laws of gravity and geometry with his own studio. Built in a woodland area of the Bosques de las Lomas district of Mexico City, the building towers more than 40 meters in the air.

"This studio has everything I've ever looked for in architecture: in it, structure, form and function come together as one," says Hernández, who has won awards for his work in his native Mexico, Argentina and Bulgaria.

Camino a Santa Teresa No. 1679, Col. Jardines del Pedregal, Del. Álvaro Obregón, C.P. 01900 México D.F., Tel. +52 (55) 5447 7070