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Mateo Mantilla
IDA 2021 Emerging Architectural Design of the Year


View the Winning Entry by Mateo Mantilla


What do you see as the strengths of your winning project and what does this award mean to you personally?

Firstly, I would like to start by saying that it was a surprise to know that my project received the ‘Emerging Architectural Design of the Year’, I looked at all the different entries and winners from all the categories, and its unbelievable that my project stood out of all the other amazing projects, there are so many talented designers.

I believe that my project is strong because it tells a very clear story that even those who are not architects can understand. In addition to this, I believe that the success of this project comes with the idea of making a very humane design that focuses on human experience within the building and the surroundings.

Personally, this award means a lot. During the design process for this project, I had many doubts about my identity as a designer, and I ultimately decided that I would design this project according to what I believe is right, I am proud to say that this project integrates most things that I like about architecture, I could not have done it without the support of Professor Alice Guess who kept pushing me to do better. Winning this award gives me more confidence to keep working on my present and future projects.

What was most important for you when planning the project and what were the biggest challenges you faced?

Ever since I was given the brief for this project, I kept thinking about a main problem in the site which is that locals and tourists in Venice don’t go very well together. If you think about it, as a tourist you would love to get to know locals, maybe become friends, and they can show you things that tourists can’t usually experience. Locals can also benefit from you as a tourist since they can create an international network where maybe at some point, they become the tourists and you the local. I believe there is so much we can learn from different cultures specially by connecting with people.

It became very important to me to design spaces where locals and tourists can interact, whether it is by listening to live music, playing soccer, having a coffee, the possibilities are endless. The biggest challenge was that the time to work on this project was very limited and after finishing the building, there was not enough time to develop the surroundings which I believe are as important as the building, I am very happy that I was able to complete the design of the surrounding element just in time.

What is your guiding design principle?

I believe there are many different concepts that guide me though my designs, but the biggest one is that I want my architecture to be as human as possible, I want it to be a place filled with amazing experiences for the users inside and outside a building, I want to design architecture that adds to the quality of life of the people by providing them safety, inclusivity, nature, interactions, and opportunities.

Where do you get motivation and inspiration from for your work?

I believe that architecture is one of the most powerful things that exists, I believe it is key to solve many issues even if it’s in an indirect way. Just to think that I have the possibility to design something that can make a good change motivates me to keep experimenting and proposing new ideas and designs.

With this in mind, I always feel inspired by firms that design meaningful architecture, or even by observing things around me and try to figure out how they work.

Something that has been inspiring me lately is concept art for video games or movies, they always have a mood to them, a color palette, it feels like the artist is creating a new world; it is fun to thing that we can do the same with our building designs.

How do you think your own culture and environment has shaped your personal and professional creative vision?

I truly believe that one of the best things that happened to me was to go to school abroad, as I am doing right now. Now that I am far away from Colombia, where I am from, I appreciate more the traditional architecture and I can compare it to many different cultures. To be able to go to college in the United States not only opens my mind to what I see in this country, but I’ve had the chance to get to know people from many different parts of the world and be their friends; I get to learn about their architecture, food, behaviors, manners, and I start to understand the world a little bit from their perspective. Having these international experiences also provide me different points of view from a user’s perspective when I’m designing a building, I know how someone from Colombia might react to a space I design, as well as how people from other parts of the world might react and experience it, this allows me to try to design more complete and inclusive experiences.

Which designer in your field do you most admire and why?

At the moment, the architect I admire most is Renzo Piano, along with everyone on his team at RPBW, they create beautiful and thoughtful architecture. Renzo Piano is a master in the field who knows how to integrate daylight into his designs very well, personally I have been to a small building designed by his team in the south of France called ‘Château La Coste Art Gallery’, it was so amazing how you can feel all the design intentions as you make your way to the building. It was a very simple building that at the same time felt very complex.

Despite being a world-renowned architect who also was the recipient for the Pritzker Price in 1998, Renzo Piano seems to be a very down to earth and humble person who is truly passionate for the profession, that is ultimately what I respect and admire the most.

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities in your career/industry now?

I believe that the biggest challenge comes from the workplace of most architecture businesses. I don’t have much experience in the profession, but I sense that most architecture and design firms don’t treat its employees as people, but rather as machines. It is very ironic that as designers we try to better everyone’s life, but ours seems to be the exception, it is very sad to see.

Aside from this, I believe that a big challenge is to innovate since architecture is such a fast-paced industry that there is barely anytime to do more research and experimentations, only a few firms are privileged to do so. Once there is more experimentation and research then the possibilities open, and new opportunities to innovate arise.

What would be your dream design project?

My dream design project is to plan and design a city, or a small portion of a city. A couple years ago BIG came up with their design for the ‘Woven City’ which in essence is an experimental city for Toyota in Japan. I was very impressed by the amazing work that went into it, and how innovative it is; the people who got to be part of it are very fortunate, it is a rare opportunity.

What’s your creative process and what creative software do you use?

Usually, my process starts by identifying the issues that I want to address, then I research the site and all the conditions to plan for the placement of the architecture… from then on, I design with my goals in mind to come up with a concept and diagrams of intent, and then start sketching and 3D modeling in Rhino.

Something I really like to do in my projects is that after I have a basic form, I close my eyes and imagine myself standing on the site, experiencing the building and the surroundings as a user, this gives me some ideas on details and materiality, it helps me design an experience for the people.

After I have a more developed building that is not finalized, I like to generate some renders with Lumion to understand the spaces and materiality. Finally, once I have modeled everything and added all the details, I generate de final renders and post-produce them by using Photoshop and Illustrator, then I work on the presentation boards in InDesign.

What kind of culture or structure needs to exist to foster successful team collaboration?

I believe that the most successful team is that which is composed of people with different areas of expertise, where everyone is willing to take the leadership when needed, but also willing to be a follower when required. I believe this is the most efficient way to take advantage of everyone’s strengths and weaknesses.

How do you deal with feedback?

Feedback is key to successful designs, but it is okay to disagree with it sometimes. Personally, I like to get as much feedback as possible and have conversations about it, I will take the feedback into consideration and make changes in my design if they are proper; but also there are some kinds of feedback that even if they are good, I decide to trust my instinct and continue with what I had originally planned, and that’s okay as long as there is a valid reason for that. We are all different and have different ways of thinking, it’s okay to disagree sometimes.

What are you working on, what is in the pipeline for you?

At the moment, I am going through my last year of grad school in architecture, and I am working on my grad thesis which is based in Bogota, Colombia, which focuses on designing a new model for neighborhoods that boosts people’s quality of life in cities.

After graduating in June 2022, I am hoping to find a job in the United States where I can grow as a designer.