After helming Jahn for six years, Mexican architect Francisco González Pulido is making Chicago the epicenter of his own global practice.
Francisco González Pulido cuts a stylish figure at his atelier on the West Side (Portrait by Sam Grant)
Chicago’s snazzy new Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed stadium for Sterling Bay’s Lincoln Yards has nothing on Mexico City’s Estadio Diablos, opening this fall. With its titanic, translucent, trident-shaped roof hovering over volcanic rock-clad columns, the visionary arena looks like it’s about to take off. So is the star profile of its designer, Chicago-based Mexican architect Francisco González Pulido.
With a new namesake atelier headquartered on Chicago’s West Side and offices in Shanghai and Mexico City, Pulido has a bevy of imaginative—and equally epic—structures in construction worldwide that support the likelihood of his future prominence. Ironically, given the Bucktown resident’s 18-year tenure at JAHN—the last nine as Helmut Jahn’s partner—none of them are in Chicago.
“Francisco isn’t as well known here as one would have expected for an architect who has been responsible for so many iconic projects,” says American Institute of Architects Chicago Executive Vice President Zurich Esposito. “But he’s continuing the historical trajectory of gifted Chicago architects creating seminal works worldwide.”
Pulido’s current crop of projects proves the point. Take the Tecnano nanotechnology lab and accelerator in Monterey, Mexico, opening in 2020. Like the Estadio Diablos, it sports a big-personality incandescent roof. But in this case, the membrane sheathes a majestic honeycomb crown instead of a skyrocket-inspired steel framework.
Or consider the Land Rover HQ in Shanghai, the International Cultural Center in Guangzhou, the Shanghai International Financial Center and the Shenzhen Gate office and retail complex, most opening within the next 12 months. With their precise geometric structures, glassy facades, soaring atriums, cantilevering shade screens and integrated greenscapes, all are imaginative, technically ingenious, exquisitely crafted projects that are vibrant, purposeful and sustainable additions to their dense urban settings.
“I’m an architect, but I come from a family of engineers,” says the 48-year-old Pulido, who decided to deviate from the family tradition as a teenager. After matriculating at Mexico’s prestigious Tecnológico de Monterrey, he turned down an offer to head the architecture department of Mexico’s largest construction company, ICA, to spend two years building a prominent CEO’s country estate.
The unsuspecting young architect never dreamed he would learn land development and do a deep dive into engineering along the way. “It was undeveloped land in the middle of nowhere, and the house had huge cantilevers and complicated structural requirements. I had to figure everything out myself,” he says.
FGP’s competition entry for the 2 km-long Harmony Bridge in Guangzhou. (Rendering courtesy of FGP Atelier)
The experience made him an inveterate learner and innovative thinker. After completing the estate, he started his own design-build practice, 2MX3, and racked up prestigious projects like the General Motors HQ in Mexico City. But during that period, he realized what he lacked: deep knowledge and practical skills in fields related to running his practice, such as physics, engineering, materials science and business administration.
His solution was graduate school in architecture. Yale and MIT offered him spots, but Harvard gave him a scholarship and allowed him to cross-register in the areas where he wanted more knowledge. “I wasn’t the best student, but I learned like hell,” he jokes.
That diffidence belies his academic success. His adviser suggested he pursue a job that would tap into his multidisciplinary knowledge and collaborative vision, and introduced him to “archineering,” Helmut Jahn’s concept that combines architecture and engineering. Pulido was hooked and pursued a job at Murphy/Jahn, joining in 1999 as a $10-an-hour intern. Despite his deep experience in the field, “they didn’t know what to do with me,” he admits.
When Pulido’s designs began winning competitions, Jahn figured it out fast; Pulido rose to become Jahn’s partner in 2009 and president of the firm in 2012. His passion to design a broad range of public projects, from luxury skyscrapers to affordable housing, prompted his amicable departure in late 2017. And given the international reception to his visionary work at FGP Atelier, it’s safe to assume we may have a body of Pulido-designed projects dotting the Chicago skyline in the not-too-distant future. FGP Atelier, 1550 W. Carroll Ave., Suite 215