Contributions of the Basque Exile to Mexican Architecture

Tomás Bilbao Hospitalet (top, third from the left) and Julia Durán (below him) aboard the Nyassa traveling to Mexico, May 1942. © Benlliure Bilbao family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Essay by Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes. Translated into English by Iker Gil.


The tragedy suffered by the Basque town of Gernika on April 26, 1937 under the bombing of the Nazi aviation was captured in a painting that would become an icon of the twentieth century art world. Its author was able to capture in 26 square meters all the horror that the Spanish society suffered during its Civil War (1936-1939). Guernica by Picasso is world renown, but not many know that it was created at the request of the Republican Government to be exhibited at the Spanish Pavilion in the 1937 International Exposition of Art and Technology in Modern Life held in Paris. That ephemeral building was one of the best examples of the short but productive period of modern Spanish architecture during the Second Republic (1931-1939). It can be considered the first works of architecture of the Spanish exile as its authors, Luis Lacasa and Josep Lluís Sert, are part of a group of around fifty republican architects that had to exile after the victory of the dictator Francisco Franco and developed their career in their host countries.1 Seven of those architects were Basque: Javier Yárnoz Larrosa (Pamplona, 1886-Caracas, 1959) and Urbano de Manchobas Careaga (Ermua, 1887-Caracas, 1968) exiled in Venezuela; Pablo Zabalo Ballarín (San Sebastian, 1893-1961) in Chile; Martín Domínguez Esteban (San Sebastián, 1897-New York, 1970) in Cuba; and Tomás Bilbao Hospitalet (Bilbao, 1890-Mexico, 1954), Juan de Madariaga Astigarraga (Bilbao, 1901-1996), and Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada Gorostiza (Labraza, 1907-Mexico, 2003) landed in Mexico.2

This research presents a biographical sketch of the last three, but to properly understand the contributions of the Basque exile to Mexican architecture we need to consider other refugees that were not architects, such as Ricardo Gutiérrez Abascal—better known as Juan de la Encina (Bilbao, 1896-Mexico, 1964)—or others that were not architects when they left Spain, such as the five children who arrived to Mexico accompanying their parents and eventually studied at the National School of Architecture at UNAM: Mariano Benito Araluce (Bilbao, 1929), Ramón Mikelajáuregui Aranaz (Irún, 1931) and the three siblings Ordorika Bengoechea: Imanol, Nile, and Jokin, who were born in Lekeitio in 1931, 1932, and 1935 respectively.


The Exile of the Modern Basque Architecture

During the mid 1920s, young architects started to introduce the ideas of the Modern Movement in Spain, incorporating avant-garde proposals of European colleagues that were proposing significant transformations in the way the discipline was understood and practiced. One of the driving forces of this attempt of change was the Basque Country. In 1929, José Manuel Aizpúrua and Joaquín Labayen designed the Royal Nautical Club of San Sebastián, one of the first and most significant examples of this push. They were the leaders of the Northern Group of the GATEPAC (Grupo de Artistas y Técnicos Españoles para la Arquitectura Contemporánea), founded in 1930.3 With the Second Republic, the ideals of rationalist architecture were implemented by the government in order to address the social projects needed by the country in areas such as housing, health, and education. In the Basque territory, several architects integrated in this movement designed prominent projects. Some of those architects included Tomás Bilbao, Javier Yárnoz, Pedro de Ispizua, Fernando Arzadun, Luis Vallejo, Juan de Madariaga, and Joaquín Zarranz, besides the previously mentioned Aizpúrua and Labayen. Fellow countrymen, such as Secundino Zuazo, Martín Domínguez, and Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada, developed their professional career in other areas of the Iberian Peninsula. The start of the Civil War dealt a blow to the process, but the final nail in the coffin was dealt by dictator Francisco Franco who, after defeating a legally appointed republican government, ordered the abolition of any kind of modernity in favor of Fascist architecture.

In the first years after the war, the Associations of Architects across Spain established commissions in charge of elaborating and implementing the disgraceful Actas de Depuración Político-Social de Arquitectos (Agreements of Political-Social Purging of Architects) used to punish the architects that belonged to the Republican faction. The fines ranged from the temporary cancellation of their capacity to be in public office, to the permanent disqualification to practice in the public and private sectors.4 This purge affected eighty-three architects “among them, the best ones and those with the most cultural and political drive… [that] were temporary or permanently removed from the Spanish architectural landscape.”5 Forty of these professionals, among them the seven with Basque origins previously mentioned, had exiled by the time the punishment was made public. The rest stayed in Spain living in a situation of “internal exile” that was probably more dramatic than the one of those who decided to leave.


The Basque Exile and Mexican Architecture

Between 1937 and 1942, the Mexican government welcomed more than 20,000 Spanish republican exiles and, among them, two dozen licensed architects.6 For this study, these architects have been grouped in three generations that shared common aspects of age, education, affinity with the republican side, participation in the Civil War, response to the exile experience, and adaptation to the next context.7 Oddly enough, the three architects of Basque origin exiled in Mexico each belong to one of the three generations: Tomás Bilbao belongs to the first one, whose members were over 50-years old when they arrived to Mexico and didn’t try hard to integrate into their new context as they expected to return quickly to Spain;8 Juan de Madariaga belongs to the second generation, defined by professionals that left Spain when they were about 40-years old without having had the chance to consolidate their professional career in their country of origin;9 and Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada belongs to the third generation—young architects that were about 30-years old when the Civil War ended and who faced the exile with a more entrepreneurial attitude than the older architects, taking advantage of the opportunities provided by their host country.10

The trajectory of these three architects coincides with the characteristics of their generations and, as a group, represent an important part of the contributions of the Basque exile to Mexican architecture. However, as it was mentioned earlier, this landscape would be incomplete if it didn’t consider the work of another exile that was not an architect—Juan de la Encina—and, above all, the five siblings mentioned earlier, who belong to the so-called “Spanish-Mexican generation.”

