The city of Tijuana, Mexico, has been struggling for decades to embrace the importance of landscape architecture and sustainable design, and many are just beginning to realize just how important these issues can be to improve the quality of life in the town just south of San Diego.
Paseo Chapultepec is a step in the right direction.
Sotelo Landscape Architects landscaped the new culinary and retail plaza, located in a prosperous section of the city, giving the community a much-needed upscale green environment for dining and leisure.
"Our client wanted to make an example out of this development, believing the success of the shopping center would be driven by the environment we would create," said Angelina Sotelo, ASLA, LEED AP and owner of the landscape architecture firm. "Our design concept was embraced by the clients from day one, and we were given complete freedom of design within a limited, but generous, budget."
The six main buildings are arranged around a central walkway and enhanced with a lush, drought-tolerant landscape and seating areas. Its main fa?ade faces Boulevard Agua Caliente and sits 6 to 8 feet above the sidewalk.
At one end of the plaza is the banking corner, with branches of some of the most important banks in Mexico. This part of the plaza is partially covered with intersecting triangular fabric structures anchored to the building walls.
All entry points converge in the central plaza that is used for concerts and other events. This part of the mall has a water feature as a backdrop and a glass elevator that connects dining areas with movie theaters on the fourth level.
Tijuana has a very limited plant palette and hardly any landscape requirements. The landscape architect installed over 100 trees and dozens of plant species never before seen in that city but commonly found in San Diego. In order to find these and many other plant species, and since it is almost impossible to import them from the U.S., the landscape architecture team traveled to several states in Mexico and handpicked a good amount of the plant material. Team members also worked closely with Vivero San Juan, a local nursery, to find and install all the plants and irrigation system.
Large fiberglass planters were brought in from overseas, but the quality of the planters was so poor that they started leaking and some of the bottoms came loose. To fix this, the landscape team had to empty the planters and add pond liners, drainage inspection pipes and chunks of Styrofoam to lighten the weight of the soil.
The biggest challenge was acquiring all the materials, including amendments, irrigation products, root barriers and plants, the landscape architect said. "Also, the soil is very heavy clay, and we ended up treating the planters almost as if they were a green roof, installing a permeable aggregate layer at the bottom with perforated drains running through all the planters," Sotelo said. "In order for all these things to happen correctly, we were very involved in the construction process, with site visits almost every day."
Another product that is not easily available in Mexico is bark mulch, so the landscape architecture team covered the exposed soil with black volcanic rock, which turned out to be very appropriate and beautiful, she added.
Paseo means promenade, and Chapultepec is the name of the area in the city where the project is located, but the literal meaning of the word is "grasshopper hill." The shopping plaza is located at the base of a hill.
Sotelo, the principal designer and owner, worked for her mentor David Reed, a landscape architect, for 15 years before starting her own landscape firm. The Tijuana shopping center was her very first project as a new business owner, and she received an ASLA San Diego chapter design award in 2014 for the project.
"It was amazing that these people trusted me with such a great project when my firm was just a few days old, and that my first project on my own got us an ASLA award," Sotelo said. "We've grown since, of course, with this project opening the doors for other big clients, and now we are working on other fantastic projects, such as the new five-diamond resort for Viejas Casino and a handful of other casinos and shopping centers. We also do a lot of residential projects, and one of our latest just received the Chula Vista House of the Year Award from Ribbons and Shovels."
- Owner: Salomon Cohen
- Owner's Team: Natalia Zatarain, Brenda Chavez
- Building Architect: Miguel Escobar
- Landscape Contractor: Aurora Lugo, of Vivero San Juan