Residential Archaeology


CUPA, Mexico City © Juan Carlos Tello


Text and diagrams by Juan Carlos Tello


The cultural phenomenon of customization, the appropriation of things to make them personal, has been the focus of study for years. We can see it daily in the objects that we transform and recycle, between efficiency and aesthetics. If we extrapolate this idea to the discipline of architecture, it becomes even more interesting, albeit of varying intensity: from the wallpaper to the added floor level and through various degrees of appropriation in between.

The approach of Modern Architecture, such as the universal space from the early 20th Century, becoming even more common in the 1950s in houses by Craig Elwood or Richard Neutra among others, has been transformed nowadays into the idea of neutral space, empty, ready to be occupied.

There are also curious examples such as the Appliance House and the Put-Away Villa by the couple formed by Peter and Alison Smithson. In the first one, architecture and household goods are the same, taking to the limit the idea that we are only passing through the spaces. Ideas such as comfort are taken to the extreme in the growing amount of advertising of autos and appliances.

From the industrialized architecture of those spaces we had to extract the particular aesthetic related to the prefabrication process. It is time for architects and manufacturers to address the problem from the opposite end of the scale and make buildings that emanate living habitats and reflect the needs of those who inhabit the spaces.

In the second example, a few years later and almost in opposition, the warehouse house, where we all collect, resulting in the need for a deposit, which requires the occupation of a third of the house: the place for objects-that-you-don’t-use-now-and-that-perhaps-won’t-be-used-anymore. Ultimately, it is the domestication of the spaces.

Let’s recall the performance “I Like America and America Likes Me” (1974) by Joseph Beuys. In it, Beuys is separated from his usual space in order to be placed in a single space along with a coyote, also separated from its natural habitat. Cohabitation and making the space human, space domesticated.

Finally we are generally talking about two things: first, how we get to the spaces and second, how we fill them and therefore, how we transform them.

We must pause and think, how do users (of different social class) personalize their spaces? What can we learn and understand from the materiality of life? Does this have anything to do with the materiality of the projects designed by architects and with any social commitment?

Le Corbusier, Mario Pani, Teodoro González de León, among others, have focused on the constructive materiality, in methods of self-construction or low-cost construction. But, what about the materiality of the everyday? What happens between the mere representation that the architect proposes and the everyday occupation by the resident?


Residential Archaeology consists, therefore, of:

1. Drawing in an archeological way three things: the space occupied by the architecture itself; the everyday life infrastructure, that is, furniture; and the elements that provide use to the furniture, those that humanize them.

2. Studying the impact in terms of occupancy, density and time. An archaeological GPS that subtly gets transformed by the passing of the hours and the collecting of objects, and sometimes their final destination. What we called earlier the objects-that-you-don’t-use-now-and-that-perhaps-won’t-be-used-anymore. How do they alter and reconfigure the space?

3. As a result, the project proposes the registration of these styles-modes-adjustments of life in an electronic file in order to observe their impact and make the design and use evident. Additionally, the project makes a 1:1 scale comparison of each unit: a rug-map, as if drawn by hand on the floor itself, recalling the images we have of when we did so as children on the street or sidewalk. It is, in the end, a recording as George Perec explains in Life A User’s Manual.

The project places the Unité d’habitation in Marseille, the Tlatelolco housing complex, the Mixcoac Towers, the CUPA and Unidad Esperanza under equal conditions, like it does with its authors: Le Corbusier, Mario Pani and Teodoro González de León. All are perhaps pieces of the same puzzle that builds and shows more faithfully what, perhaps, we should take more into account, how we domesticate the spaces.

Citing [furniture and interior designer] Clara Porset, “we could not impose the tenant to acquire the furniture that had been created specifically for his home, nor did we think about convincing him. Instead, we chose to instruct him about design in general, providing him with a culture of housing.”


This project has been developed with the support of FONCA (Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes) in Mexico.


CUPA (Conjunto Urbano Presidente Alemán), Mexico City, 1949
Mario Pani



CUPA elevations © Juan Carlos Tello



CUPA with walls and furniture © Juan Carlos Tello



CUPA without walls / with furniture © Juan Carlos Tello



CUPA without walls / without furniture © Juan Carlos Tello


900–910 Lake Shore Drive (Esplanade Apartment Buildings), Chicago, 1956
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe



900-910 Lake Shore Drive elevations © Juan Carlos Tello



900-910 Lake Shore Drive plans © Juan Carlos Tello



900-910 Lake Shore Drive elevations without walls / with furniture © Juan Carlos Tello


TLATELOLCO, Mexico City, 1964
Mario Pani



TLATELOLCO elevations © Juan Carlos Tello



TLATELOLCO with walls and furniture © Juan Carlos Tello



TLATELOLCO with walls and furniture © Juan Carlos Tello



TLATELOLCO without walls / without furniture © Juan Carlos Tello


Juan Carlos Tello is an architect and co-founder, along with Alejandro Hernández and Salvador Arroyo, of F 304, an architecture and design office based in Mexico City. He currently teaches at the Universidad Iberoamericana (since 1997), CENTRO (since 2005) and the ISAD in the city of Chihuahua (since 2011). | @jctvf304

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