The first one to arrive to Mexico was precisely the one that never practiced as an architect but influenced the new generation of professionals that studied at the National School of Architecture at UNAM. Juan de la Encina entered Mexico on October 19, 1938, via Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas after traveling via New York. He was part of a group of intellectuals that would create La Casa de España in Mexico. He was followed by the youngest of the three architects, Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada. He traveled aboard the Sinaia during the first expedition of support for the refugees that was organized by the government of General Lázaro Cárdenas. He disembarked in Veracruz on June 13, 1939, along with 1,600 exiles. Through the same port, but much later—on November 19, 1941—and aboard the Quanza, arrived Juan de Madariaga, while Tomás Bilbao arrived aboard the Nyassa on May 22, 1942, during the last expedition coordinated by the organizations supporting the Spanish refugees. In that same ship Ramón Mikelajáuregui, a child at the time, arrived with his family. By then, the rest of the Basque children that would become Mexican architects were already in México: Mariano Benito Araluce disembarked the Mexique on July 27, 1939, while the Ordorika siblings traveled with their mother via New York and entered Mexico through the US border in November of that year.


Ricardo Gutiérrez Abascal (Juan de la Encina) migration card. © Archivo General de la Nación (AGN). Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Ricardo Gutiérrez Abascal was born in Bilbao on October 6, 1881, and, after studying at the School of Industrial Engineers of his native city, he studied Humanities and History in Madrid and had research residencies in Vienna, Brussels, Paris, Rome, Berlin, and Munich. He adopted the penname of “Juan de la Encina” when he started to publish his essays as an art critic in the Bilbao-based newspaper Nervión. He would later contribute to the Madrid-based newspapers El Sol and La Voz, as well as to the magazine España. In 1931, he was appointed the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid. In 1938, in the middle of the war, he accepted the invitation to join La Casa de España in Mexico.11 It would be there where he wrote several essays, two of them dedicated to the Mexican art: El paisajista José María Velasco, 1840-1912 (1943) and Estudios sobre arte mexicano (1945).12 In 1941 he started to teach at the College of Philosophy and Humanities at UNAM and, later on, in universities in Michoacán, Guadalajara, and Monterrey. The seminar of Art History that he taught at the National School of Architecture at UNAM between 1947 and 1963, made an impression among investigators, critics, and professors of architectural theory and history that have had remarkable professional trajectories and influence in the Mexican architectonic landscape. Among them, Luis Ortiz Macedo, Jesús Barba Erdman, Óscar Hagerman, and María Luisa Mendiola, besides the Spanish-Mexicans José Luis Benlliure and Juan Benito Artigas. The classes that he taught in that seminary were collected in the books El estilo (1977), El espacio (1978), El estilo barroco (1980), and Fernando Chueca Goitia. Su obra teórica entre 1947 y 1960 (1982) published by the UNAM. In his honor, one of the Special Chairs awarded by the School of Architecture at UNAM is named after Juan de la Encina, who passed away in Mexico City on November 24, 1963.


Covers of the two books by Juan de la Encina edited by UNAM: El estilo (1977) and El espacio (1978). Edition and illustration by Agustín Piña Dreinhofer. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


(Left) Tomás Bilbao Hospitalet. (Right) Tomás Bilbao Hospitalet, identification card issued by the French Government in Paris on June 27, 1939. © Archivo familia Benlliure Bilbao. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Tomás Bilbao Hospitalet was born in Bilbao on September 18, 1890 and studied at the School of Architecture of Madrid (ETSAM) graduating in 1918 with colleagues Rafael Bergamín, Pablo Zabalo, Luis Blanco Soler, and Manuel Galíndez among others. Although he built in Miranda de Ebro and Burgos, most of his work took place in his native city, receiving important commissions by his father, the developer Patricio Bilbao Goicoechea. His prolific professional activity allowed him to work on different building typologies: Housing blocks for the Basque middle-class located in the expansion district of Bilbao, urban plans for low-cost cooperative housing in the outskirts of Bilbao, single-family homes, and other singular projects such as markets, theaters, corporate headquarters, and exhibition pavilions like the one he designed for Altos Hornos de Vizcaya for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition.


Tomás Bilbao. Cooperativa Buenavista, Deusto, Bilbao, 1925-28. Taken from the book Tomás Bilbao. Obras, by Ignacio San Ginés, Bilbao, 1995. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Tomás Bilbao. Altos Hornos de Vizcaya Pavilion, Barcelona International Exposition, 1929. Taken from the book Tomás Bilbao. Obras, by Ignacio San Ginés, Bilbao, 1995. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Buildings by Tomás Bilbao: (Left) Housing building on Ripa 6, Bilbao, 1930-1932. Photo by Juan Ignacio del Cueto. (Right) Housing building on Henao 5, Bilbao, 1933-34. Taken from the book Tomás Bilbao. Obras, by Ignacio San Ginés, Bilbao, 1995. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Of all the exiled architects, Tomás Bilbao is probably the one who had completed more projects before leaving his country.13 Throughout his career there is a constant evolution, starting with an eclecticism that ranges from the Basque regionalism of the single-family homes and low-cost housing to the neobaroque version of the large housing blocks. At the beginning of the 1930s, he changes radically toward a rationalist aesthetic. His work also reached politics: he was a founding member and leader of the Acción Nacionalista Vasca political party, becoming Deputy Mayor of Bilbao representing it. In 1937 he became Consul of the Republican Government in Perpignan, a position that he held until August 1938, when doctor Juan Negrín, President of the Republican Government, asked him to become a Minister without portfolio. In 1942 he boarded the Nyassa ship to Mexico when the Nazis had already invaded France.


