Posts tagged with "Mexico":

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A Boys and Girls Club in Mexico brings brutalism to the children

A new building for the State of Mexico Boys and Girls Club (Club de Niños y Niñas del Estado de México) uses a brutalist style for a gentle purpose. The approximately 37,000 square foot building designed by Mexico City–based firm CCA | Centro de Colaboración Arquitectónica will be a home for the nonprofits philanthropic programming in Ecatepec, one of the poorest and most violent parts of Mexico City. The concrete complex is organized around a central colonnade made of 24 interlocking arches, one for every vertebra found in the human spine. A single-story educational building, two-story arts center, and sports hall extend off the main axis, along with assorted outdoor plazas seating areas. The buildings were dimensioned using a modular system derived from the scale of the plywood formwork. The building is scheduled to be finished in January 2019 and occupied soon thereafter, but the latest photos show the project without any people in all of its bare béton brut glory.
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Zaha Hadid Architects and ETH Zurich team up to build a knitted formwork concrete pavilion

Located in Mexico City’s Museo Universitario Arte Contemporaneo, KnitCandela is a 13-foot-tall curved concrete shell formed with a 3-D-knitted framework. The sculptural project is a collaboration between Zaha Hadid Architects' Computation and Design Group (ZHCODE), ETH Zurich’s Block Research Group (BRG) led by Philippe Block and Tom Van Mele with PhD student Mariana Popescu, and Mexico’s Architecture Extrapolated who managed the on-site execution of the project. Named in homage to the concrete-bending designs of architect and structural engineer Félix Candela, the pavilion rests on three parabolic arches, with interior threadwork fashioned to resemble traditional garb found in the federal state of Jalisco, 340 miles northwest of the country’s capital. The pavilion is an outdoor feature of the museum's new exhibition, Design as Second Nature, featuring four decades of Zaha Hadid Architects' (ZHA) research into construction technology and design innovation. The project builds upon ETH Zurich's numerous recent forays into lightweight concrete structures based on curved geometries and digitally designed formwork. Currently, the university is leading KnitCrete, a partnership with the Swiss National Centre for Competence in Research in Digital Fabrication, to boost the technological expertise and production of hybrid and ultra-lightweight concrete structures. Past projects include an experimental concrete roof cast on 3-D printed sand formwork and an ultralight roof cap composed of a polymer textile and a network of steel cables. According to ETH Zurich, Block and Van Mele’s research group plugged a digitally generated pattern into an industrial knitting machine to produce the formwork. Over the course of 36 hours, the flat-bedded mechanism knitted over 200 miles of polyester yarn into four 3-D double-layered strips. To suspend the canopy, the upper layer of the textile bears a series of sleeves for the insertion of supporting cables. Additionally, the woven formwork integrated 1,000 inflatable modeling balloons that were transformed into waffle shell-like voids following the initial coating of concrete. The entire woven assembly, weighing a meager 55 pounds, was transported to the location via two suitcases stowed as normal checked baggage. Once onsite, the double-layered textile was tensioned between a steel-and-wood boundary frame and subjected to an initial millimeters-thick concrete coating. After hardening and the creation of a lightweight mold, the team poured five tons of fiber-reinforced concrete over the original 120-pound polyester-and-cable framework. The pavilion will remain in place until March 3, 2019.
