Born to go to Mexico City, “La Capital”

LS-Aztec_inspired

Leni aspired to Mexicana status, here pictured in red dress with Aztec-inspired embroidery

Growing up in Los Angeles Spanish language study started in 5th grade.  We created our own Spanish books – mine was over-sized with a hard cover surfaced in canvas and splatter paint.  the binding was tied with leather thong.  In my imagination, Mexico was associated with music, rich colors, copper metal, a land of deserts, carvings and people who were so fascinating that they spoke a different language than me.  I had a wish to be Mexicana.  Above all I wanted to visit Mexico City.

So, when Jeffrey Miller, President of IALD texted a request from China about my interest in speaking on City Beautification in Mexico City I was thrilled!

This city of great layered history — and pre-history –was opened to me through the inimitable process of Dérive, with my constant companion and explorer, Mark Kramer.

Ciudad de México is inhabited by 8,836,045 inhabitants (2008 figure, Wikipedia) and Greater Mexico City has a population exceeding 19 million people, making it the second largest metropolitan area in the Americas and the third largest agglomeration in the world (Wikipedia).

IALD Conference on Sustainable Design at CIHAC

Convention Center

Expo CIHAC (Centro Impulsor de la Construccion y la Habitacion) was held on October 13-17th, 2009 at the Banamex Convention Center, Mexico City.  The Expo is the most important construction exhibition in Mexico. It gathers together project developers, contractors, consultants, engineers and building material suppliers.  This year CIHAC partnered with IALD (International Association of Lighting Designers) to hold a Conference on Sustainable Design.  Mexico’s IALD chapter sponsored the event.  It was a great opportunity to meet with my south-of-the-border colleagues.

The Banamex Convention Center is adjacent to the Americas Horse Racetrack.  Upon arrival we were mesmerized by the trotting horses out for practice.  I joined North American lighting design colleagues Charles Stone and  Mark Loeffler at the podium.

Charles discussion of White Light in Public Lighting was the perfect counterpoint to mine, with its focus on colored light.  Mark’s LEED and Lighting Design walked the audience through the ever more complex arena of “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” and how lighting applies. Mark also spoke on Daylighting Design.

CIHAC Speakers

My topic City Beautification, The Use of Color and Light posits that the use of colored light in the urban environment has exploded.  With the continued development of LED sources the lighting designers’ paintbox has been redefined and colored light is not only technically more possible than in the past, but the technologies are more energy-saving  and sustainable in terms of maintenance.  In this talk I address “by what measure can designers agencies and owners rate the applicability of colored light in the city environment?”  I review the artistic use of color and how to judge good design using color theory, case studies and a checklist. Here, a link to the hand out.

Walking the Streets

Walking is knowing a city…

View here a video of an animated Walk signal, and a great sense of Mexican traffic engineering humor, the Don’t Walk signal – with a person impatiently tapping his foot and consulting a wristwatch as the seconds tick by… to walk.

Envision the experience of the street through the moments that captured me and and in turn are captured by my camera.

Medians and Malls

streetscape

Paving Patterns, Shadows, Light and Textures

Paving

Street Corners

corner

Lighting Fixtures and Side Streets After-dark

mex_lighting

The Zócalo, la Plaza Suprema

Urban planners and designers are ever questing for the perfect recipe for town squares and plazas. Mexico City’s Zócalo — Plaza de la Constitución — is a prime reference – often mentioned in discussion of urban landscape design.

Zocalo_area

Streets branching off the Zocalo

At long last, I was able to visit — see, sense, feel — the genuine article — the authentic plaza, the Zócalo.  I was fascinated by the shared space of pedestrians, cars and bicycles and delivery carts.  Even on a weekday, the sidewalks and streets were packed.  “Shared streets” or “shared space” is a traffic engineering concept to remove separations between vehicles and pedestrians, and devices such as curbs, painted lines, signs and signals. The logic is that humans can be self regulated when forced to…an interesting civic pact.  It felt, here on the main square streets, that the concept of shared streets had not been enforced or planned but simply an authentic need had been fulfilled — that of a huge metropolis and its circulation evolving.

