Fascinating story featured in the Reveries newsletter earlier this week:
In Mexico City, where some people may be poor but the building codes
are light, a new generation of mostly young architects is "beautifying
blighted urban areas with bold designs," reports Carol Strickland in The Christian Science Monitor
(3/25/05). The situation in Mexico City is very unlike that in the
United States, where "strict oversight can hogtie" architects,
"resulting in "cookie-cutter solutions and a lot of repetition in terms
of the same firms getting the same types of commissions and using the
same materials," notes Rick Bell of the Center for Architecture. "Our
more litigious culture and [regulatory] agencies imbued with a sense of
fiduciary and public trust mean [that] those who commission
architecture aren’t willing to take chances," he says.
Mexico City, however, the scene is so unstructured that young
architects commission their own projects: "They become their own
clients and take their own risks," says Enrique Norten, a U.S.-based
architect who dreamed up a show, "Mexico City Dialogues,"
to document the new "market urbanism" that’s happening in Mexico City.
For example, a firm called Higuera + Sanchez bought "a dilapidated
warehouse in Condesa, a neighborhood in transition to a trendy,
alternative-lifestyle arena." The interior was gutted, creating "studio
lofts — a type of housing that didn’t exist in the city — for young
professionals, singles, and couples without children." The firm then
"negotiated with banks to convince lenders that these units should be
eligible for mortgages (At the time, new apartments were only
two-bedroom units and mortgages were available only to traditional,
two-income families with children.)" The project was innovative in yet
another way, as the design featured a "communal space in the heart of
the building … an interior patio."
Javier Sanchez of Higuera + Sanchez, higuera-sanchez.com,
explains: "To have an open courtyard protected by its own inhabitants
makes it safe." Not only that, but the common area made fast friends of
the residents, who like to have parties there. "By tiny steps, these
buildings propose new forms of making urban life better," says Jose
Castillo, curator of Mexico City Dialogues. "When the state is not able
to provide infrastructure and required services, architects must
develop strategies to meet the needs of citizens." He adds: "How to
address through architectural practice issues of the environment,
traffic, population density and social injustice is relevant anywhere."
In fact, the applicability of "market urbanism" to "other megacities around the globe" will be the subject of a symposium to be hosted by the Center for Architecture, aiany.org, in New York in early May.