Tezontle, part architecture practice and part creative studio based in Mexico City, was founded by Carlos Matos and Lucas Cantú in 2015. Walking into the studio, you feel as if you have stepped into a mini-Smithsonian filled with objects that feel as if they have come from ancient times of Latin America. The space is filled with artifacts, some designed by Tezontle, and others inspiration for their work. We sat down with the two founders, shared some mezcal, and spoke about their inspirations and how they began Tezontle.
Pour yourself a glass of mezcal, turn on the Madre Playlist Tezontle has crafted, and dive into the world of Carlos and Lucas.
What are your names and where are you from?
Carlos Matos and Lucas Cantú and we are both Mexican.
What is Tezontle?
TEZONTLE IS THE NAME OF OUR PRACTICE. THE WORD COMES FROM A TYPE OF VOLCANIC STONE YOU FIND ALL ACROSS CENTRAL MEXICO IN A VARIETY OF RED AND PURPLE HUES. IT IS A WORD FROM THE NAHUATL AZTEC LANGUAGE, AND THIS MATERIAL WAS USED IN BUILDINGS FROM THE PRE-HISPANIC ERA TO THE SPANISH COLONIAL PERIOD, AND STILL USED IN RECENT MODERN TIMES. WE LIKE THE HISTORIC CONNECTIONS THAT THIS STONE ENCAPSULES, SPARKING A LOT OF WHAT WE REFERENCE AND STUDY AT THE STUDIO. TODAY, WE ARE A TEAM OF 12 PEOPLE INCLUDING ARCHITECTS, SCULPTORS AND CARPENTERS. WE GROW AND SHRINK DEPENDING ON OUR WORKFLOW.
Are you guys artists, designers or architects or all of the above?
WE ARE TRAINED ARCHITECTS BUT WE LIKE TO THINK OF OURSELVES AS SCULPTORS, AND WE ALWAYS TAKE IT FROM THERE, EVEN THOUGH OUR CREATIVE OUTPUT MIGHT BE A HOUSE, A LAMP FIXTURE OR A NON-FUNCTIONAL ABSTRACT CONCRETE PIECE. OUR SCULPTURES CAN BECOME ARCHITECTURAL COMPONENTS AND A MATERIAL EXPLORATION IN A SMALL SCALE PIECE THAT COULD INFORM THE MATERIALITY OF A WHOLE BUILDING. WE ARE IMPROVISING AND DEFINING OUR PRACTICE AS WE GO. EVERYTHING INFORMS EVERYTHING, AND WE LOVE THIS BACK AND FORTH BETWEEN THE REALMS OF ARCHITECTURE AND ART.
What is the inspiration for your work and design?
Tezontle’s practice is research based. We feel very inspired by our Mexican heritage from ancient cultures up to modern times. We have a big library composed of old books on Mexican subjects; mostly craft, architecture, design, modern and primitive art. A lot of what we study and read somehow ends up manifesting in our work. We also collect found objects and pieces from flea markets, which we then use in our explorations creating material collages and table arrangements that function as reference boards.
In Mexico, we have amazing examples of artists and architects whose work reflected a contemporary practice combined with ancient Mexico, such as Diego Rivera, Juan O’ Gorman, Luis Barragan and Mathias Goeritz. We like to believe Tezontle is playing in this same field presenting a practice that is current, yet very much informed by the past. Mexican roots combined with influences of international figures like the modern masters of sculpture: Brancusi, Noguchi, Modigliani, Jean Arp and architects like Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Kahn, Adolf Loos, Rennie Mackintosh, Josef Hoffmann, Carlo Scarpa to name a few.
It seems as if your work has indigenous inspiration, what is your attachment to the past?
Our studio is based in downtown Mexico City, literally on top of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. We are surrounded by history and a energy that we cannot ignore. We first started thinking about Tezontle while taking long walks in the historic center and through numerous visits to the anthropology museum. We thought, “Wait a minute… Why don’t we just start from here? Why is no one looking at all these amazing narratives we are standing on top off?”
We never wanted to be good-taste designers, so we try to create our own story. We feel that this way of thinking and working, and this language we created called Tezontle, is no longer pushed by us but on the contrary, it is pulling us.
How do you choose the materials you use in your work?
We are always scouting for material inspiration on the streets, in nature, in our travels or even on the surface of a small rock, and then we try to emulate them in our studio. We experiment doing casts with all sorts of aggregates, pigments and different experimental procedures to generate materials and finishes. Sometimes we need to refine it to make it structural and functional for a building or a sculpture piece. We are very interested in corrosion and the pátina generated over time, so we try to promote that in our explorations.
What was the inspiration for your playlist?
It’s basically what our studio sounds like. We try to keep it zen and peaceful.
(LISTEN TO THE TEZONTLE PLAYLIST HERE)
If you could share a glass of mezcal with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?
We would sit down with two of our heroes: Leonard Cohen and Juan O’ Gorman. Even though they come from completely different fields and backgrounds, they were incredible human beings and amazing thinkers, almost philosophers. We would love to have deep conversations with them about life, purpose and the mysteries of the universe over a few glasses of the finest mezcal.
Follow the many explorations of Tezontle HERE.