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Mexico City’s public sculpture corridor is a broken dream worth saving

Soon after Mexico City was designated to host the 1968 Olympics, the idea of a year-long cultural program emerged—one which would come to shape the ethos of the games for years to come. Hinting at the Greek Olympics’ legacy, the Mexican Cultural Olympiad would deploy 20 cultural events and projects throughout the year while promoting a modern discourse of peace at a time when the cold war profoundly divided the world. As part of the program, the Polish-born, Mexican artist and architect Mathias Goeritz (who coined the concept of “Emotional Architecture” with Luis Barragán) proposed an ambitious public sculptures route integrated with the city as a way to respond to its rapid urbanization. La Ruta de la Amistad (or the Route of Friendship), as it was named, would offer new ways of navigating the capital while making art available to the masses and celebrating international dialogue. The proposal was received with great enthusiasm from the chair of the Mexican Olympic Organizing Committee, the influential architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. In the lead-up to the Olympics, a total of 22 sculptures were commissioned from 19 artists and architects, including the Uruguayan artist Gonzalo Fonseca, the French artist Olivier Seguin, the American sculptor Alexander Calder, and the Mexican sculptor Ángela Gurría. Goeritz’s curatorial brief was simple: All sculptures should be abstract, of monumental scale, and use concrete as their main material. The project would become the largest sculptural thoroughfare in the world, connecting Olympics venues across a distance of 11 miles—and a great source of pride for Mexico. However, a week and a half before the official start of the games, the route, like the rest of the Cultural Olympiad, was obscured by the Massacre of Tlatelolco, in which the Mexican military and the police killed at least 300 students and civilians protesting government repression and corruption. Politicians, used to controlling every aspect of Mexican society, showed little patience for the demonstrations, which they feared would damage their cherished reputation as Olympics hosts. For the government, the games had become a platform to project its progressive, modern ideals and to challenge the perception that it was a developing country. Fifty years on, the sculptures stand neglected, in a state of near decay, like the remnants of a broken dream. “In Mexico, the route isn’t seen as something important. Not for the people, nor the government,” lamented Luis Javier de la Torre, president of Patronato Ruta de la Amistad, as he toured us around its principal site, now overshadowed by the infamous Periferico, a dystopic, elevated highway crossing the city. The organization he cofounded in 1994 with Javier Ramírez Campuzano (the son of Ramírez Vázquez) is in charge of conserving the sculptures and promoting their legacy. Prior to this, the route was largely abandoned and subjected to vandalism. The Patronato was able to restore and relocate a number of pieces at risk of deterioration, creating a centralized location composed of 13 works between 2011 and 2013. To mark the Route’s 50th anniversary, the Patronato is launching a number of activities with partner organizations on a shoestring budget. The Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes is opening an exhibition about it this October, scheduled to coincide with Design Week Mexico (October 10 to 15). Meanwhile, the official program of World Design Capital Mexico City 2018 has incorporated educational projects to bring awareness to the route. “Its values live on,” argued de la Torre. So why does the route fail to receive the public interest and support it deserves? According to de la Torre, a combination of a conflicted sense of national identity, a lack of understanding, and the collective trauma of 1968 are responsible. “We don’t have a proper identity as a country,” he explained, nodding to Mexican poet Octavio Paz’s The Labyrinth of Solitude, a series of essays that discusses the existential tension between colonial and indigenous cultures in the country. “No one believed that as a society we were capable of running the Olympics in ways that would be replicated by others around the world,” he continued. Most important, the political turmoil associated with 1968 overbearingly shaped the country’s consciousness of that moment. “This is where the dream broke,” said Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, this year’s Serpentine Pavilion designer, when we visited her studio. At the recent Biennale d’Architecture d’Orléans, Escobedo revisited the Ruta de la Amistad by presenting a reproduction of the metal frame behind the sculpture by Olivier Seguin. The precarious-looking, welded steel structure—now permanently installed at Le Parc Floral de La Source in Orléans, France—was inspired by an installation shot of the original work, which the architect discovered while visiting the archives of the FRAC Centre in France. “The picture presented the reality of 1968,” Escobedo recounted, reflecting on the ambiguous promise of modernism in the construction of Mexico’s national identity. “It’s all a spectacle.” “We haven’t been able to separate things,” explained de la Torre of the troubled legacy of 1968. “I think that now, there is an opportunity for both narratives to coexist.” But should the Olympics’ cultural legacy really be separated from its political context? Before the army opened fire at the crowd on October 2, 1968, anti-government protesters were chanting, “¡No queremos olimpiadas, queremos revolución!” (“We don't want the Olympics, we want a revolution!”)
