Desert Passage

Pasaje Ventus is all about the desert. From how the mixed-use development is oriented on its site to the look of the exterior, to how people circulate on the property as well as numerous other design choices, Pasaje Ventus connects with the desert environment and expresses elements of the climate in its functionality and aesthetics.

Climate drives design of mixed-use development

By Christopher Brinckerhoff

Photo: Rafael Gamo

Oriented to the Desert

The development, which is in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, connects with the desert in the way each of its five primary volumes are oriented on the site. Each volume is oriented on its axis to accomplish multiple project goals including optimizing daylighting control and wind mitigation. On one axis, ground-level volumes are oriented in reference to front and side streets, and an existing building on the west side of the property, which is on a second axis. On a third axis, the upper volume is oriented in reference to a back street.

Jorge Urias Garza, architect at Jorge Urias Studio in Ciudad Juarez, says, “The dynamic design of the building was conceptualized by analyzing the wind patterns.”

In fact, multiple natural variables that converge on the property were analyzed to develop the design, Urias Garza says. “Aspects such as solar incidence, prevailing winds and context were considered for the creation of design axes through innovative information analysis techniques, developing an architectural algorithm that allows the building volumes to be sculpted, as is the case of the western volume, which presents a different orientation to the one applied to the rest of the complex. On the west façade of the upper volume, there is greater density of striped panels responding to the western orientation for protection from the sun. In other places, for example on the southeast face of the volume, there are less striped panels and it’s more open.”

Photo: Rafael Gamo

In addition to responding to weather conditions, the volumes are oriented on the site and shaped to help form circulation spaces including a central common space and a terrace on the east side, among other elements.

“The upper volume considers the axes for the formation of breaks and a polygonal overhang that provides lightness to the element,” Urias Garza says. “As a result, a unique and irreplicable geometry is obtained which responds to the site specifically.”

The buildings’ axes are also oriented to accommodate public and private terraces and common spaces in the office and retail development. “The spaces open to the public are on ground level,” Urias Garza says. “There is a plaza with a fountain at the center, and seating area surrounding a planter at the northwest corner of the building next to an existing building on the west side of the property.”

Photo: Rafael Gamo

Additionally, there are two private access terraces on the volumes that face the front street and terraces on the upper volume. “Two more terraces are at the upper volume, one terrace on the east facing a side street over the vehicular passage underneath, and another one on the south over the corner volume facing a street corner,” Urias Garza says.

Partway up the upper volume, a break in the form of the wall allows for foot traffic circulation among the floors. Moreover, the break in the volume at that spot and another break in another place help shape the central common space at ground level with the fountain and, on the east side of the development, a triangular terrace over a vehicular passage.

Ventilated Shell

The appearance and functionality of Pasaje Ventus’ exterior connect the development with the desert climate. Angled stripes of grayscale panels wrap around the cluster of buildings.

“The stripes show three shades of gray referring, in a monochromatic way, to desert sunsets,” Urias Garza says.

In addition to relating to desert sunsets, the angled stripes give the development a feeling of having a kind of angle of repose. The angled panels wrap around the cluster of buildings and rest, forming a carapace. In a sense, they look and act like a shell.

For example, the short edges of the panels were left uncut. The result is they create jagged edges to the cladding in several places. At entrances at the base of the development and at the roofline, where in several locations the jagged edges of panels continue slightly above the flat roofs, and, at other places the panels stop before reaching the roofline, displaying the jagged edges of panels and layers of the building covered by the cladding.

“Pasaje Ventus responds specifically to its site,” Urias Garza says. “The building relates to its natural and urban context, responding by contrasting, and, at the same time, being linked to its environment, as occurs in the desert, where its fauna shows a series of diverse qualities in patterns, skins and shells that stand out, and, at the same time, it helps them integrate into their environment.”

In terms of functioning like a shell, the exterior shell allows and disallows sunlight through it, and it controls wind and dust. The aluminum cladding is one of multiple layers of building materials used to create the development’s exterior shell. Perforated metal panels are used to provide some shading in some places. Aluminum cladding is solid and opaque in some places; at other spots, intermittent panels are left out, again, controlling daylighting and providing functionality relative to building use.

“The dynamic façade of the building consists of a series of layers inspired by the strong winds and dust storms that occur in the city,” Urias Garza says. “The metal skin of the façade is composed of an aluminum blind that breathes and allows the wind to circulate between the structural shell and the interior glass box. The structure in turn provides shade to the interior of the building, offering greater comfort to users with respect to the hot, dry climate that occurs in the city.”

To build the exterior shell, Diseños y Construcciones Estructurales del Bravo SA de CV (DICEBSA), Ciudad Juarez, supplied structural steel and installed the perforated metal wall panels. Lámina Desplegada SA de CV, Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, supplied 21,350 square feet of its Ladesa perforated metal wall panels.

Metal composite material (MCM) panels were supplied by ALCOPLA MEXICO Architectural Panel and Metal in Ciudad de Mexico. The company supplied its 4-mm-thick ALCOPLA MCM panels in three colors: 12,750 square feet in Gray Polyester, 10,900 square feet in Silver Metallic and 6,450 square feet in Graphite. Aluminio y Tecnologia de Chihuahua SA de CV (ALTECH) in Ciudad Juarez, installed the metal wall panels, as well as supplied and installed aluminum windows.

Photo: Rafael Gamo

Circulation Network

Behind the angled, striped panels is another part of the development that connects it with the desert climate: stairwells part of an intricate circulation network for foot traffic and vehicle traffic. As occupants move among floors, the layers of the aluminum cladding and perforated metal panels protect occupants from wind, dust and direct sunlight.

Indeed, wind inspired half of the development’s name, Pasaje Ventus, as ventus is wind in Latin. The second half of the name, pasaje, or passage, refers to the circulation network.

The pasajes are interwoven at each level of the development’s five volumes, and at entrances and exits to the buildings. Four volumes have one double-height floor with a mezzanine. A fifth upper volume has two floors. Also, there is a basement level for the whole complex.

“From the access to the complex on the main avenue to the exits at the different points of the project, it promises to generate different experiences in all its convergences,” Urias Garza says. “The vehicular circuit comes into contact with the commercial spaces of the first level and underground level.”

The foot traffic circuit revolves around the plaza in the middle of the five volumes, where there is a fountain and seating, and occupants can enjoy shade. “The pedestrian circuit starts from the façade of the main avenue where a staircase welcomes people to the buildings,” Urias Garza says. “Later, there is a fountain in the center of a public square, which has a triangular design that generates a common space around it, sheltered between the polygonal volumes, thus producing shadows and allowing the creation of a microclimate in the middle of the hot desert.”

To construct the five intricately shaped volumes, Jorge Urias Studio and Pie Redondo SA de CV in Ciudad Juarez, structural steel consultant for the project, designed a combination of two primary steel structures. “The main structure, which supports the upper volume of offices, is composed of a constructive system based on steel columns, joists and concrete slab over corrugated metal; the versatility of this system allows the generation of the terraces, cantilevers and open spaces that characterize the construction,” Urias Garza says. “The secondary structure, which is suspended from the main one, has an exterior corridor along the complete perimeter in steel grating. This generates a service space for the passage of facilities as well as a visual transparency, casting shadows inside the building and offering greater comfort to users with respect to the sunny and hot climate.”

Photo: Rafael Gamo

Photo: Rafael Gamo