While Modulo Prep Library’s footprint may be small and its construction budget tiny, its mission is anything but. Instead, the library, located in Tijuana, Mexico, and designed by CRO Studio partners Adriana Cuéllar and Marcel Sanchez (along with a design team of Gabriela Bendeck, Arturo González and Joseph Ruiz Tapia), represents a major re-thinking of the idea and function of a library and its role in a public space. So compelling was the project and the ideas behind it recently received the 60th annual Progressive Architecture Award.
At just under 2,400 square feet and a budget of $130,000, the government-funded project had to serve several roles. “The intentions go beyond the idea of a traditional library,” notes Cuéllar, who’s from Tijuana and holds teaching positions at Woodbury University, San Diego; University of California, San Diego; and New School for Architecture. “It’s in a very poor community, so the library becomes a place where residents can access information and a place of interaction and social community and integration.”
Besides housing the more traditional trappings of a library—books and computers—the site incorporates features that transform it into a civic hub. Inside, there’s a seating area inside that doubles as a meeting space; outside, one of the building’s walls becomes an amphitheater’s projection surface. Says Sanchez, who is also from Tijuana and is a professor at Woodbury University, San Diego, “There was a platform of functions that were already there—and things that were needed. We had to hybridize these spaces.”
Though its program is far-reaching, Sanchez notes that the project “had to be minimally invasive for maximum impact. We were trying to come back to how it’s used and how to be functional and pragmatic.” The masonry construction fits into the surrounding landscape. Blank walls will provide a space for inevitable graffiti and mirror the murals on surrounding structures. An existing open-air market continues to operate just outside the library’s doors.
For Cuéllar and Sanchez, the award means more than just another laurel for the pair. “What’s important is the recognition for the city and what it’s trying to accomplish,” notes Cuéllar. Adds Sanchez, “It helps institutions believe in these types of projects and this area.”