Tomás Bilbao Hospitalet and Julia Durán with their seven children, France, c. 1940. © Archivo familia Benlliure Bilbao. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Bilbao did a few projects for Basque residents in Mexico, including businessman Martín García-Urtiaga who commissioned him to design a canning facility in the state of Veracruz, but he focused more on politics as a member of the Republican Government in the exile.14 In 1949, he participated, along with many distinguished exiles, in the foundation of the Ateneo Español in Mexico, an eminent institution of the Republicanism that endures until today.15 Although he always hoped to return to Spain, he died in Mexico City on March 16, 1954 at the age of 63. Due to the limited number of projects done by Tomás Bilbao during his exile, we could consider that his biggest contribution to Mexican architecture was his descendants. His daughter Mari Carmen Bilbao Duran started architecture at the UNAM and married José Luis Benlliure Galán.16 However, she quit architecture to raise her children (“I swapped the triangle for the diapers”) while José Luis would become a very prestigious architect. Several descendants of Tomás Bilbao are Mexican architects, such as his grandchildren Pablo Benlliure Bilbao, José María Bilbao Rodríguez, and Tatiana Bilbao Spamer, and his great grandsons Jaime Benlliure Conover, Juan Pablo Benlliure Betancourt, and Gabriel de la Torre Benlliure.


Juan de Madariaga Astigarraga migration card, Veracruz, Mexico, December 3, 1941. © Archivo General de la Nación (AGN). Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Juan de Madariaga Astigarraga, son of the politician Ramón de Madariaga, was born in Bilbao on September 18, 1901 and completed his studies in Madrid in 1930, receiving the Aníbal Álvarez Award for the best thesis project.17 The year before, he had participated with his colleague Joaquín Zarranz in the Concurso de Vivienda Mínima (Minimum Habitable Dwelling Competition) organized by Fernando García Mercadal to choose projects that would represent Spain in an exhibition organized in parallel to the II CIAM (International Congresses of Modern Architecture) that took place in Frankfurt.18 Despite not being awarded—though they were shortlisted—in the competition in Madrid, their project was one of the three Spanish projects included in the list of one hundred most significant examples of minimum housing in Europe. They were published in the book Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum with material selected from the exhibition in Germany.19

Juan de Madariaga worked in Madrid with Pedro Muguruza until he decided to return to Bilbao, where he collaborated with the architects Manuel Mª Smith and Manuel Ignacio Galíndez to design the Iberduero Building on Gardoqui Street, 8. In 1932, he successfully participated in two competitions organized by Tomás Bilbao and the City Hall, which were some of the most important competitions in Spain during that time. His project for the first competition, focused on the design of a housing development in Solocoeche, was done along with Luis Vallejo and received a Second Prize.20 A few months later he won, in collaboration with Joaquín Zarranz, First Prize in the competition to design the “Tomás Meabe” School.

In 1937, as Franco’s troops were arriving to the Basque Country, Madariaga—who was the brother-in-law of the lehendakari (president) José Antonio de Aguirre—left for France with his family and worked in Basset and Tarbes.21 With the German occupation, he emigrated again and spent several months in the north of Africa until they were able to board the Quanza to America.22 Although their initial plan was to continue the trip to Buenos Aires (final destination of the Portuguese ship), his brother-in-law Tomás de Aguirre convinced them to stay in Mexico and put them in contact with the Basque colony.23 One of its members, the businessman José Luis Laresgoiti, introduced Madariaga to the famed architect José Villagrán García, precursor of modern Mexican architecture, with whom he would collaborate for over ten years in several projects in the capital of the country. Those projects included the Hospital of Jesús (1943), the Arturo Mundet Sports Park (1943, that would become one of the most frequent meeting points for the exiles), and the Maternity Pavilion of the Spanish Hospital in Mexico (1944). As an independent professional, he designed a housing building in the Chilpancingo plaza (Mexico City, 1947) where he achieved an admirable formal result that allowed him to be published by the prestigious magazine Arquitectura-México directed by Mario Pani.24 In 1956 Madariaga decided to return to Bilbao with his family and, once he overcame all the legal obstacles that prevented him from working in his own country, he was able to restart his professional career.25


Juan de Madariaga, Julia Durán de Bilbao, Tomás Bilbao, and Martín García Urtiaga at the Basque Center in Mexico City, 1950. © Archivo familia Benlliure Bilbao. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Juan de Madariaga, Housing building in the Chilpancingo plaza, Mexico City, 1947. Arquitectura-México magazine, 25, June 1948. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada Gorostiza was born on February 8, 1907, in Labraza, Alava, the town of his maternal grandparents, although he lived in Leon since he was a child. In 1923 he moved to Madrid to study architecture, living in the Residencia de Estudiantes and having an intensive political life. He was Chair of the Construction Board of the University City of Madrid and was part of the student theatre company, Teatro Universitario “La Barraca,” directed by Federico García Lorca. He finished architecture in 1933 and became part of the Architecture Seminary of Manuel Sánchez Arcas. In 1934, he participates with him, Rafael Sarasola, and Julio Ruiz Olmos in the IV National Competition of Architecture, were they were awarded a secondary prize. The following year he joined the team of Enrique Segarra Tomás (with whom he would coincide during their Mexican exile) and they won First Prize in the VI National Competition of Architecture.26 At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War he traveled to England and collaborated in one of the colonies that the British Government had installed to welcome about four thousand Basque children. At the end of 1938 he decided to return to Spain to join the Republican Army, where he participated in the retreat from Catalonia. He exiled to France through the Pyrenees mountain range and was in the concentration camp of Saint Cyprien before boarding the Sinaia to Mexico.


Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada Gorsotiza migration card. © Archivo General de la Nación (AGN). Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada, Enriqueta Aguado, and Federico García Lorca on tour with the student theatre company “La Barraca,” c. 1933. © Saénz de la Calzada Aguado family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Shortly after his arrival, Sáenz de la Calzada was able to transfer his professional degree thanks to a short-lived law that was repealed in December 1940, and designed the first public project of the Spanish exile in Mexico City: the refurbishment of the art-deco canopies located at the base of the emblematic Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts), where he installed a bookstore and an art gallery.27 The final image of the renovated pavilion with large windows, inaugurated in 1940, gave it the nickname of Librería de Cristal (Glass Bookstore), a name that was used for a chain of bookstores that expanded across the country. Afterwards, the architect coincided with several exiled colleagues in the construction company Vías y Obras, that under the leadership of Jesús Martí and the collaboration of Enrique Segarra, Félix Candela, and Juan Rivaud, was very active during the 1940s in cities such as Veracruz, Acapulco, Cuernavaca, and Mexico City. After leaving the company, Sáenz de la Calzada designed in his independent practice several residential and office buildings, pharmaceutical laboratories, industrial plants, and single-family homes. Among this last group, two houses designed for distinguished exiles stand out: one for filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who he befriended when they coincided at the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid; and one for doctor Alejandro Otero Fernández, whose house was later acquired by the Swedish Embassy. The architect also had an intense political career with his role in the Association of Spanish University Students, where he was the president, and the Defense Advisory Board of the Spanish Republic standing out. His text “Architecture in exile,” published in 1978 by José Luis Abellán in El exilio español de 1939, has been a fundamental reference to recover the memory of the republican architects that scattered across the world.


Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada. Librería de Cristal in the canopies of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, 1940. © Saénz de la Calzada Aguado family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada. Buñuel House, Mexico City, 1953. Photo by Alberto Moreno Guzmán. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


In 1961, the Ateneo Español of México paid tribute to Félix Candela to celebrate the Auguste Perret Award that he had just received from the International Association of Architects in London. Sáenz de la Calzada, who had signed many of the first projects of the architect from Madrid and with whom he had a close friendship, was in charge of introducing the honoree and said in his speech:


“It would be pointless to think about the career that Candela would have had if the immense and painful tragedy of our war wouldn’t have affected his life so unexpectedly […] in Mexico he has spent the most prolific and decisive years of his career, richer in spiritual adventures and denser in findings and creation […] Félix Candela has had the immense fortune of being able to return in full the debt of gratitude that all the Spanish republicans took on with this sister country when, at a time of heartbreaking abandonment and distressing despair, it generously extended its hands …”28


His words would apply to many of his exile colleagues and, particularly, to the professionals of the Spanish-Mexican generation.


Mexican Architects Born in the Basque Country

During the republican diaspora, many children and young people accompanied their parents in their exile. Those who developed their professional career in Mexico belong to the so-called “Spanish-Mexican generation.” Most of them studied in schools funded by the exiles themselves (the Spanish-Mexican Academy, the Luis Vives Institute, or the Colegio Madrid) before attending some of the public universities, such as the Universidad Nacional Autónoma of Mexico (UNAM) or the Instituto Politécnico Nacional (IPN). Many of their members stood out in the economic, political, and cultural areas of their adopted country, so this generation is in itself one of the most important contributions of the Spanish exile in Mexico. Many “Mexican architects born in Spain” belong to it, among them the five Basque architects mentioned earlier that studied architecture in the Escuela Nacional de Arquitectura (ENA, today University) of the UNAM.29


Mariano Benito Araluce. Photo by Ricardo Vinós, © Benito Vinós family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Mariano Benito Araluce was born in Bilbao on June 21, 1928. He was 11 years old when he disembarked in Veracruz with his parents—Mariano Benito Palacios and Ángeles Araluce Valverde—and his older sisters.30 He studied in the Luis Vives Institute and in the Spanish-Mexican Academy before attending university. Among his projects two stand out: the House for the Agronomist in Cuajimalpa and the Iztacalco Housing complex, done in collaboration with Imanol Ordorika, and that was the first project of the Instituto del Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda para los Trabajadores (INFONAVIT) after its foundation in 1972. Besides teaching at UNAM, he was a full time professor-researcher at the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM) where he published essays such as “La evolución del hombre: Reflexiones desde Altamira” and “La fisonomía de la ciudad: El retrato de Dorian Grey,” as well as his books Arquitectura Contemporánea. Apuntes para su comprensión (1993) and La Historia como mito cultural. Ensayo cuyo motivo es una Edad Media que nunca existió (2004). The latter was published several years after his death, that took place in Madrid in 2000 while he was traveling across Spain. His family was in charge of repatriating his remains for his final rest in Mexico.31