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Mexican pottery advocates Colectivo 1050° innovate with traditional crafts

In Mexico, handcrafts and folk art have shaped society for centuries. Often referred to as artesanía—a blend of indigenous and European designs—the country’s rich history of artisanal techniques has generated some of the most celebrated handmade objects, from the decorative to the utilitarian. Today, while crafts products enjoy a resurgence in popularity, inequalities persist, posing a number of obstacles in sustaining centuries-old traditions. Since 2009, the Oaxaca-based organization Innovando la Tradición has been invested in rethinking the imperatives of clay-based crafts, while promoting sustainable practices. Besides running educational activities across potters’ communities in the region, the group’s commercial branch, Colectivo 1050°, identifies opportunities for the distribution of handmade objects to contemporary and high-end markets. AN Interior contributor Benoît Loiseau speaks with cofounder Diego Mier y Terán about the organization's challenges and hopes. AN INTERIOR: You’ve spoken extensively about the risks of seeing Oaxacan pottery disappear. Are you noticing any progress? COLECTIVO: It’s likely that 40 percent of the villages will stop producing pottery within our lifetime. That said, I think there’s hope, and we have seen villages revive their craft traditions. There’s currently a trend in the market for crafts and handmade products, and we are witnessing an increased interest in traditional pottery and ceramics. It is one of our missions to elevate the economic value of traditional pottery, but also its cultural and symbolic value. Ultimately, though, our goal is to change the narrative around how artisans are perceived and presented in the dominant discourse of institutions—one based on the exoticization of otherness—from museums, NGOs, designers, chefs, and government. AN: Do you find that younger generations are interested in taking up the craft? Is there an issue of perception? C: For young people, to see their parents struggling financially in the profession is clearly not an incentive. Earth is seen as something dirty, not elegant, cool, or modern. For that generation it often feels more dignified to build cars or computers. But we have seen changes when communities start earning more, with increased sales. The whole relationship within the family then changes, with children looking to take part in the workshops. We just had an exhibition at the Franz Mayer Museum [Mexico City], where we showed traditional pieces, made in the present day. It’s a big change; it’s really saying that the craft is alive. Clay is so ingrained in the history of Mexico—and of humankind—if given a little window, people will engage. AN: A number of contemporary designers in Mexican cities work closely with artisans and craftsmen. How do you envisage best practice? C: Best practice is in the making, but I don’t see a critical discussion taking place around design in Mexico at the moment, particularly in terms of colonizing practices. Designers are fixed on the fetishization of crafts, with little consideration for social change. It’s a dangerous and harmful situation for artisanal communities because designers are reproducing inequalities. AN: In August you curated the IV Encuentro Nacional Alfarero Independiente, the fourth edition of the national gathering of potters and artisans from 12 states and 25 different villages, which gathered over 85 participants this year. What was the focus of the event? C: The main focus was on sharing knowledge. It is very rare for artisans, particularly potters, to share knowledge and techniques with other villages, even less so other states. On the one hand, because the work demands to be in a closed environment, but also because there’s a certain level of competition—they’re nervous their work would be copied. AN: Can you tell me about one of your most significant pieces? C: The Tonaltepec Bowl is made with a very unique technique. Archaeologists have found examples in the area dating from as far back as 4,000 years. Still 30 years ago, most of the women in that remote village worked with clay, selling their products at the local market. When we visited in 2012, only five ladies were working with clay, and two years later, they had basically stopped, because the market had disappeared. So we started a series of workshops with the children in the village and other members of the community. Altogether, this generated somewhat of a revival, and production resumed. The bowl made it to Noma’s pop-up restaurant in Tulum last year. AN: How do you redistribute profit, and ensure that your activities are sustainable? C: Most of the products we sell are continuous. We test them, to see if the market responds to them. Forty to 50 percent of the retail price of the product goes back to the artisans. The rest goes to operations—maintaining shops, administration, packaging—then there’s a marginal 10 percent profit that pays for the activities of Innovando la Tradición.
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The Palace for Mexican Music sings with local stone and dramatic steel ribs

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Completed in June 2018, the Palace for Mexican Music is a bold intervention in the heart of historic Mérida, Mexico, that establishes a relationship with the surrounding century-old architectural milieu through lightly detailed limestone and dramatic matte-black steel ribs. The design team consisted of four local practices: Alejandro Medina Arquitectura, Reyes Ríos + Larraín arquitectos, Muñoz Arquitectos, and Quesnel Arquitectos.
