Meet La Metropolitana, Mexico City’s most prolific design studio
The design mavens talk inspiration, creative process, and uplifting their community
Saturday 1 October 2022 By Jenna Adrian-Diaz
When René Redzepi wanted to bring his three Michelin-star restaurant Noma to a pop-up in Tulum in 2017, he tapped Mexico City-based design studio La Metropolitana to execute it. A dizzying array of high-profile commissions from around the world followed suit.
Noma alumna chef Rosio Sánchez later worked with the studio on two of her Copenhagen restaurants, Hija de Sánchez and Cantina Sánchez. Carsten Höller’s Stockholm restaurant, Brutalisten, opened in May to high praise from tastemakers ranging from Miuccia Prada to artist Precious Okoyomon – and featured Brutalist-inspired industrial design by the studio. In Mexico, they’ve worked with the likes of Enrique Olvera, Gabriela Cámara and more.
But La Metropolitana’s work isn’t defined by its most famous clients. ‘We approach each project as a tool to create an organisation that is working for a social objective,’ cofounder Alejandro Gutiérrez says of the worldview he and cofounders Rodrigo Escobedo and Mauricio Guerrero share. In the following Q&A, Soho House chats with Gutiérrez about empowering communities throughout Mexico, ‘Mexicandinavian’ style, and his advice to rising designers.
How would you describe the studio’s design language, and how it extends to La Metropolitana’s interdisciplinary practice?
‘We were one of the first fully interdisciplinary studios in Mexico. In the last few years we’ve been much more focused on industrial design because we have our own factories. This was the plan from the beginning: to be able to control 360 degrees of our business from production to sale.
‘Beyond form and function, what gives rise to our work is purpose. Through a rational design proposal, we seek to integrate tradition, technology and the avant-garde into a product connected with a profound social objective. The first function that our products must cover has to do with improving the quality of life of those who produce them through our social responsibility project, Metta.’
Can you tell us more about Metta?
‘We are addressing the problem of internal migration in Mexico by teaching carpentry to people in search of better living conditions. They learn at our factory in CDMX and then return to a satellite workshop in their place of origin, where they are no longer our employees; they own the shop with us. We opened the first workshop for associados in Xocotla in the state of Veracruz with six carpenters, and now there are 36. We just opened the second one in Acambay, Estado de México with six carpenters, and we hope to open three more in the coming year.’
How does that initiative fit into the studio’s approach to craft and workmanship?
‘Ours is a very sophisticated language that involves two different stages in the process of production. The first stage has to do with machines, like the CNC, and technology. The second is craft: weaving, sanding. It’s very artisanal work.
‘René Redzepi (chef-owner of Noma) said that our new furniture was the perfect Mexicandinavian style. I think it’s very accurate to describe it in that way because we share with Scandinavian design the very subtle yet defined lines. At the same time, we have the Mexican craft and way of doing things. One of the main characteristics of our furniture is that we use no nails. Every joint we use is designed by us through a very specific analysis of form.’
La Metropolitana finds inspiration in movements across places and time, like Brutalism and the Shakers. What perspective does the studio bring to these established paradigms?
‘In the case of the Brutalist collection, there was a very open and straight dialogue with Carsten Höller. There were several different requirements; one was that the collection needed to be stackable. We decided to translate what Brutalism has represented in architecture into a chair using wood, the main material that we use, and not changing our process.
‘If you see the chairs, there are gestures of Brutalism in the angles of the arms and in the seat. When you see them all stack, they create these sculptures.
‘I think what that collection brings to the table is the way we’re speaking of Brutalism in industrial design. I don’t want to say it has never been done before, but there was a big pause. We started that conversation again and created a very strong relationship with the restaurant’s architecture and furniture.’
Have any clients referenced outright your work with Noma, or Rosio Sánchez’s restaurants?
‘A lot of chefs reached out [after Noma] because they really liked the idea that we were collaborating with a specific company to design these pieces that, in the beginning, were not even supposed to be part of our catalogue. They were very curious about the collaboration between the design studio and the restaurant. A lot of chefs, like Enrique Olvera, Gabriela Cámara, Michael Tusk and Elena Reygadas reached out. In the end, we designed for quite a few of them.’
What advice do you have for up-and-comers in Mexico City’s creative community?
‘The main advice that I can give is to find your true purpose. Don't pursue the amazing portfolio, the amazing projects; they will come eventually. If you have a very clear purpose, whatever that is – hopefully it’s going to benefit others – but as long as you have a purpose and work hard, then the glamorous things will come.’