The Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao doesn’t have a signature building style that’s instantly recognizable. She’s not a top-down diva who designs grand sculptural statements by computer. Instead, Bilbao is singularly engaged with how the world is made and how people interact with her projects. Thriving on input, she prioritizes listening, documenting, and collaborating, a process that begins with her handmade, collaged drawings, which are, she says, “the first sentence in a conversation about architecture.” Bilbao’s egalitarian approach—a change in the traditional paradigm—is winning notice. “Architecture from Outside In,” an exhibition on Bilbao opening today at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, features her expansive concept for a Hunters Point master plan.
Bilbao was born in 1972 and grew up in Mexico City, where she studied at the Universidad Iberoamericana. A first job as an adviser to the Mexico City Department of Housing and Urban Development ignited Bilbao’s mission to create humane solutions for the country’s poorest. Bilbao invited the architect Jacques Herzog to Mexico, and he was impressed, he has said, with the “young, open-minded, interesting person [she was]” and with her approach to the problems of her city. He invited her to collaborate on two projects with Ai Weiwei in China and then on affordable housing in France. In subsequent schemes with her Tatiana Bilbao Estudio—a botanical garden, government housing, a pilgrimage route, a church, a monastery, a skyscraper “village,” an aquarium, even something as simple but urgent as a safe passage through a dangerous urban park—Bilbao has imported her ideology of inclusion, privileging local elements in novel ways and making the projects themselves agents of change and community.