  • Facade Manufacturer Sistema Masa, WTS Diseño y Construccion SA de CV, PROSER, Mayabtun Marmoles
  • Architects Alejandro Medina Arquitectura, Reyes Ríos + Larraín arquitectos, Muñoz Arquitectos, and Quensel Arquitectos
  • Facade Installer WTS Diseño y Construccion SA de CV,
  • Facade Consultants WTS Diseño y Construccion SA de CV
  • Location Merida, Mexico
  • Date of Completion 2018
  • System Limestone slabs fastened with aluminum clip and rail system connected to the steel structure
  • Products PF-ALU-5800/60-GR-HPL60-ARTIC by Sistema Masa
The provincial capital of Mérida is located on the northern edge of the Yucatán Peninsula, a region noted for its distinct Mayan culture, and nearly two-thirds of the city’s population is indigenous. Mérida’s Spanish core consists of a broad range of colonial architecture built of locally sourced limestone, much of it ripped from Mayan structures. Seen from above, the nearly 100,000-square-foot Palace for Mexican Music is organized around a U-shaped courtyard, called the “Patio of Strings,” which faces the rear elevation of the four-century-old Church of the Third Order. A series of newly constructed alleyways rhythmically break the solid stone mass to provide routes of entry between the courtyard and the complex’s library, museum, and concert halls. Mayabtun Marmoles, a local stone supplier, harvested local Yucatán limestone, referred to as Crema Maya or Macedonia Limestone, for the project’s cladding and flooring. The panels, measuring 4 feet by 1.5 feet, are embellished with a polished or hammered finish. Each panel is fastened to the complex’s steel frame with aluminum holding brackets produced by Sistema Masa While the use of local building material is a direct visual nod to the physical character of the Centro Historico, the design team went a step further with the facades' stone and fenestration pattern. The vertical bands of stone are meant to serve as notational bars while the glass panels are notes from the popular Yucatan folk song, Esta Tarde Vi Llover. The 444 matte-black steel ribs are the defining element of the north elevation and courtyard. In both areas, the 30-foot hollow-steel ribs are fastened to an exterior rail that is in turn soldered to a series of corbels that protrude from the floor plates. Corridors within the courtyard are semi-open to the elements, wrapped by a glass balcony and sheltered by the stone-clad steel frame. To shield this area from sunlight, the steel ribs break into two planes, one vertical, the other slanted. For the four-firm team, the design of the Palace for Mexican Music is an attempt to "establish a new precedent for a public building to contribute to the revitalization of its surrounding space" through the use of contextual contemporary design and accessible public space. After a rigorous research and design process, their final execution has achieved that goal.  
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Mexico is building Latin America’s largest solar installation

While the current American government squanders time and opportunity in the pursuit of short-term profit by imposing disruptive tariffs and curtailing sustainability-focused goals, Mexico is powering ahead with a broad effort to generate up to 35 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2024.

As a part of that transformative effort—until recent years, Mexico’s energy industry operated as an oil-forward, state-run monopoly that was one of the world’s largest crude oil producers—Italian energy giant Enel is working on a 2,900-acre solar panel installation in the state of Coahuila that will generate enough electricity to power 1.3 million homes by year’s end.

