At the beginning of the 20th century, Mexican architecture was still influenced by the cultural policies of the regime of President Porfirio Diaz. Since his ascent to power in 1876, he tried to give Mexico a modern face that could bring it to the most prominent place in the international society. The concept of reflecting Mexican modernity in the mirror of foreign nations brought severe cultural implications. The architectural education of the Mexican School of Fine Arts was given mainly by foreign professors who brought notions of the French Beaux-Arts. Therefore, the buildings produced in the first two decades of the 20th century were full of foreign elements regarding ornamentation, and this new aesthetic was the paradigm of the new progressive Mexican society, although it lacked the national elements that could give its architecture a more genuine character. The tendency grew as the most important new buildings were designed by foreign architects; the Italian Adamo Boari (d. 1928) taught in Mexico while he was working on the Post Office Building (1902) in Mexico City, on which a Venetian loggia stands above a series of richly ornamented neo-Gothic windows. His most important work, the exterior of the National Theatre (1904) in Mexico City, now called the Palace of Fine Arts, is another fine example of this eclectic arrangement of architectural styles. Here, the volumetry of the building is very similar to Garnier's Opera (1975) of Paris, but it also incorporates many organic elements that reflect an Art Nouveau influence.
Urban areas were also affected by new progressive concepts, and the creation of suburbs began, as those found in Europe. Mexico City grew very rapidly, and soon the agricultural lands that surrounded it were invaded by the rising middle and upper classes. The buildings in these new settlements were neo-Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance, and baroque. Many other styles appeared on the same street and sometimes in the same building. This exoticism can be found in the works of Emilio Dondé's (1849-1905) San Felipe Church (1900) in Mexico City, Antonio Rivas Mercado's (1853-1927) Monument for the Commemoration of the Centennial of the Declaration of Independence (1910) in Mexico City, or the Guanajuato Juárez Theatre (1903), and Nicolás (1875-1964) and Federico Mariscal's (1881-1969) Police Headquarters (1906) in Mexico City, among others.
The new architecture was also determined by the use of new building techniques, with one of the most important breakthroughs being the extended use of steel structures that could now provide larger spans. In most cases, they were covered with stone, but this technique was also capable of providing a new architectural language because the structural elements could remain visible, as in the Guanajuato Market (1904) by Ernesto Brunel (c.1875-c.1950) or in the Chopo Museum (1910), which was designed in Germany and brought to Mexico for its assembly.
The Mexican Revolution (1910-20) brought changes to every aspect of Mexican society and affected architectural activity as well. After a period (1919-25) during which the number of new buildings was very low, building was inspired by new ideological concepts as the influence of international exoticism began to diminish and a new nationalism emerged. The Mexican pre-Hispanic and colonial heritage was revalidated, and the ornaments on buildings began to include such motifs. The works of Manuel Amabilis (1883-1966), such as the lost Riviera Roundabout (1926) in Mexico City, with the reproduction of Mayan snakes, or the project for the Mexican Pavilion at the Seville Exposition of 1926, on which Mayan elements copied from Uxmal and Mitla were combined, are good examples. Some of the most important neo-Colonial works are those of Ignacio Marquina (1888-1981) and Manuel Torres Torrija (1872-).
Carlos Obregón Santacilia (1896-1961) was one of the prominent architects of the first half of the 20th century. He built some important examples of the neo-Colonial style but also ventured into Art Deco, creating a very interesting mix that can be seen in the Revolution Monument (1938). Although Art Deco was also an aesthetic language that was imported from Europe through the United States, it could fit into the new "revolutionary" architecture in Mexico. The exoticism that was portrayed in the Art Deco ornaments of Chicago and New York with references to antique cultures such as Egyptian and Babylonian could also be adapted in Mexico, as its own Aztec and Mayan tradition could supply abundant motifs to portray the desired Mexicanism. Two good examples of such buildings are the Police and Firemen Headquarters (1928) of Mexico City by Vicente Mendiola (1899-1986) with sculptures by Manuel Centurión (1883-1948) and the Fronton Mexico (1929) by Joaquín Capilla (c.1890-1960), both of which have pre-Hispanic decoration on their facades.
Art Deco gained importance in Mexico, as it also portrayed the use of a new material that had been scarcely used up to that time: cement. The structures that combined concrete elements with a steel structure were economical and confident, although Mexican society viewed them with reticence until the 1930s. Juan Segura (1898-1989) used it abundantly in some Art Deco buildings, such as the Ermita (1931), which also has a very innovative program in it that incorporates apartments, commercial spaces, and a cinema in a single six-story building in a very articulated manner. One of the most important examples of the new structural concepts is the so-called first Mexican skyscraper, the La Nacional Insurance Company Building (1930) in Mexico City by Manuel Ortiz Monasterio (1893-c.1960), Bernardo Calderón (c.1890-c.1960), and Luis Ávila (c.1900-c.1970). The steel structure rises only 12 levels high, but it is contemporary and has the morphology of the American so-called setback mass buildings of the time.
