You have to be Mexican or at least hablar español to get a sense of the full-cheese wonder in this, but just the soundtrack might give you an idea. It's shocking to see how ghetto Mexican Modernity looked back in 1994. I wonder if these were shot before the crash.
On my screen there is a ribbon of green parcels in the middle of the desert. The ribbon is cut through by a gray blob. I do a zoom-in, and distinguish the Rio Bravo/Grande, a couple of hills, dry land and the gray blob that is Ciudad Juárez. The river is in fact a fortified concrete canal. To the north, El Chamizal looks like an impacted wisdom tooth trying to grow out of the city. The park is dry. There is an abstract rounded monument sitting empty, baking under the sun (in the satellite view, the canal/river/border is also and abstract rounded monument of sorts). Ant-cars avoid the Chamizal like it was a big puddle of oil, bound for the South or the East. I follow them with my cursor. The Avenida Américas unwinds in bows and roundabouts. Empty lots, bus stops, parking spots. A 13ft-tall Abraham Lincoln stands alone in his tiny square. In the map, El Paso and Juárez are brought together by Francisco (Pancho) Villa and divided by Cuatro Siglos (Four Centuries). Further down, Pancho Villa becomes Juan Gabriel. (Here they’ve found a bunch of women’s bodies. The eje must be packed with pink crosses in real life.) On the other side of town, Av. Industrias becomes Jaime Bermúdez, in the middle you have Av. Panamericana, Lincoln and other more generic names:16 de Septiembre, Lic. Adolfo López Mateos… Back to the satellite view. Zoom-in. Eje Juan Gabriel is covered with white patches. So is Av. Bermúdez. The maquilas and warehouses. A little further down and to the right, the only real green patch in all of the city: the golf club where Don Jaime and his kids probably live. Zoom. A subdivision dotted with McMansions and swimming pools. Click to the left. I wonder where the Pueblo Amigo is. I can’t tell if there’s a shopping center that "resembles a traditional Mexican pueblo” or not. Another thing I don’t see are the “nuclear cemeteries”, or toxic waste dumps. I discover the Museum of Art and History, a fossil on the corner of the Plaza de las Américas’s parking lot, like some cheap, minor ornamental landscape feature. Under that gigantic white tank of a mall probably lie the remains of the Pronaf.
I will be attending my very first Docomomo conference --in Mexico City, no less-- next year. Very excited. Will be posting some of my notes on this here blog. My basic premise is Ciudad Juárez as model Modern City. Tasty, don't you think?
Let's begin with a little quote from Bolaño's 2666:
The city was very poor, with most streets unpaved and a sea of houses assembled out of scrap…they discovered rail lines and slum soccer fields surrounded by shacks, and they even watched a match, without getting out of the car, between a team of the terminally ill and a team of the starving to death, and there were two highways that led out of the city, and a gully that had become a garbage dump, and neighborhoods that had grown up lame or mutilated or blind, and, sometimes, in the distance, the silhouettes of industrial warehouses, the horizon of the maquiladoras. The city, like all cities, was endless.
My only crime is to have been born and living on the streets or being abandoned. I didn’t ask to be born, and despite your indifference and your beatings, the only thing I ask of you is whatever is left of your love. I don’t want to suffer anymore, surviving the world is only a matter of horror! Help me, please!
How is Mexico City different from other oceanic spaces? Amid the steam of tamale stalls, the smell of epazote, and the cries of street vendors, there's a sense of deferred tragedy, our preferred strategy for coping with chaos.
Juan Villoro, "The Metro".
Despite the historical persistence and consistency of critiques such as these, mocking uniformity, sneering at shoddy construction, and decrying the absence of taste (or worse), a substantive history of suburban aesthetics—the criteria according to which society has judged the design and appearance of suburban dwellings and landscapes—remains to be written.
John Archer, "Suburban Aesthetics is Not an Oxymoron"
I like John Berger's synthesis of the role of the PRI in the history of twentieth-century Mexico:
And so I come to the point. The ravine between the vast field of broken promises and the popular expectations of more justice had somehow to be filled in, and the main political parties, beginning with the PRI (Party of the Institution of Revolution!), have carried this out for seventy years by making rubble of what had once been a political language. Broken promises, broken premises, broken propositions, broken laws. Every principle — except that of self-interest — was emptied of meaning.
I often wonder about the relationship between modernization and distortion.
In the late 1990s, as the 70-year single-party rule of the PRI came close to crumbling apart, desperate architectural measures were taken to provide a fresh layer of self-legitimizing spatial balm. A common feature in the party's attempted expiatory landscape was the monument to Colosio, the officialist presidential candidate murdered while running for office in 1994, in the dusty hills on the outskirts of Tijuana.
The PRI loves monuments. The party was born out of the need to incorporate post-revolutionary dissidence and end bloodshed. Monumentalization was a great strategy. Once dead, anyone could fit into the great "Revolutionary Family" and have a statue dedicated to them.
"Plastic integration" (i.e. architectural pastiche incorporating various techniques —scuplture, muralism, etc.— and styles in a single project) is often considered one of the peculiar features of Mexican modernism. But another defining trait is political integration (or co-option). After all, architecture is also frozen (and usually falsified) politics.
This is lovely Culiacán Rosales, hometown of the Sinaloa Cartel and cradle of Mexican narquitectura.
