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Studio Visit> Fernando Romero Enterprise

With an expansion into a New York office, FREE continues its evolutionary approach to contextual design.

Fernando Romero Enterprise (FREE) grew out of the architect’s Mexico-based Laboratory of Architecture (LAR) founded in 1999. Then last December FREE opened a second location in New York. “It’s a significant shift,” said practice director Armando Ramos, alluding to the firm’s increasingly multi-disciplinary approach to design as well as its U.S. presence. Romero, whose early career resume reads like a Who’s Who of architecture figures—Enrique Morales and Rem Koolhaas among them—has had a string of successes since starting his own practice in Mexico.

His interest in research and architecture act as a mirror for social, political and cultural currents, often informing books that feed into building projects. Although the concept building, a bridge-like museum with access from American soil and Mexican, stemming from his 2007 book, Hyperborders, never materialised in the Americas for complex political and land ownership reasons, it has manifested itself in a project in China that straddles a lake in a park.

The focus on context has remained a thread throughout other work. Indeed, rather than being tethered to an explicit ideology and signature style, FREE’s work is fluid with each building specific to its setting and circumstance. “It’s evolutionary and ideas are recycled,” said Sergio Rebelo director of design in the New York office. There may be no formal language, but the firm’s work is not directionless. The recently opened Museo Soumaya and Plaza Mariana in Mexico City, the plans for a network of hotel rooms in Brazil, and a masterplan for a cultural retreat in South Mexico are testament to this diversity. “I think for good or for bad we don’t have a dependency on a specific style,” said Romero. According to FREE director Armando Ramos, the firm’s dynamism derives in part from Romero’s experience working with European firms, including Alvaro Siza in Portugal and Jean Nouvel in Paris.

The office has not announced any U.S. projects yet, but there are allusions to a planned tower, and Romero is preparing an exhibition next year to showcase these plans along with the firm’s existing work to its new audience. Unlike FREE’s Mexico office that neighbors the Luis Barragán house, where Romero once put on an exhibition of interventions with the likes of Gilbert and George among others, the New York office nestles underneath the High Line in Chelsea, opposite Pace Gallery. Here, on the border of the area’s new, ongoing, and prospective developments along the Hudson, it’s a fitting location for a firm keen to make its mark in uncharted waters.

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