Mariano Benito. House for the Agronomist, Cuajimalpa, State of Mexico. Photo by Ricardo Vinós. © Benito Vinós family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Mariano Benito. House for the Agronomist, Cuajimalpa, State of Mexico. Photo by Ricardo Vinós. © Benito Vinós family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Mariano Benito with Imanol Ordorika. INFONAVIT-Iztacalco housing complez. © Archivo Imanol Ordorika Arq. y Asoc. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Mariano Benito with Imanol Ordorika. INFONAVIT-Iztacalco housing complez. © Archivo Imanol Ordorika Arq. y Asoc. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Ramón Mikelajáuregui (right) with painter David Alfaro Siqueiros. © Mikelajáuregui family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Son of Ángel Mikelajáuregui Querejeta—a customs agent—and Teodora Aranaz Ikutza, Ramón Mikelajáuregui Aranaz was born in Irún on March 1, 1931 and lived his first years of exile in Montbau, France, where he studied primary school. He arrived in Mexico at the age of eleven and continued his studies at the Spanish-Mexican Academy. In 1947 he moved with his family to Tampico, Tamaulipas, where he finished high school. He returned to Mexico City to study architecture between 1950 and 1955. His class witnessed the move from the Academia de San Carlos (the original headquarters of the ENA in the historic center) to the brand-new Ciudad Universitaria that opened in 1954. Upon finishing his studies, he worked for a year and a half in the architecture office of Richard Neutra in Los Angeles, California. He returned to Mexico in 1957 and collaborated with colleagues of his generation such as Antonio Attolini Lack and Fernando Torres Candé. In 1966, architects Guillermo Rossell de la Lama and Joaquín Álvarez Ordoñez contacted him to design several projects and lead the construction of the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros and the Hotel de Mexico, the tallest building at the time, owned by the Spanish resident Manuel Suárez.32 In front of this complex, above the Insurgentes Avenue, Mikelajáuregui built two office buildings known as Surinsa Towers. He also designed a building for the Tourism Ministry in Colonia Polanco and several houses around the Avándaro Gold Club, State of Mexico, and the ecological community of Tlalpuente, south of the capital, where he was a founding member. Mikelajáuregui died on December 11, 1980, at the age of 49, while being treated for leukemia in a hospital in Los Angeles, the same city where he started his brilliant career in the office of Richard Neutra.33


Ramón Mikelajáuregui, with Guillermo Rossell de la Lama and Joaquín Álvarez Ordóñez. Hotel de México and Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros, Mexico City, 1972. © Archivo fotográfico Andrés López. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Ramón Mikelajáuregui, with Guillermo Rossell de la Lama and Joaquín Álvarez Ordóñez. Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros with the Hotel de México in the background, Mexico City, 1972. © Archivo fotográfico Andrés López. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


(Left) The Ordorika Bengoechea family at the Basque Center of Mexico City, 1941. Back: Joseba Ordorika Azúa and Balbina Bengoechea. Front: Imanol, Jokin, and Nile. (Right) Sulentino dance, Basque Center of Mexico City, c. 1948. From left to right: Julián Zugazagoitia, Imanol Ordorika, Justo Somonte, Pedro Bilbao, and Fernando Chaos. © Saavedra Ordorika family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


The siblings Imanol, Nile, and Jokin Ordorika Bengoechea, the children of José Ordorika Asúa and Balbina Bengoechea Alzola, were born in Lekeitio, Biscay. His father, a merchant seaman and sea captain, arrived in Mexico in March 1939 as he was the person in charge of transporting, aboard the Vita yatch, funds and objects of incalculable value of the government of the Second Spanish Republic (the famous “Vita treasure”). His wife and children met him months later, after living for two years in France. They boarded the Manhattan in Bordeaux with New York as its destination. From there they traveled by bus to Laredo, Texas, where they crossed the border to take the train to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and then to Mexico City, where they finally arrived on November 22, 1939. All three siblings studied primary school at the Colegio Madrid. Imanol studied high school at the Spanish-Mexican Academy, while Nile and Jokin studied at the Colegio Madrid when that became an option.34


Jokin Ordorika Bengoechea. © Saavedra Ordorika family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Jokin, the youngest, who was born on January 31, 1935, arrived in Mexico when he was 4 years old and died prematurely at the age of 28 in a car accident. In his short professional career, he collaborated with his brother Imanol in the project for the Hospital del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) in Mexicali, Baja California. He also designed the house for his parents in the Colonia Campestre Churubusco (Mexico City) and partnered with architect Enrique Esesarte to design several projects in the city of Oaxaca, among them the renovation of the Francia and Señorial Hotels, and the houses for Francisca Balcells, Armando Gutiérrez, and Xavier Ugartechea. There, he also built several industrial installations and an interesting commercial space for the sale of industrial equipment. The latter was built in 1962 with a reinforced concrete “umbrella” designed by the famous, and also exiled, architect Felix Candela. In 1963, when he was finishing the paperwork for his architectural degree at the UNAM, he had the deadly accident in the road that connects Mexico City and Oaxaca.35


Jokin Ordorika and Enrique de Esesarte. House in Oaxaca, Oax, 1962. Photo by Juan Ignacio del Cueto.


Jokin Ordorika with Félix Candela, Commercial space in Oaxaca, 1962. © Saavedra Ordorika family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Nile Ordorika Bengoechea. © Saavedra Ordorika family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Nile was born on June 11, 1932. She was 7 years old when she arrived in Mexico. She graduated in 1957 with her project “General Hospital of Chihuahua” for the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS). In 1985 she finished her degree in Restoration, also at the UNAM. She worked at the architecture offices of Mario Pani, Enrique Yáñez, and the siblings Agustín and Enrique Landa. Throughout her career, she worked on several projects and renovations, among them the Aula Arantzazu at the Colegio de las Vizcaínas, a prominent work of the baroque of the New Spain and the Basque presence in Mexico. In 1982 she returned to the ENA-UNAM where she had started teaching in 1958 as an adjunct with Enrique Landa. She taught for twenty years in the Taller D (nowadays José Villagrán García). In 1998, the UNAM published her book El convento del Carmen de San Ángel, that had been the focus of her degree thesis.36


Nile Ordorika Bengoechea and Gustavo M. Saavedra Olaguibel, Private home in Mexico City, 1961. © Saavedra Ordorika family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Imanol Ordorika Bengoechea. © Ordorika Sacristán family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


