Mateo Mantilla: emerging architect


“Architecture needs to be more human,” says Mateo Mantilla (M.Arch; B.F.A., architecture, 2020). “‘Human’ means designed for people, for health, for well-being. It means built environments where we can live better lives together.”

Mantilla is the IDA Design Awards 2021 Emerging Architectural Designer of the Year, the latest accolade for this focused phenom. His winning proposal, Terminale Dell’Isola, was developed over two quarters in studio courses under the guidance and leadership of architecture professor Alice Guess. (The project also received the 2021 “Excellence Award” from AIA Georgia.) Working from Guess’ prompt, Mantilla designed a new building and mixed-use environment for the relocation of an untenable cruise ship terminal in Venice, Italy.

“Sea level rise is challenging the way we design buildings, and in response, my building is designed to float by applying the same concepts of buoyancy that allow ships to float,” Mantilla explains. “When the sea level rises to extreme levels, the building will hover freely. And there is the possibility of expansion through connecting similar modules, creating a floating community.”

As tourism contributes to Venice’s environmental crisis, cruise ships damage buildings’ foundations, and the relationship between Venetians and visitors is exacerbated — issues addressed by Mateo.

“My proposal brings a new opportunity for locals to interact with the tourists,” he says. “It presents a courtyard, market, soccer field, park, café, and performance space, creating places for community.”

Mantilla’s design process is combines hand-drawn drafting and digital tools including Rhino (“which gives me freedom to explore shapes and details”) and Lumion 3D (“which allows me to visualize and ‘walk through’ my design”). This technical skill set is, in Mantilla’s hands, beholden to storytelling.

“I begin with an image in my head. If I were to visit this place, what would I like to see people doing? What do I see? What’s to my left and to my right? I designed a building resembling an island, showing possible aquatic activities, and how people can interact with the water without necessarily being in it.”

What is clear is Mateo’s determination to foreground humanity. His debates with professor Guess signify a commitment to questioning parameters to redefine what’s possible. This is the student-faculty dynamic is as is should be: expansive understanding, not rote execution.

Professor Guess: “Mateo is so bright, he at times needs convincing that there might be additional considerations for him to address. Sometimes I require convincing that his solutions are grounded in good design thinking. It’s one of the things that makes Mateo a delight to have in the classroom. He is remarkably well-organized and brings passion to his work. He began by describing how the project had looked in a dream. That level of immersion is what drives Mateo’s success.”

This spring, Mantilla will complete his Master of Architecture degree. His thesis will focus on designing a neighborhood for his hometown, Bogota, Colombia.

Growing up, Mantilla remembers “watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on TV — I liked the construction, the design, and how much people enjoyed coming home to their new house.” As a high school student in an International Baccalaureate program, he encountered SCAD at a college fair. “I applied to SCAD because I saw I would be surrounded by designers. My world has opened up here more than if I had stayed in Colombia.”

Now, his work advances the idea that value may have a measure other than the financial, and that architecture can aspire towards egalitarianism.

“Architecture has to add value to the lives of people,” Mantilla says. “Architecture is about more than buildings. It’s about giving people a better quality of life.”

See more of Mateo’s work here.

Written by Peter Relic.



SCAD — The Savannah College of Art and Design

SCAD prepares talented students for creative professions through engaged teaching and learning in a positively oriented university environment.