What better place to interview Mexican-American architect Joe Sánchez than the ecological residence Nemi Eco Villa? The first villa he designed and built in Puerto Vallarta, it comprises a combination of recycled materials, including reused shipping containers, steel, aluminum and wood, among others, one of the properties at the leading edge of sustainable development in our city.
Upon our arrival at the stunning property, Sánchez welcomed us into the main area, a semi-open loft space that overlooks a natural pool with greenery. “I love to establish a relationship between the interior and exterior, with no sense of a dividing line,” he says.
Although born in Ciudad Guzmán, Jalisco, Sánchez has spent most of his life in Chicago. He currently resides in Puerto Vallarta and is working on the construction of The Summit, a condominium project represented by Tropicasa Realty. It is the second building in the region using the container model that characterizes Nemi Eco Villa and will include a variety of other ecological features, such as solar energy, LED lighting, a wall with edible vegetation, waste water recycling for irrigation and cleaning, air conditioning with inverter technology and other eco-friendly amenities.
Sánchez was trained as an architect at the University of Illinois, in Chicago, and the National School of Architecture of Versailles, in France. With almost 20 years of experience in real estate development in both the United States and Mexico, among his most notable projects are the 32-story Park Alexandria condominium building and remodeling Casa Jalisco, both in Chicago.
In 2007, he moved to Puerto Vallarta, which he found to be the ideal location for sustainable development, thanks to its favorable climate, exuberant natural environment and construction prices similar to those in the United States. Hence, he founded Max Living and Design, the company he now runs that has allowed him to actualize his designs.
Although a graduate of internationally recognized architectural schools, Sánchez admits that his knowledge in the field of green building was self-taught, by independently researching trends in the sector. Nemi Eco Villa and The Summit are the result of such studies and include a number of ecologically responsible features used in countries at the forefront of this field.
“These subjects are not taught in school. In the United States there are many more restrictions regarding what can be built and the materials that can be used. That is one of the advantages of building in Mexico; you have much more creative freedom and architectural possibilities,” he says.
The idea of recycling used shipping containers came from the “tiny houses” popular in the United States and Europe. In addition to using containers as the foundation of its design, Nemi Eco Villa incorporates various elements that reduce environmental impact: a layout that optimizes natural ventilation and illumination, construction staggered on the hill that uses retaining walls and requires little excavation, solar panels, natural pool with UV filters and sand filtration, treatment of gray water for later use in irrigation and furniture made from wood salvaged from construction.
When asked what a real estate development needs to be considered sustainable, Sánchez explains that green initiatives must begin during the planning stage. “Sustainable development must be genuine. In marketing, the term ‘greenwashing’ refers to a common phenomenon where buildings are advertised as ecologically friendly but in reality have only certain elements that were added at the end of construction and do not represent the basis of the design.”
He believes it is extremely important that the market in Puerto Vallarta begin to demand more of these amenities in developments, as that will automatically trigger a greater offering of sustainable properties. Among the benefits this type of real estate affords residents is the reduction of maintenance fees, so that even though the initial investment may be greater, future savings compensate.
In addition to his commitment to the environment, architectural innovation is Sánchez’s other motivation to develop in this way. “We have almost half a century of building with towers and concrete. For me, this is a way to see what alternatives we have and explore other possibilities.”
The latest sustainable development designed by Sánchez, The Summit is currently under construction on Calle Allende, in Puerto Vallarta’s El Centro neighborhood. It will feature two- and three-bedroom units, with amenities to include a terrace with heated pool, bar, lounge, 24-hour security and parking. A great alternative for buyers who are committed to the environment, more information on its ecological characteristics is available by calling Tropicasa Realty at (322) 222-6505.