As for Imanol Joseba Ordorika Bengoechea, he was born on March 26, 1931. He arrived in Mexico when he was 8 years old and became of the of the most prominent Mexican architects of the second half of the twentieth century. He started his studies at the ENA in 1948 and worked with the renowned Mexican architects Ramón Marcos Noriega, Augusto H. Álvarez, and Juan Sordo Madaleno. In 1956, the Basque businessman Antón Elorriaga commissioned him the project of the Elcano Hotel in Acapulco, a project that became the starting point for his independent practice and that was also his thesis project to complete his degree on October 24, 1958, when the construction of the hotel was almost finished. His prolific production ranges across multiple building typologies built in several states of the Republic (Villa La Lagartija in Valle de Bravo, State of México, 1961; IMSS Hospital in Mexicali, Baja California, 1961; Banco Mexicano de Occidente in Hermosillo, Sonora, 1966), and in Mexico City (Honeywell Building, 1966; Office building in Avenida Insurgentes 670, 1969; Housing development Iztacalco del INFONAVIT, 1974, in partnership with Mariano Benito Araluce). But his work stood out particularly in the hotel and educational sectors. From the former, besides the Elcano Hotel, he designed the touristic development “El Cid” in Mazatlán, Sinaloa (1974) and its imposing Hotel de Playa (1982). In 1981 he won the invited competition for the Plaza Hotel in Cancún, that was never built. In regard to educational architecture, several stand out: the Anáhuac University complex (Naucalpan, State of Mexico, 1965-76), the Centro Educacional Albatros (La Herradura, State of Mexico, 1971), the Secundaria Cumbres in Bosques de las Lomas (Mexico City, 1974), and the Autonomous University of the State of Hidalgo (Pachuca, Hidalgo, 1975). He also designed single family homes in the Jardines del Pedregal de San Ángel, the interesting residential development that Luis Barragán designed in the mid 1940s next to the nascent Ciudad Universitaria. There, one can find the houses he designed on Cantil Street for Sacristán Roy (of his father-in-law Antonio Sacristán Colás, a highly regarded exiled economist), Sacristán Rock (of his brother-in-law Emilio Sacristan Roy), and Ordorika Sacristán (his own house, next to where he built his office). A few years later—in 1958—and very close to it—on Grieta Street—he built the houses for the Sacristán Ruiz-Funes and Del Cueto Ruiz-Funes families, where the author of this essay was fortunate to grow up.


Imanol Ordorika. Hotel Elcano, Acapulco, 1958. © Elorriaga Berdegué family Archive. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Imanol Ordorika. Hotel El Cid, Mazatlán. In the foreground, hotel de playa (1982). In the background, Hotel and Golf Club (1974). © Archivo Imanol Ordorika Arq. y Asoc. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Imanol Ordorika. Anahuac University, Naucalpan, State of Mexico, 1965-76. © Archivo Imanol Ordorika Arq. y Asoc. Courtesy of Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


Imanol Ordorika. Sacristán Ruiz-Funes House and Del Cueto Ruiz-Funes House, Jardines del Pedregal, Mexico City, 1958. Drawing by Mariano del Cueto Ruiz-Funes.


The work of Imanol Ordorika can be defined by a restrained and strong composition, of great formal expressivity, that could be connected in many cases to the strong Basque character. Many of his projects were published in Mexican and foreign magazines, including a 1976 monographic issue by the magazine Calli. The National Academy of Architecture appointed him emeritus member in 1983. His well-deserved prestige as one of the most important professionals within the Mexican architectural landscape allowed him to receive invitations to many competitions, including the office building for the DOM company in Germany (an international competition organized in 1980 where only two Mexican architects were invited: Ordorika and Agustín Hernández) and the competition for the Mexican Embassy in Saudi Arabia, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1985.

But Imanol was, on top of the rest of things, an excellent professor of architectural composition. He started teaching at the UNAM in 1954, sharing for almost thirty-five years his way of understanding architecture with several classes of new professionals, one of which I am proud to belong to. He also taught at the Anáhuac University. The architect expanded his area of interest to include painting, sculpture, and industrial design. In 1975 the Palacio de Bellas Artes of Mexico City hosted an exhibition about his sculptural work. One of his paintings is hanging, along with works by Antonio Peyrí and Mathias Goeritz, in the library of the College of Architecture at the UNAM. Cancer cut his life short when he was at his creative prime. He died in Mexico City on January 10, 1988.

I want to close this text with a few words written by Imanol, whose thoughts about his adopted country would most likely be endorsed by many of the Mexican architects who were born in Spain:


“Exiled with my family due to the Spanish Civil War, I arrived in this country in November of 1939, when I was only 8 years old, and since then, Mexico is my home […] A country, Mexico, whose generosity has always been its distinctive feature. It allowed our emigration, similarly to other more recent and with other nationalities, the possibility to become integrated without limits, without restrictions. Today, as a Mexican that I am thanks to the naturalization process, and what is even more important, Mexican by conviction, I take advantage of this opportunity to share my deep and constant gratitude, a land that taught me, gave me time and space to develop as a man. For that reason, I affirm that I am twice Mexican, first for legal reasons and the second, probably more important, for my feelings. Mexico is my home. It was my home before I became an architect. The home where I built a family and were my children were born.”37



1. See: Henry Vicente, Arquitecturas desplazadas. Arquitecturas del exilio español (Madrid: Ministerio de Vivienda, 2007).

2. See: Juan Ignacio Del Cueto, “Presencia del exilio vasco en la arquitectura mexicana,” RIEV. Revista Internacional de Estudios Vascos, No 53, January-June 2008, 11-44.