But nothing encapsulates the taste for flare and the constant nearness to death that are distinguishing features of the local drug-trade culture like the town's funerary architecture:
This is the tomb of the famous slain banda singer, Valentín "El Gallo" Elizalde
Why do we despise certain buildings? Because they are poorly designed? Obnoxiously scaled? Due to their violent disregard for their surroundings? Maybe just because they've displaced older, possibly more valuable or endearing buildings for the sake of progress (oh the tired and lame excuse)? What about all of the above?
Not content with shutting down the most spectacular, most massive and glitziest gay club in Mexico City (five years ago my bf and I kissed for the very first time in the earlier location of the very same club in the Colonia Roma) the realtors and developers behind the Torre Reforma have stripped the city of another little piece of history and spirit.
And all for what? Well, to build the tallest building (oh the even more tired and lame excuse) in (drumroll)... Latin America! Woo-f*ckin'-hoo.
Ta-da! The Torre Reforma, to be completed in 2011
If you think the hulky horror is ugly on top, wait till you see the bottom!
Cataloged building under the Torre Reforma. The XIXth-century casona was the former home of the Living Reforma gay club.
This is historic preservation, Mexico City style.
Oh, and for all of those architects out there cheering this feat of humbug modernity, just so you know, they didn't only tear down the parking lot nextdoor to build the thing. They also threw in a little 1940's Luis Barragán apartment building, just for the fun of it.
Luis Barragán, Rio Elba 56 apartment building, now demolished. Photo by thom's'
International Sanctuary of the Light of the World Church, Guadalajara, Mexico
Don't worry. You haven't typed "blogpsot" instead of "blogspot".
Alternative religiousness can be a scary. Think Waco or Heaven's Gate. Even when cult suicide isn't involved, modern sects can still be seriously unsettling. And fun to watch.
Temple in Honduras
As I've said before, the early nineties were crazy times for Mexico, with economic and political upheavals having a serious resonance in popular religiousness, with its range of urban and architectural imprints.
Temple in Córdoba, Veracruz, Mexico
We have our own corporate mega-sect to thank for giving us one of the country's wackiest home-grown architectural styles, ever. The Iglesia de Dios, Columna y Apoyo de la Verdad, Jesús La Luz del Mundo (Church of God, Column and Pillar of Truth, Jesus the Light of the World, or just Light of the World, for short) could be a Mexican equivalent of Scientology.
Temple in León, Guanajuato, Mexico
Founded in 1926 by a self-proclaimed apostle of Christ from Monterrey, Aarón Joaquín González, the cult has reportedly grown to have over 1.5 million followers in Mexico and another 3 or 4 million in the rest of Latin America and other countries.
Another shot of the International Sanctuary
Their main temple, the International Sanctuary in the Hermosa Provincia (Fair Province) neighborhood of Guadalajara (Mexico's second-largest city) seats 12,000 people, occupies 15,500 sqm, and has an 88m-high tower — and it's one of the more sober examples.
The sect is extremely controversial. Not only is it constantly being attacked by the zealous Mexican Catholic Church, but other grave accusations have also been made against it for all sorts of reasons: fraud, shady political activities and even narco-money laundering. Judging by the organization's taste in architecture, it makes perfect sense.
Photos found at the Luz del Mundo Skycrapercity thread. For more, visit the mañanarama tumblr
Francisco Borbolla and Luis Lelo de Larrea, Monumento a la Raza, Mexico City, 1940
Mexicanista scholars love to talk and write about the Arquitectura de la Revolución, the nationalist-cum-statist architectural production spawned by the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), which supposedly thrived at least until the late sixties.
But what exactly is this “Architecture of the Revolution” anyway? Generally speaking, I would say this notion applies to:
1– A set of both abstract incursions (identitarian pursuits, speculative representations of the National, a reconciliation between localism and universalism, tradition and modernity, etc.) and concrete efforts (the incorporation of technical innovation, new architectural typologies, formal and stylistic clashes, etc.) that
defined the limits of architectural practice in Mexico during this period.
2– The consolidation of a “revolutionary” architectural agenda and of a State monopoly over the true, legitimate Architecture of the Revolution.
A couple of months ago I had a little spell of déjà vu at my local Barcelona bookstore. I was looking through the architecture novelties section, bored and disillusioned, till I spotted the following disturbing cover:
The kitschy artwork and the melodramatic title seemed terribly familiar. In the spirit of the classical Mexican monografía — a moralistic, sentimental graphic cultural artifact that I will further analyze in a future post — this biographical Corbu comic written by Fernando Gay and illustrated by María I. Camberos was originally printed in Mexico City, by Editorial Novaro, in 1966.
An obscure — possibly ersatz — publishing house, Editorial Massilia (the name of the ship on board of which Le Corbusier crossed the Atlantic in his first trip to the Americas, in 1929), has a facsimile edition circulating all over Spain, apparently.
Image results for "Mexico" and "Modern" in Life magazine
The town of New Guerrero being constructed, showing the modern, ranch style houses, 1953
Double decker bus on modern highway from Cuernavaca to Mexico City, 1958
A modern Mayan youth, 1947
Modern food market named `Mercado de La Merced', 1958
Modern store in Mexico City, 1958
Excellent picture of the "New Look" of the city showing modern office buildings, 1958
Modern sculpture at the Mexican Art Exhibit, Paris, 1952
Seen from top of modern building whose roof is playground for children, 1958
Polynesian restaurant "Mauna Loa" featuring pink flamingoes in sunken pit, 1958
Central Airport building where musicians entertain travelers, 1958