The Zócalo Edge; Metropolitan Cathedral

(Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María)

Catedral Metropolitana

Because of its rich natural, archeological and architectural sites Mexico ranks within the top countries with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites.  As we walked toward the Zócalo through the busy foot traffic, jewelry and watch stores, cafes and restaurants and sidewalk markets our eyes gravitated naturally to the Metropolitan Cathedral which defines the north edge of the plaza.  Its ornate carvings of stone and wood bursts out of the facade beckoning visitors.

The Cathedral is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas. It is sited upon a sacred Aztec precinct near the Templo Mayor. The cathedral was built around a church that was constructed after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán — the Aztec’s capital city (1573 to 1813) — and finally replaced the church. The Metropolitan was inspired by Spain’s Gothic cathedrals.  Its Baroque-style facade and 64-meter high Neoclassical-style towers contain 18 bells.

The ethereal glow of the ornate interior reveals five naves, several chapels, two impressive pipe organs, religious paintings and figurines.  The decor, whispered hush and flicker of candles conspire to create a time/space wonderment.

The Zócalo Edge; Templo Mayor

templo_mayor_plaque

“Next door” to the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor (Great Temple)

The Aztec legend describes the siting of the Temple as a fulfillment of a prophecy; where an eagle was seen perched on a cactus devouring a snake.

Construction began around 1325 AD and the Temple was continually enlarged over the next two centuries. A the time of the Spanish Conquest, in 1521, the temple was the center of this Tenochtitlan, with a population of 300,000.

The temple was nearly destroyed by the Spaniards after their conquest of Tenochtitlan.

The Templo Mayor excavation began 30 years ago after electrical tradesmen discovered the ruins.

Templo Mayor Mexico City

Two life-size clay figures from this trove represent the two faces of Aztec religion. A winged warrior, his head poking out from an eagle’s beak, with talons erupting from his knees, symbolizes life or the sun at dawn. Discovered only a decade ago, a grisly, six-foot-tall, clay figure – with his liver dangling beneath exposed ribs – represents death. Both were revered. The equal value of life and death explains “why the images of death are so strong,” says Felipe Solís, curator and the foremost authority on the Aztecs. “At Mexico City’s core beats an Aztec heart”  — Carol Strickland, Christian Science Monitor

Culture

Museo Nacional de Antropología

Museo de Anthropologica

On our way to the Museo de Anthropologica we strolled through Chapultepec Park.  A large scale photo exhibition mounted on an iron fence was composed of provocative images in billboard style.   The Museum, in mid-century modern/Mexican style, is stunning – the sleek lines interrupted by pattern and relief.  The first gallery was a contemporary take by several artists, on Mexico City and its populous.  Salvage materials, video, industrial homage and individual stories tell the life of the lesser known Mexicano.

The monumental collection is humbling.  Here, another chance to experience the ancient, this time through a curated collection.

culture

Left: billboard photo exhibit, Center: View of Chapultepec, Right: the Kahlo-Rivera House-Study

Lighting designer Gustavo Aviles, and his wife Magi, took us to dinner at the Colonia San Ángel Inn. After an evening of laughter and conversation they surprised us by pointing out the Kahlo/Rivera House-Study right across the street. The intense and creative couple — Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera — painted and housed their skull collection, as well as pre-Columbian art and Mexican crafts here.

The complex, two buildings connected by a bridge, is one the most important cultural landmarks of Mexico City. It was designed by Juan O’Gorman — an architect and painter.  It is a a merging of modern Mexican architecture and the International style.

The work caused a heated controversy in the 1930s by combining organic Mexican architecture and architectural murals with functionalism. So was the breaking of all the aesthetic paradigms of architecture in Mexico until then, to incorporate such blunt theories and thoughts as most avant-garde architects (as Le Corbusier) were developing on the European continent. Thoughts such as the rational use of materials, analysis of the functioning of ideal spaces and the adequacy of them to accommodate activities that took place within them – ideas that were radical at first but eventually were assimilated into the worldwide architectural community. These houses were made possible with minimum cost and effort.

Diego Rivera Studio Museum was established by presidential decree in 1981, opening its doors in 1986. In 1994, the INBA made the restoration and rehabilitation of houses a cultural heritage site of the nation, according to the decree published in the Diario Oficial on March 25, 1998. — Wikiarquitectura.com

I heartily recommend the movie Frida Kahlo directed by Julie Taymor for the flavor, color and sounds of a time in Mexico. And here a link of the real Frida and Diego.

La Capital is an exemplar of metropolitan life, and I like to think that my explorations have just begun.