The gigantic installation covers more area than 2,200 football fields and will yield the largest solar installation within Latin America and the largest outside of China and India, QCR reports. The installation will be made up of 2.3 million solar panels that are designed to move with the sun in order to generate the largest possible amount of renewable energy and will be joined in coming years by a slew of new solar installations. And while the American solar business has been booming in recent years, efforts by the Trump administration to knee-cap the country’s sustainable energy revolution with new tariffs have helped to ensure that the positive economic benefits of this energy transformation will be enjoyed by foreign firms. In Mexico’s case, it is European companies that will see the greatest reward: According to QCR, Spanish energy firm Iberdrola is building two solar parks in Mexico, with Holland’s Alten, Britain’s Atlas Renewable Energy, and Enel each working on additional installations of their own. Enel is working on a pair of wind farms in Mexico, as well. Despite Trump’s fossil fuel–oriented approach to energy policy, the American green energy movement continues to grow at a healthy clip. A recent report indicates that roughly 18% of America’s energy comes from renewable sources, a figure that is greatly surpassed in states like California, where officials recently moved to require solar panels on all new homes starting in 2020. The state recently hit its 2020 30 percent renewable energy goal two years early, and last year, the state’s California Independent System Operator, an outfit that tracks energy production, briefly reported that a whopping 67 percent of California’s energy came from renewable sources. To boot, a 2017 report from the United States Department of Energy found that the solar industry alone employed more American workers than all of the fossil fuel industries combined. For now, government-led energy reforms in Mexico are due to move ahead amid their own presidential transition while America continues to rely on the private sector for its energy transformation.
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Latinx artists explore modern architecture and indigenous space at the Whitney

The Whitney Museum exhibition Pacha, Llaqta, Wasichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art displays seven Latinx artists’ responses to the built environment through construction, land, and space. Curator Marcela Guerrero has brought together 80 recent works and site-specific installations by William Cordova, Livia Corona Benjamín, Jorge González, Guadalupe Maravilla, Claudia Peña Salinas, Ronny Quevedo, and Clarissa Tossin. The works display a wide range of references, from adaptations of pre-Columbian temples to migration routes. The title iincludes three words in Quechua, the most common indigenous language spoken today in the Americas. Each has multiple meanings: Pacha is the universe, time, space, nature, world; llaqta, place, country, community, town; and wasichay, to build or construct a house. Clarissa Tossin’s video, Ch’u Mayaa (Maya Blue) (2017), was shot at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. Tossin moves figures around the temple-like forms to a soundtrack of body sounds and pre-Columbian flutes while demonstrating the performative, ceremonial nature of Mayan (and Mayan revival) architecture. Tossin’s sculptures that surround the video are inspired by reliefs at the nearby Mayan Theater by Mexican artist Francisco Cornejo that referenced both Central America and Hollywood film productions. Ronny Quevedo’s father was a professional soccer player in Ecuador, and his Orders of Magnitude (desde Qoricancha) (2018), Errant Globe (2015), and Ulama, Ule, Olé (2012) use sports themes (here, ulama, a ball game) with imagery of a gym floor, ball courts, and constellations arranged in “maps.” Gold leaf refers to Spanish colonial invaders and is used to render migratory patterns visible, including his own; Quevedo’s family relocated from Ecuador to New York. In her photogram series, Infinite Rewrite (2018), Livia Corona Benjamín features Mexican grain silos or graneros del pueblo (silos for the people) built during the Compañía Nacional de Subsistencias Populares initiative from 1965-1999. A prototype design by architect Pedro Ramirez Vázquez could be built by farmers with local materials. However, the 4,000 silos that were built were abandoned, and the project ended in failure. These photos, made with multiple exposures that fracture the image almost like mosaics, show how the structures have since been adapted for other purposes: schools, churches, motels. In the gallery, the installation uses 12-foot-tall walls and a floor plan that echoes both the silos’ conical shapes and cruciform plazas. Ayacabo Guarocoel (2018) by Jorge Gonzalez combined Modernism and Puerto Rican Taino (indigenous Caribbean) vernacular in this site-specific installation of a full-height windowed gallery looking eastward. The accordion roof is the mid-century element while the walls are enea (cattail) and dried clay, used in bohíos (huts) and in furniture. He has also made benches specifically for the exhibition. Another site-specific installation sits on the outdoor fifth-floor terrace called huaca (sacred geometries) (2018), by William Cordova, and uses wood with a stainless-steel gate. It references Huaca Huantille, a temple from the Ichma culture (1100–1400 AD) in Peru that predates the Inca. Before it became an official heritage site in 2001, the temple was claimed by squatters who improvised shelters out of scaffolding (the artist grew up nearby). Seen from the balconies above, you can see why Cordova calls it a “non-monument.” Claudia Peña Salinas’s installation—composed of Cueyatl (2017), Tlaloc MNA (2018), Chalchiuhtlicue MNA (2018) and more—refers to and reinterprets archeological objects at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City. The layout is based on the mythical Aztec paradise of Tlacocan. Together, these artworks form provocative insights and interpretations of the architectural landscape and cultural heritage across Mesoamerica and offer tantalizing insights into the contemporary power of indigenous work. Pacha, Llaqta, Washichay: Indigenous Space, Modern Architecture, New Art will run at the Whitney through September 30, 2018.
