Innovative Architecture

Alumnus Armando Ramos has brought sweeping changes to international architecture through his work, first at Gehry Technologies and now FREE New York.

By Jennifer Eberbach

The façade of Museo Soumaya in Mexico City towers above visitors, leaving the impression that its anvil shape is moving, almost as if the hexagon-meshed surface is alive. “There was no precedent in Latin America for something like this,” explains Armando Ramos M.Arch. ’03, who then worked for Gehry Technologies. “The curvatures are very complex in the 360-degree wraparound façade.”

Architect Fernando Romero of the design company FREE wanted a repeating hexagon shape to cover the art museum but knew that if the measurements were off, the surface would not interlock correctly. Ramos worked with Romero to solve the construction of the museum’s complicated façade. “We ended up with 42 families of hexagons that fit together perfectly,” Ramos says of the project, which was completed in earlier this year.

“I think it will change architecture, not only in Latin America but worldwide. It set a precedent for 3-D design processes,” he continues. His work was so astounding, in fact, that it prompted Romero to hire Ramos to oversee business operations and direct FREE’s New York office, where he will capitalize on the opportunities Romero has received as a result of the project.

Creating a Sense of Place

Ramos is enjoying the day-to-day responsibilities of his new position. “Right now, I’m working with a team to design a whole city. I also switch to projects on a much smaller scale, all in the same day. I love the back-and-forth,” he says.

When Ramos finished his degree at NewSchool of Architecture and Design (NSAD), he already had experience in development, business management, and marketing: He had started his own studio in Mexico City at the age of 23 and worked for AVRP Studios. But it was his education at NSAD that inspired him to think about architecture differently.

“Thinking back to my thesis project on social housing in Baja, I realize I had really good instructors who asked questions I’d never thought of before. At first, I presented a design for a single unit that could be repeated. The feedback I got was that it was too much like a factory,” he explains. “I started playing around with music and I ended up designing six different façades, each representing a musical note. The variations gave it a ‘place-making’ feeling.”  

Social housing and architecture with “place-making” in mind are concepts Ramos explores in his new position. “It’s about a social strategy. We think about how buildings impact people’s surroundings, what they need from places, and how developments will grow,” he says.

One of his current projects includes a museum inspired by the Mayan pyramids, which Ramos says has the potential to create a contemporary arts scene. “It’s possible to make it a cultural hub with artist lofts, a mixed-used center, and a plaza for events,” he says. “The possibilities are exciting.”

Former dean Gil Cooke was also a key player in Ramos’s education. “Dean Cooke has been a good friend and mentor. He was the first person who believed in me when I arrived in the States,” Ramos recalls. “Now, when I have a career decision or personal decision, Gil is someone I call immediately.”

Ramos believes that NSAD is open and experimental. “You have some of the best practitioners in the city involved in the school,” he says. “It’s amazing.”

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