A render of Xinatli, a planned research museum in the Mexican rainforest (all renders by bloomimages and bloomrealities, courtesy of Studio Viktor Sørless)

A planned research museum in Mexico will sprout from rainforest soil as a reimagined stepped pyramid.

Founded by the Mexican art collector and environmental activist Fernanda Raíz, the museum will be located on the edge of southern Mexico’s tropical jungle. The structure, designed by Norwegian-German Studio Viktor Sørless and Mexican Estudio Juiñi, will include exhibition halls, art pavilions, and a scientist-run land institute that will focus its research on biodiversity and combating climate change.

Called Xinatli, the museum takes its name from the Nahuatl word “xinachtli,” which describes the moment a seed germinates in the soil. Its stated mission is to “utiliz[e] art and aesthetic perception, an ecologically oriented way of building, and a cultural engagement with the other to help preserve the permanence of all life on our planet.”

A render of Xinatli, a museum and research institute built “with earth, not against it.”
The concept of the Mesoamerican stepped pyramid was reinterpreted to place visitors “eye-to-eye with nature”

“Until now, museums have usually been a space where power is put on display,” said Raíz, who also runs an environmental foundation, in a press release. “A museum of the 21st century should not be a showcase of power, but a place that defends an equity: in ecology, in art and society.”

The museum will be located in a 90-hectare (~2.5 acres) expanse of cleared forest, previously stripped bare by illegal logging. The area will be reforested in the coming years as part of the project. Through its facilities, the museum hopes to provide a “counterweight to sectoral perspectivism and the exhaustion of nature as a resource.”

For the construction, Sørless will use ecological methods that utilize soil and wood load-bearing elements in an approach geared towards building “with earth, not against it.”

Inspired by local traditional construction techniques, Chukum resin and sisal fiber will be used to increase the weather resistance and tensile strength of the structure, helping it cope with the tropical conditions of the rainforest. The land will also be refined according to the knowledge of local craftspeople, and instead of uprooting trees to use the wood for the framework, trees will be planted as “living supports” of the structure.

The design recalls the Mesoamerican stepped pyramids of the Olmecs, Maya, and Aztecs. However, the concept of the stepped pyramid has been reinterpreted to symbolically dissociate Xinatli from the power and hierarchy that these structures often symbolized.

A wider view of Xinatli. The museum will be located in an area of cleared forest, impacted by illegal logging, which will be reforested in the coming years as part of the project

“The step pyramid is a symbol of a class society, the split between the rich at the top and the poor at the bottom. Our design deconstructs this hierarchy,” Viktor Sørless explained in a statement.

To convey this message, the lowest and widest plinth of the pyramid was raised from the base to the center of the structure, leveled with the crowns of the tallest trees, to place visitors “eye-to-eye with nature.”

Though it represents a sustainable fusion between indigenous architecture and modern engineering, Xinatli was not designed to last forever.

“It needs to be looked after, otherwise, it will degrade,” Sørless said. “This element of transience acknowledges that life is a process of growing, perishing and becoming — and that we humans can make a conscious decision about how we treat our environment.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...