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Foster + Partners’ Mexico City airport could be cancelled by referendum

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the president-elect of Mexico, recently announced that the fate of the new Mexico City airport designed by Foster + Partners will be decided by a public referendum to be held in October of this year. Mexican citizens will be able to decide in a vote whether or not the airport should be canceled. López Obrador, or AMLO as he is also known, led a fiery campaign for president. He trumpeted leftist and populists messages while attacking corruption that he said was endemic in the Mexican government. The New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) was, he said, mismanaged and marked by excessive and wasteful spending, and he promised to shut down the project if elected. López Obrador has proposed that an existing military airbase be converted to civilian use instead of completing construction on the new airport. The vote is scheduled for the last week of October even though López Obrador will not formally take office until December 1 of this year. The project, which was won by Foster + Partners in 2014, is well under construction, and stopping it now would mean losing about US$5 billion already spent. The project is estimated to cost US$13 billion in total, and its first phase has been scheduled to open in 2020. Foster + Partners' design features a massive undulating canopy with an exposed space frame underneath. In renderings, the roof surface allows dappled light to come through large open spans between large footings where the canopy touches down to the ground. Arup is the project's structural engineer, Mexican firm fr-ee is the local collaborating architect, and Grupo de Diseno Urbano is the landscape architect. The airport is planned to handle 66 million passengers annually and cover an area of approximately eight million square feet.
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Roundup: Special report from the Texas-Mexico border

This past week, The Architect’s Newspaper has published a series of essays from our recently released July/August 2018 issue, focused exclusively on Texas. The collection has been guest-edited by El Paso-based AGENCY and has examined the forces that have shaped the U.S.-Mexico border, and how that border continues to affect the lives of people on both sides. The following essays offer perspectives on property, landscape, material, and infrastructure that shape the U.S.-Mexico border. The authors illuminate critical spatial practices that destabilize assumptions about the border and the seeming simplicity of its binary divisions and exclusionary logics. These perspectives argue instead for constructive transgressions of this destructive border myth as it is being implemented to advance political agendas. These articles are offered as origin stories of a land, a people, and a space whose origins are routinely questioned and defied, entrenched and overcome. How architecture is aiding detention at the U.S.-Mexico border In the first part of this series, AGENCY documents how architecture and design aid detention across the U.S.-Mexico border, and how immigrants seeking asylum are turned away before they can enter the U.S. Photos by Iwan Baan accompany the text. The monorail that could have united El Paso, Texas, and Juárez, Mexico The Juárez-El Paso border area has always been tightly knit, and in the 1960s a hanging monorail could have united the two cities. Now that there's a renewed focus on the border as an impenetrable barrier, what can we learn from a time when the border was meant to be crossed? How the Rio Grande came to separate the U.S. and Mexico The Rio Grande has served as a dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico, but as the river shifts course, so too do the fortunes of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez, leading to a host of water management issues in both cities. As remittances flow to Mexico, a new architectural style blooms The flow of money from the United States to Mexico has encouraged a new style of architecture in Mexico, as residents have used that money to design and construct new housing typologies by hand. How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes The continual deposition and erosion of soil by the Rio Grande further muddles the U.S.'s border with Mexico, as the river has historically been used as a dividing line between the two countries. Prada Marfa’s immigrant architecture is more relevant than ever Prada Marfa, conceived during the roiling post-9/11 political era, is an appropriation of native Mexican materials and techniques that satirizes American consumerism; the building is now more relevant to the political conversation than ever, argues one of its designers.  
