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Indigenous-Inspired Design to Help Future-Proof Tulum’s New Train Station

Aidia Studio’s pre-Hispanic Mayan-inspired design is a much-needed evolutionary twist on current architecture that will help ensure the survival of the Mexican city’s transport links during increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

Tulum, Mexico is no stranger to the shifting weather patterns that are being seen around the world. Like many other parts of the world, the popular vacation destination — located on the Yucatán Peninsula — is experiencing a growing number of tropical storms and hurricanes due to climate change, which cause all of the city’s transport to grind to a halt.

But the prospect of stopping all transport operations during extreme weather events isn’t feasible long term. To deal with these increasingly frequent conditions, Mexico City-based architecture firm Aidia Studio has revealed a much-needed, future-proof upgrade to Tulum’s train station. The structure, designed to withstand the climatic changes, also prioritizes sustainability and user experience whilst infusing elements of pre-Hispanic Mayan design.

“Currently, when a hurricane hits, all transport operations are ground to a halt; and depending on the strength, people may need to be evacuated and the physical infrastructure secured,” Rolando Rodriguez-Leal, the studio's founder, told Sustainable Brands. “We needed to design the station in such a way that it resists the fury and strength of very strong winds, whilst at the same time ensuring the design and operations have a minimal impact on the environment.”

Therefore, Aidia Studio’s indigenous-inspired design elements — which more and more forward-thinking designers are turning back to wisdom when it comes to climate-resilient design — are a much-needed, evolutionary twist on current architecture that will help ensure the survival of Mexico’s transport links.

“The station is designed as an open-air facility, glazed only at strategic locations to shelter from the rain,” Rodriguez-Leal says. “It aims to let as much breeze and airflow through the halls and platforms as possible.” This aerodynamic geometry, reminiscent of traditional Mayan geometric patterns, is an effective way to organically cool the station without the need for mechanical ventilation; the roof will suction in a breeze and channel it through the main hall creating a natural passage for air — a critical design element, with heatwaves also expected to increase in the Yucatán Peninsula.

Image credit: Aidia Studio

The aerodynamic design also provides a high level of resilience to hurricanes: “Our design has little resistance to the high-force winds of a hurricane; and so, any possible damage to the station is minimized,” Rodriguez-Leal added.

Aidia Studio wanted to ensure that the station does not interfere with Tulum’s unspoilt surroundings, taking up as little space as possible in the landscape — the station is 200m long, but the bulk of functions (including a mezzanine with restaurants and shops) are concentrated at the center, giving the station its characteristic oval shape as seen from above.

Rodriguez-Leal says user experience was also central to the design process: “We wanted to focus on the user, crafting an intuitive experience defined by the uniqueness of the surroundings and its natural beauty.” Tying into Tulum’s heavenly charms, the station aims to evoke a sensory experience for the user, mimicking elements of pre-Hispanic and colonial cities.

“Throughout the Yucatán peninsula, in both pre-Hispanic and colonial cities such as Mérida or Valladolid, there is a wonderful, centuries-old tradition which includes the use of limestone and the manipulation of light through screens or celosías for intimacy and shade,” Rodriguez-Leal explains. This inspiration can clearly be seen throughout the aesthetics of the station and through the manipulation of light, shadows and patterns, with the roof mimicking Mayan carvings and sculptures. “We have curated each journey through the station, aiming to create a poetic experience using light, shadows, use of materials, vegetation and textures.”

For the rendering of the walls, floors and ceilings, the station will use chukum tree resin as a binder; the resin will be mixed with the fine sand of limestone to create a rendering mix with waterproof properties, Rodriguez-Leal told us. “We have also embraced the use of tropical woods from renewable sources to add warmth and texture to the space.”

Making adaptions to current architecture and building design is crucial as the world prepares for climate change. Rodriguez-Leal hopes that the Tulum Train Station — construction of which is set to begin in January 2022 and should be complete by end of 2023 — will inspire and promote the use of sustainable technologies and passive design strategies in future infrastructure projects.