Brise soleils / Rompe sols

You would have thought that modernism and its architecture are dead and gone. But there are a number of hangovers from the open-plan, curtain-wall, horizontal-window, painted-stucco visions of one hundred years ago that are visible in CDMX. For one thing, there are a notable number of Art Deco buildings: painted pink, with plenty of curves, and every metal railing or grille shaped and twisted into a geometric cascade. In fact, the building we are moving into is such a building.

But my favorite are the ubiquitous brise-soleils. The reasons for their ubiquity are the same reasons for the sombras that they themselves are often the sources of. The warm, sunny climate allows for most building envelopes to be quite open and uninsulated, leaving facades with one main task: to break up the sun. Most of the buildings in CDMX are concrete, giving them a lot of thermal mass and preventing them from heating up and cooling down as dramatically as the air outside. The only spot that could undermine that thermal performance is the direct sunlight coming in from the outside. The more you can shade the interior of your building, the more control you will have over its temperature.

Brise soleils are exciting for architects because 1) they are non-load-bearing, which absolves them from carrying anything other than their own weight, and 2) they are flat, which means they can be designed easily and accurately on paper. The design possibilities are endless. They can be integrated or separate, consistent with the building’s material palette or a unique sculptural appendage. To notice the variety of brise soleils (rompe sols for the purposes of this article) is to notice the choices a building has to present itself to the street. This is one of the lasting legacies of 20th century modernism.

-V

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