3. The GATEPAC (Grupo de Artistas y Técnicos Españoles para el Progreso de la Arquitectura Contemporánea) was founded in Zaragoza in 1930 with the goal of introducing the principles of rationalism in Spanish architecture. It included the Center (Madrid), North (Basque Country) and East (Cataluña) Groups.

4. See: Juan Ignacio Del Cueto, “Depuración político-social de arquitectos en la España de posguerra,” in Bitácora-Arquitectura, No 13, Winter 2004, FA-UNAM.

5. Oriol Bohigas, Arquitectura Española de la Segunda República (Barcelona: Ed. Tusquets, 1970), 128.

6. Although most of the exiles came to Mexico after Franco’s victory, some arrived during the Civil War. In 1937, the government of Lázaro Cárdenas welcomed five hundred children of republicans known as “the children of Morelia” and, in 1938, La Casa de España (nowadays El Colegio de México) was founded to welcome a group of distinguished intellectuals. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, on April 19, 1939 about three hundred refugees that were able to cover the cost of the boat ticket on the Flandre disembarked in Veracruz. Between June 1939 and May 1942 several ships chartered by the Mexican government and the organizations of support to the Spanish republicans (SERE and JARE) arrived in Mexico. The first one was the Sinaia and the Nyassa being the last one.

7. See: Juan Ignacio Del Cueto, Arquitectos españoles exiliados en México (México: UNAM-Bonilla Artigas Editores, 2014).

8. Its five members died in Mexico. Besides Tomás Bilbao, they were Francisco Azorín Izquierdo (Monforte, Teruel, 1885-Mexico, 1975), Bernardo Giner de los Ríos García (Madrid, 1888-Mexico, 1970), Cayetano de la Jara y Ramón (Valencia, 1888-Mexico, 1960), and Roberto Fernández Balbuena (Madrid, 1890-Mexico, 1966). They all studied at the School of Architecture in Madrid (ETSAM), except for Giner de los Ríos who studied architecture in Bologna after studying engineering in Madrid.

9. Besides Juan de Madariaga, this generation also includes Emili Blanch i Roig (Gerona, 1897-1996), José Luis Miguel Benlliure y López de Arana (Madrid, 1898-1981), Jesús Martí Martín (Castellón, 1899-Mexico, 1975), and Mariano Rodríguez Orgaz (Madrid, 1903-Mexico, 1940). Blanch graduated from the School of Architecture in Barcelona (ETSAB), and the rest graduated from the School of Architecture in Madrid (ETSAM).

10. Along with Sáenz de la Calzada, this group also includes José Caridad Mateo (A Coruña, 1906-Mexico, 1997), Jaime Ramonell Gimeno (Murcia, 1906-Mexico, 1991), Jordi Tell Novellas (Barcelona, 1907-Norway, 1991), Juan Bautista Larrosa Domingo (Lleida, 1907-Mexico, ca. 1940), Francisco Detrell Tarradell (Santiago de Cuba, 1908-Mexico, ca. 1990), Enrique Segarra Tomás (Valencia, 1908-Veracruz, 1988), Esteban Marco Cortina (Reus, 1909-Mexico, ca. 1965), Oscar Coll Alas (Oviedo, 1909-Cuernavaca, 1967), Tomás Auñón (Madrid, 1909, Mexico, ca.1980), Ovidio Botella Pastor (Alicante, 1909-Mexico, 1996), Fernando Gay (Valencia, 1909-Mexico, 1996), Félix Candela Outeriño (Madrid, 1910-Raleigh, North Carolina, 1997), Juan Rivaud Valdés (Madrid, 1910-Mexico, 1993), and Eduardo Robles Piquer (Madrid, 1911-Caracas, 1993). Seven of them graduated from the ETSAB (Caridad, Ramonell, Tell, Larrosa, Detrell, Marco, and Gay) and the rest from the ETSAM.

11. La Casa de España in México (renamed El Colegio de México shortly after) was founded in 1938 at the initiative of Alfonso Reyes and Daniel Cosío Villegas with the goal of distancing the Spanish intellectuals from the Civil War so they could continue with their investigations. Among others, it was home to José Gaos, Dámaso Alonso, Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Joaquín Xirau, León Felipe, Luis Recasens, Enrique Díez-Canedo, Josep Carner, María Zambrano, José Moreno Villa, and Juan de la Encina.

12. Other essays published by Juan de la Encina in Mexico are: La nueva plástica (1940), El Greco, estudio biográfico y crítico (1944), La pintura del Renacimiento italiano (1949), La pintura española (1951), and Retablo de la pintura moderna (1953).

13. See: Ignacio Miguel San Ginés, Tomás Bilbao. Obras (Bilbao: Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos Vasco-Navarro, 1995).

14. Arriving in Mexico in 1939, Martín García-Urtiaga was one of the founders of the Compañía Mexicana de Comercio Exterior, S.A. and of several companies more. He was the president of the Centro Vasco de México.

15. Among the more than a hundred founders of the Ateneo Español de México, there were eight architects, two of them Basque: Tomás Auñón, Tomás Bilbao, Félix Candela, José Caridad, Bernardo Giner de los Ríos, Jaime Ramonell, Eduardo Robles Piquer, and Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada.

16. With this marriage, Tomás Bilbao became the father-in-law of another exiled Spanish architect in Mexico: José Luis M. Benlliure y López de Arana, son of the famous sculptor Mariano Benlliure and the singer Lucrecia Arana, and father of the Spanish-Mexican architect José Luis Benlliure Galán.

17. Lawyer Ramón de Madariaga was one of the main leaders of the Basque republicans. He was involved in the development of the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country that regulated the Second Spanish Republic.