The reformation of the revolutionary Mexican architecture was, in many cases, simply formal or ornamental, as the spatial conception of the buildings remained the same. The theoretical approach was done by José Villagrán García (1901-82), mainly in his classrooms around 1930; he stated that above the social "importance" of the architecture was its social "function," as the work of an artist must always be completely identified with the people. In this way, the "modern," which seemingly had no national roots, must be combined with the "Mexican," which seemed anti-modern. Combining these required relying on an architectural program that could determine the character of national problems to provide an architectural response that would be national as well. The fundamental question of the architect is, then, not aesthetic but ethical. These ideas were the platform of the Mexican School of Architecture that looked after a "modern national architecture." Examples of this functional school are works by the same Villagrán: the Sanitary Institute (1927) in Popotla and the Tuberculosis Sanatorium (1936) in Huipulco, both of which were part of an ambitious program by
the Mexican government to bring health services to all Mexicans. The other natural application of the theory was in education, and the government initiated a program that built hundreds of schools in the country using the materials and techniques of every region of the country.
The Mexican School of Architecture also provided the architectural response for one of the most important social problems: popular housing. In 1932, a national contest was held to find a worker's "minimum house," and the works of Álvaro Aburto (c.1900-c.1970), Enrique Yáñez (1908-90), Juan Legarreta (1908-34), and Augusto Pérez Palacios (1909-c.1980) exemplified this new social rural architecture, in which the internal spaces were optimized but still articulated around a social area in which most of the family life occurred and with an important open space planned for particular crops. Economy and standardization were the most important considerations of this contest.
Low-income housing in the cities also occurred in multifamily housing projects, with the first one being the Miguel Alemán Complex (1949) by Mario Pani (1911-93), composed of 1,080 units in an area of less than 10,000 square meters with complete services, such as schools, playgrounds, sports facilities (including a swimming pool), and commercial areas. The 13-story buildings were distributed diagonally in a zigzag manner with common circulation areas and elevators and a facade of exposed brick and concrete.
Among the Mexican architects with socialist ideas, Juan Sordo Madaleno (1929-1985) was one of the most influential. Following the concepts of Le Corbusier (1887-1965) and trying to achieve the maximum efficiency with the minimum waste, Sordo Madaleno built more than 28 schools (1932-35) in the country that remain as good examples of the Mexican functionalist architecture school. His most well-known work is the studio (1930) that he built for the Mexican muralist painter Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo in San Angel. In this work, he uses some vernacular elements, such as a cactus fence and brilliant "Indian" colors, in a very simple structure with a wall of steel-framed windows. All pipes and electrical systems were exposed on the inside as an expression of the machine era of the modern world.
Sordo Madaleno also participated in one of the most important examples of Mexico's 20th-century architecture: the University City (1946-52). All the professional schools in Mexico City had been scattered among several buildings in the downtown area for over two centuries, but the modern concept of a great campus that would concentrate all the university's activity emerged. Following this idea, a team of 150 architects led by Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral (1906-87) began work on a project that would try to solve the contradiction that had been haunting Mexican architecture throughout the entire century: to build the environment of a modern dynamic society while still representing its history and identity. In this project, the approach was that of "integración plástica" (plastic integration), in which architecture, painting, and sculpture would be integrated into a unified work of art. The facades of the several buildings of the complex were covered with murals by such important artists as Juan Sordo Madaleno and Diego Rivera (1886-1957) with diverse motifs, mainly from Mexico's past and present. Although University City was designed on an urban concept inspired by pre-Hispanic principles regarding open spaces, terracing, and scales, it also responded to the principles of modern urbanism, such as superblocks, separation of circulation systems, and zoning of activities. The result is a very interesting interpretation of the functionalist international language with the participation of a multidisciplinary array of artists highly committed to the expressionism of their national architectural language.
The same "Plastic Integration" movement also participated in several other buildings, such as the Communications and Transport Ministry Office (1954) by Carlos Lazo (1914-55), with paintings by Juan Sordo Madaleno, and the General Hospital Building (1958) by Enrique Yáñez, with works by David Alfaro Siqueiros (1898-1974), among other brilliant muralists. Although this movement could achieve works of importance, it disintegrated rapidly, as different ideologies among artists prevailed. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most brilliant and original moments of Mexican architecture.
The adoption of the International Style by Mexican architects began around 1945 and sometimes is still mixed with principles of the Mexican School of Architecture, as it represented an economical way of building with open spaces and volumetric purism with no ornamentation at all. The influence of such architects as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) and Walter Gropius (1883-1969) became very powerful. The building of the Latinoamericana Tower (1952) in Mexico City, a high-rise building with glass facades, marked the historic district of the city and gave way to the demolition of many historic buildings that were to be replaced by the new models. The author of the tower, Augusto H. Álvarez (1914-c.1980), was one of the most prolific proponents of this style, and he projected several more buildings, some of the most renowned being the Mexico Valley Bank (1955) and the La Libertad Insurance Company (1959).