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Prada Marfa’s immigrant architecture is more relevant than ever

This article is the last in a series that originally appeared in AN’s July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The essays examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. Political Context Prada Marfa is a building born out of the political tensions arising in post-9/11 America, in which Afghanistan, Iraq, and Mexico become scapegoats. In 2003, a United States-led coalition invaded Iraq, beginning an eight-year war, and in 2005, Duncan Hunter, who at the time was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called for the construction of a wall along the entire border between the U.S. and Mexico. This led to his amendment to the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005, which called for 698 miles of wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. This paved the way for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which President George W. Bush signed to “help protect the American people” from several purported threats, but primarily terrorism, which was the major focus of the era’s political rhetoric. Borderlands Architecture Prada Marfa is constructed out of traditional adobe bricks which have long been used in the region but are frequently perceived as an inferior material despite their ecological and climatological responsiveness. Adobe bricks provide the foundation for the oldest extant buildings in the region, as well as many of the area’s most important cultural and heritage sites, including artist Donald Judd’s own Block compound in Marfa. Directly referencing Judd and the military building traditions he emulated, the adobe bricks are intentionally set in a cement-based mortar. Judd recognized that this was the technique employed in the construction of barracks, hangars, and forts in the region, and Prada Marfa is constructed to reflect this mistrust of local traditions of the militaristic architecture that secures the border displays. Adobe brick was validated as a construction material, but not adobe mortar, which is more likely to be used on the humble houses of Mexicans and Mexican Americans on both sides of the contemporary border. Material Lineage While the adobe walls of Prada Marfa are indigenous, they are not perceived to be native to the United States, as the tradition is a spoil of the Mexican-American war. The form of the building recalls a West Texas vernacular, which is influenced by the melding of many cultures at the border. The artists Elmgreen and Dragset are from Denmark and Norway, respectively. The details of the interior come from Italy. The specifications for the shelves, the typography (a variation of a type popular with American engravers and typefounders in the last third of the 19th century), the color of paint for the interior walls, the lighting, and the carpet were directly sampled from Prada’s own architectural details for retail outlets in Milan. The inspiration for the facade is sampled from German photographer Andreas Gursky’s photograph Prada II. The building is sprayed with an elastomeric white latex coating to reflect the powerful rays of the sun and withstand the extreme expansion and contraction of the building’s structure in the fluctuating desert temperatures. Xenophobia and Cultural Assimilation Prada Marfa was a very new kind of work. Unlike the reserved and apolitical work of Judd—who in Marfa had already laid claim to art and what it should be—Prada Marfa blurs the boundaries between architecture, art, politics, and culture. The very same night that Prada Marfa opened, xenophobes attacked the work, stealing the shoes and purses, destroying the building’s facade, and spray painting “dum” [sic] and “dumb” on the inside and outside of the building. Prada Marfa represented a very new kind of artistic expression that was unfamiliar in the region and challenged conservative artistic sensibilities, calling into question the juxtapositions between wealth and poverty, the U.S. and Mexico, anglo and Mejicano, of the region that the building highlighted. Since Prada Marfa’s construction, it has had to evolve to survive in the political and environmental climate of both art and the borderlands. Since the first attack on the building, it has been vandalized several times—the glass windows were shoddily replaced by scratch-resistant and shatterproof acrylic to withstand bullets and the continual “peeling out” of cars in front of the building, which kicks up rocks and debris onto the facade. The fabric awnings had to be replaced due to smokers continually burning holes in the cloth with their cigarettes, and the font size of PRADA was increased to almost match the size of the letters on the black metal signs above, suggesting that the delicate typography on the original awnings may not have been good enough in a state where “everything is bigger.” Many other forms of vandalism have taken place. Men’s underwear was shoved into the drain pipes, causing the roof to flood and inundate the interior, which required the shelving to be rebuilt and repainted and the carpet to be replaced. Most dramatically, an artist by the name of Joe Magnano was found guilty