18. Joaquín Zarranz was an architect from Navarre who graduated in 1931. He was a classmate, friend, and partner of Madariaga. He died during the Civil War.

19. See: José María Mendieta Arechederra, Manuel Olazábal Arrizabalaga, and José Angel Sanz Esquide, Archivo de Arquitectura del País Vasco. Años Treinta (Bilbao: Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos Vasco-Navarro, Delegación en Vizcaya, 1990).

20. Luis Vallejo, who graduated in 1927, was part of the class that included José Manuel Aizpurua and Joaquín Labayen. They were the three Basque architects that took part in the founding of the GATEPAC as members of the East Group.

21. His wife, María Teresa de Aguirre Lekube, was the sister of José Antonio de Aguirre, who was the president of the Basque Country representing the PNV in 1936 and lehendakari (president) of the Basque Government in exile.

22. Among other republican personalities, aboard this ship, were Niceto Alcalá-Zamora, former president of the Republic; Jaume Aiguader, former Mayor of Barcelona; the family of the Catalan republican Manuel Carrasco i Formiguera, executed in Spain at the end of the war; and the sisters Maciá, daughters of Francesc Maciá, former president of the Generalitat of Catalonia (one of them traveled with her son Antonio Peyrí, who would become an architect in Mexico).

23. Tomás de Aguirre Lekube arrived in México as part of the famous Basque soccer team that during the war toured Latin American countries to play exhibition games. See: Amaya and Javier Sanchiz Gárritz, “El equipo de fútbol Euzcadi (1937-1939),” in Amaya Gárritz, Aportaciones e integración de los vascos a la sociedad mexicana en los siglos XIX-XXI (UNAM, IIH, Centro Vasco Euskal Etxea, 2008).

24. Arquitectura-México, No 25, June 1948, 274-278. This building was demolished after suffering structural damage during the earthquake that shook Mexico City in 1958. By then, Madariaga was already living in Bilbao.

25. See: Íñigo Viar, Madariaga. Obras (Bilbao: Colegio Oficial de Arquitectos Vasco-Navarro, 1996).

26. See: “IV Concurso Nacional de Arquitectura,” in Arquitectura, Year XVII, No 5, Madrid, July 1935, 155-178, and “VI Concurso Nacional de Arquitectura,” in Arquitectura, Year XVIII, No 2, Madrid, February 1936, 26-52.

27. Only Sáenz de la Calzada and the Galician architect José Caridad Mateo, who had also arrived in the Sinaia, had their professional degree and were able to take advantage of this temporary law that was abolished at the end of 1940. During the first years of the exile they signed many of the projects of their colleagues.

28. “Speech by the architect Arturo Sáenz de la Calzada in the homage to architect Félix Candela, organized by the Ateneo Español de México on June 8, 1961.” Manuscript, Candela Archive, Avery Library, New York.

29. Several women of this generation stand out, such as Josefa Saisó, Elsa Alonso Revaque, Pilar Tonda, Aída Salvadores, Aída Pérez, Josefa Ruiz-Funes, and Enriqueta Serrano, that were colleagues of Antonio Peyrí Maciá, José Luis Benlliure Galán, Héctor Alonso Rebaque, Ángel Azorín Poch, Antonio Encinas Martínez, Pedro Fernández Miret, Juan Antonio Tonda Magallón, Gerardo Martín Iglesias, Julio de la Jara Alcocer, Eduardo Vázquez Jiménez, Julio García Coll, Juan Benito Artigas Hernández, and Pua Díaz Azorín, besides the five Basque architects previously mentioned.

30. His father, Mariano Benito Palacios, was born in Bilbao on May 25, 1902. He entered Mexico as an architect, as it is stated in his migration card. It has not been possible to verify if he had a professional degree, but he did build in Acapulco.

31. See: Ricardo Vinós, “Mariano Benito, una semblanza” in Adela Giral and Mª Teresa Márquez, Frutos del exilio. Descendientes del exilio español en la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (Mexico: UAM, 2010).

32. The structure of the Hotel de Mexico, achieved with the tridilosa, a very light and resistant 3D structure patented by the Mexican engineer Heberto Castillo, was completed in 1972. However, construction was paused for several years and the design would later be revised by architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez to turn the structure into the World Trade Center.

33. Information provided by the filmmaker José Ramón Mikelajáuregui, son of the architect.

34. Interview by the author with the architect Nile Ordorika Bengoechea, that took place in his house in San Ángel, Mexico City, on November 5, 2013.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. Imanol Ordorika Bengoechea. Text included in the 1975 exhibition Imanol Ordorika. La constante búsqueda del arte at the Palacio de Bellas Artes of Mexico City.


Juan Ignacio del Cueto Ruiz-Funes is a Mexican architect who graduated from the UNAM in 1986. In 1996, he received his PhD in Architecture from the UPC in Barcelona. He is an emeritus academic of the Academia Nacional de Arquitectura and a member of DOCOMOMO-Mexico. He is the recipient of the 2011 Juan O’Gorman Award for Professional Merit in Research. Between 2014 and 2019, he was the coordinator of the Centro de Investigaciones en Arquitectura, Urbanismo y Paisaje (CIAUP-FA UNAM). He curated the exhibitions Félix Candela 1910-2010, Candela’s Shell, and Presencia del Exilio Español en la Arquitectura Mexicana. His books Félix Candela 1910-2010 (SECC, 2010), Guía Candela (Arquine, 2013), and Arquitectos Españoles Exiliados en México (Bonilla Artigas, 2014) have been finalists in three Ibero-American Architecture and Urbanism Biennials. He is the editor of Candela, Isler, Müther. Positions on Shell Construction (Birkhäuser, 2020) and La Estela de Félix Candela (México, 2020).

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