Community centres are intended to be rich and vibrant communal spaces, yet the public is rarely given agency in their design. While the North American construction industry is fraught with bureaucracy and red tape, there is much to be learned from projects around the world that take a collaborative, community-focused approach to their development. In Mexico, the El Salitre Community Centre designed by Omar Vergara Taller is an example of these very lessons.
Located in the town of Zapotlanejo in the Jalisco province, the space was designed to serve a rural farming community which has seen the social and economic impact of migration to the United States. Conceived as a conceptual meeting point, the town’s residents were heavily involved in the building’s design and construction, as well as its operation. Through training, the firm ensured that everyone involved knew the project well enough to contribute, establishing what they call a “circular communication process.”
“The entire community participated in the process. Prior to the development of the project, we conducted a series of workshops where community leaders, farmers, women, children, and even teachers contributed ideas to define the architectural program of the community centre,” the architects explain.
Seeking to maximize the economic impact of the centre on the community, the building’s design was dictated by the availability of local materials and labour. The resulting architectural language merges both technical and artisanal processes. The firm leaned on regional vernacular to drive the design, using typical mud brick walls and handmade slabs of Catalan vault which contribute to thermal comfort in the Mexican heat. This hyper-local design approach allows the building to immerse itself within the rural context, thereby creating a strong connection between the public and the community centre.
On the lower level, two commercial spaces (currently occupied by a grain and fertilizer business and a restaurant serving traditional Mexican fare) made of reinforced concrete lay the foundation for the community centre — offering a means by which to sustain the public space financially.
The cavernous space stands in contrast to the upper floor, whose steel structure, painted a warm terracotta tone, allows the room to be considerably more open. Equipped with foldable walls made of recycled wood panels, the multi-purpose area can be divided into two distinct spaces, allowing various groups to use it simultaneously — for activities as diverse as health brigades, sewing workshops, dance classes, community parties and meetings.
Operable windows along the perimeter of the upper floor allow for passive ventilation, while a balcony offers a point of connection to the street. Above, a shaded rooftop garden is designed to host events.
By involving residents in the process, Omar Vergara Taller has designed the El Salitre Community Centre to address their needs. When lit up from within, the space radiates warmth out into the streets — a true beacon for its community.
Omar Vergara Taller draws on local vernacular, and the residents themselves, to create a building embedded in its context.