One building that represents an interesting approach to the International Style is the Bank of Mexico Building (1950) on the Port of Veracruz by Carlos Lazo. Here, the simple glass tower is surrounded by huge concrete pergolas and blinds that provide bioclimatic conditioning for the office space while also providing a beautiful set of lights and shadows.
On the urban level, the most important large-scale project of the second half of the 20th century was the Tlatelolco housing complex (1964) in Mexico City by Mario Pani. Here, more than 100,000 inhabitants live in a megablock that comprises all services, commercial and recreational, including several schools, health centers, specialty shops, day care centers, a cinema, theater, and a church. The apartment buildings represent a few prototypes that are repeated, and the overall architecture follows the principles of the International Style.
Pedro Ramírez Vázquez (1919-) is one of the prominent architects of the second half of the century, with his most important work being the National Museum of Anthropology (1964). In this project, he still uses some principles of the Plastic Integration movement, as the walls that surround the huge central patio are covered with pre-Hispanic motifs, and the open space is partially covered with an "umbrella" that rises without touching the building because it is suspended from a central column that is also a fountain. The spatial organization of the exhibit halls is articulated around this patio, each of which is unique, being adapted to the collections of the native culture that it houses. More recent works of this architect that also have great importance are the Aztec Stadium (1965) and the new Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe shrine (1975), in which the modern structure is placed next to the old 17th-century shrine and rises above it with a curved cover, under which thousands of Catholics gather daily.
The Escuela Tapatía, an important regional movement, was created in Guadalajara and led by Rafael Urzua (1905 - c. 1980), Ignacio Diaz Morales (1905 - 2.1980), and Luis Barragán (1902 - 88). This group of architects built some significant houses in western Mexico, but Barragán grew beyond the regional level to become one of the most prominent names in 20th-century Mexican architecture. His own house (1947) in Tacubaya is considered one of his masterpieces, as he could mix tradition and modernity using volumes and walls to enclose the space that flows throughout the building. The use of color is one of Barragán's most important assets. He uses bright pinks and blues taken from the chromatic scale used in vernacular architecture but applied to solid, massive surfaces that are proper to functionalism. His language is enriched with natural elements, such as beautiful gardens or fountains. Some of his most relevant works are the Gilardi house (1976), the chapel for the Capuchines (1952), and the San Cristobal house and its riding facilities (1967), among many others.
Abraham Zabludovsky (1924-) and Teodoro González de León (1926-) are two brilliant architects who have worked together since 1965. They developed an architectural language that identifies Mexican contemporary architecture, using massive columns and walls made of exposed concrete with marbled chips embedded. This richly textured material has been used in buildings such as INFONAVIT (1973) in Mexico City, the Mexican Embassy (1975) in Brasília, El Colegio de México (1975), the Pedagogic National University (1979), the Rufino Tamayo Museum (1981), and the National Auditorium (1990) in Mexico City. In all these buildings, the use of a patio that works as a transitional space between the exterior and the interior is present, as is a vast use of platforms and stairs, not only as circulation elements but also as expressive elements themselves. A particularly interesting building is the Banco de México (1988), which had to be built adjacent to a beautiful 17th-century palace in the historic district of Mexico City. The solution was to transfer the volumetry of the palace (rhythm of openings, window proportion, floor levels, and cornices) to the new building, thus imitating it respectfully. These architects also have recent works of their own: González de León did a wonderful urban work (1985) at the Tomás Garrido Canabal Park in Villahermosa, in which a 600-meter axis articulates 200 lakes, bridges, and monuments, all of which are morphologically inspired by the Mayan architecture of the region. Zabludovsky has worked on theaters in Aguascalientes (1991), Celaya (1990), Guanajuato (1991), and Dolores (1991); one of his most prominent works is the residential complex La Cantera (1992) in Coyoacán, which is an uncommon program of a series of wisely designed low-income apartments.
Since the last years of the 20th century, a group of creative artists has continued the search for Mexico's own modern architecture, including Agustin Hernández (1924-) with the use of pre-Hispanic forms in the Military Academy (1985); Ricardo Legorreta (1931-) with the massive Camino Real Hotel (1981) in Ixtapa or the great MARCO Museum (1991) in Monterrey; Francisco Serrano (1900-82), who cleverly designed different platforms for the Ibero-American University (1987); and Enrique Norten (1954-), who designed the round roof of the National Theatre School (1994) in Mexico City.
In a country with such vast architectural history as Mexico, the labor of conservation and restoration is also an aspect that modern architects must address. The concern for preserving Mexico's cultural heritage has been achieved in many projects during the 20th century, some of the most recent being the restoration project of the 18th-century Ciudadela (1988) in Mexico City by Abraham Zabludovsky, the Image Center (1994) inside the same historic building by Isaac Broid (1952), the library (1992) inside the 17th-century Santo Domingo convent in Mexico City by Marisa Aja (1955-), and the Colegio Nacional, which completely modified a 17th-century building by González de León. All these works combine modern materials such as steel, glass, and aluminum and superimpose them on the historic building, attempting to incorporate the modern use into the old structure. This important part of Mexican architecture needs to be reinvigorated in the years to come.
ALFONSO A. SÁNCHEZ
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