Get Ready for the Incredible Tulum Stop on the Tren Maya
The Tren Maya represents one of the most significant projects of the current administration, not only due to its scale and visibility but also because of the controversy surrounding it. Questions have been raised regarding its actual benefits, the environmental impact it will have, and the safety of its infrastructure. Since its announcement in April 2018, the discussion surrounding the proposal has not ceased.
These concerns prompted Aida Studio, the designer of the station in Tulum, to take a closer look at what was happening in the southeastern region of the country and how the railway project would unfold. “Our interest was to tackle the challenge of responding to this type of project while considering our experience in developing a country and being environmentally conscious,” says Rolando Rodriguez-Leal, co-founder of the architectural firm.
Together with architect Natalia Wrzask, they set out to create a project that aligned with the federal government’s objective of promoting tourism in the area, while incorporating their expertise and integrating the cultural and natural context.
Although the competitions to be part of the Tren Maya had not yet begun, the studio had already developed a proposal based on the published information. They reached out to the National Fund for Tourism Development (Fonatur), who later invited them to participate in the bidding process, and they ultimately won the opportunity to develop the project.
“It was essential to approach the project with sensitivity towards the jungle, the land use, and the site itself, and to truly reflect the architectural context,” explains Rolando Rodriguez-Leal.
In the project renders, it appears that amidst the tropical vegetation, there is only a lightweight covering providing shade to a section of the train tracks. A dynamic, curved structure, as if poised to be carried away by the wind, contrasts with the green surroundings with its brick color, without being a heavy volume that interferes with the rest of the landscape.
Beneath this structure, which becomes the main focal point of the design, there is an architectural program that maintains the same sense of lightness. This impression arises because the station building only serves to house the architectural program without limiting or disconnecting it from its context.
The structure is covered with limestone and Chukum plaster, which is made from resin extracted from an endemic tree of the same name, giving it a sandy finish. The architectural firm intended to incorporate the culture of the Yucatan Peninsula into their design while taking advantage of the materials’ centuries-old resilience to the region’s climate.
Throughout the various components of the design, there are openings for ventilation, conceived as passive technology to reduce the reliance on mechanical ventilation and make the project as sustainable as possible. The lighting design follows the same approach and becomes one of the highlights of the project.
Sunlight filters through the lattice roof with triangular openings, creating a play of light and shadow on the ground, adding an additional element that enhances the space without the need for complex furniture or interior decorations.
The form of the station is not accidental either. “Our priority was to occupy as little land as possible and make it more sensitive. Since the route has been determined to have the best load-bearing capacity of the land, we mounted our station directly on the tracks instead of taking up more space on either side,” details the architect.
This allows most of the building’s elements to be concentrated at the center, in the widest part, without neglecting the corners where commercial spaces are primarily located. These businesses can contribute to the maintenance of the facility.
“Due to the size of the station and specifically in Tulum, it will become an attraction point, regardless of whether the train is used or not. So, we are interested in having the capacity to accommodate the floating population that goes out to eat at a restaurant or cafe,” adds Rodriguez-Leal.
A Key Station
The Tren Maya aims to stimulate the economy in the southeastern region of the country, which has historically lagged behind other parts of the world. In addition to the infrastructure, tourist attraction hubs are being created to encourage visits. However, Tulum is already one of the most attractive destinations in the country.
The station will be located just 1.5 kilometers from the archaeological site, making it one of the most sought-after stops along the entire route.
The project will also be a milestone in the careers of Rolando Rodriguez-Leal and Natalia Wrzask, co-founders of the project. They have previously worked for international firms such as Zaha Hadid Architects and Foster + Partners, where they designed projects like the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi.
However, the studio they now lead was founded in 2018. Aida Studio has been involved in around twenty projects in Asia, the United States, and Europe, but with the Tren Maya, they will begin to leave their mark in Mexico.
Thanks to the location of the Tulum Train Station, the entire design is based on representative motifs of Mayan culture, such as the symmetry of the pyramids and the grandeur present in almost all architectural creations of the ancient civilization. Above all, the use of limestone, faithfully recreated in the station, is a significant aspect.
The cultural heritage is fascinating and intertwines with contemporary architecture, which is not merely about pleasant or functional styles and designs. It encompasses sustainability and the dissemination of the culture that once thrived in southern Mexico, with the aim of creating natural and fully functional spaces that become iconic within the architecture of our time, possibly enduring in terms of both time and practice.
It is estimated that the Tulum Train Station, led by Rolando Rodriguez-Leal and Natalia Wrzask at the helm of Aida Studio, will be completed in 2023, following the commencement of construction in January 2022.
More about Aida Studio here.