of two counts of misdemeanor criminal mischief and required to pay Ballroom Marfa, the caretaker of Prada Marfa, $10,700 and a $1,000 fine for attempting to paint the building blue and pasting TOMS, the logo of a shoe brand founded by Texan Blake Mycoskie, on it, perhaps in an inadvertent attempt to make a structure perceived to be “not from around these parts” more Texan. The vandals who destroyed the building after it first opened, however, have never come forward, although it has been suggested that the borderland surveillance systems used to monitor immigrants traveling in the desert may be able to reveal these criminals. Hajj Prada Marfa has become a pilgrimage site where those making the journey to visit the building have left mementos as part of what has become a kind of hajj to this art Mecca. The various offerings at the Prada Marfa site have included visitors leaving one used shoe, placed around the building or atop the fencing surrounding the building. Perhaps this references the single shoe found in the faux shoe shelves of the store, or maybe the worn-out shoes of immigrants who journey by foot to the U.S. from Mexico until the soles of their shoes wear away, before being picked up in the landscape surrounding Prada Marfa. Not unlike the Jewish mitzvah where visitors to a grave leave small pebbles on a gravestone, visitors have also left small rocks, holding down a piece of paper with a name, message, or a business card, on the narrow ledge that surrounds Prada Marfa. This act reminds us of the harsh reality of a landscape where countless die in the desert, just as the wall has pushed people to greater extremes on their journey north. The shoes and the pebbles left by art pilgrims were systematically removed as they were also perceived as a form of vandalism—a crime, rather than a new tradition—and a fence was constructed around the building made of welded wire mesh, reminiscent of the transformation of the U.S.–Mexico border from a barbed wire fence to stretches of welded steel. The construction of the fence surrounding Prada Marfa, however, has prompted another tradition of offering at the site. While called Prada Marfa, the building is technically just outside the small town of Valentine, Texas. Despite a population of 217, the town is inundated with over 1,000 people on Valentine’s Day, as well as hundreds of Valentine’s Day cards that are sent through the local post office, which has been known as a “love station.” Today, “love locks,” padlocks used by sweethearts to symbolize their love, are attached to the new fence surrounding Prada Marfa, and the keys are thrown away. Perhaps this, too, symbolizes the time we live in, mired in a national struggle between the fences that divide and the love that could bring us together in the borderlands. Ronald Rael holds the Eva Li Memorial Chair in Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and his architectural practice, Rael San Fratello, was the designer of Prada Marfa. He is the author of Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary.
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How the Rio Grande creates geographical—and legal—loopholes

This article is the fifth in a series that originally appeared in AN’s July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. The 1896 Heavyweight Championship in boxing was staged in an improbable location: on a sandbar in the middle of the Rio Grande River. Robert James Fitzsimmons knocked out Peter Maher in a fight that lasted 95 seconds and took advantage of the ambiguous administrative and enforcement conditions of the river boundary. Boxing, you see, was illegal in both Texas and Mexico at the time. After a series of territorial shifts and classic Texas wrangling, the fight promoters decided to stage the fight some 16 hours journey south of El Paso in a remote section of the river away from easy enforcement by Mexican police. In a fight attended by 182 people enclosed inside a canvas tarp fence, Fitzsimmons led with his left, and a minute-and-a-half later, “Maher measured his length on the floor.” And it is indeed this figurative floor, this once and future bed of the river where the fight was held, that was both the legal loophole that allowed this spectacle to take place as well as the ongoing challenge to bright-line models of international territoriality. In the contemporary media environment where border walls and military buildup occupy our imagination of the boundary, it is easy to forget that well over half of the length of this border is defined by the fluvial boundary of the Rio Bravo del Norte (Rio Grande). Article V of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo reads, “The Boundary line between the two Republics shall commence in the Gulf of Mexico, three leagues from land, opposite the mouth of the Rio Grande…from thence, up the middle of that river, following the deepest channel…to the point where it strikes the Southern Boundary of New Mexico.” Yet, as this and the dozens of subsequent treaties, commissions, and surveys attest, this very definition of the boundary is subject to the fundamentally dynamic and unsettled nature of the Rio Grande River.   In general, water law recognizes two categories of boundary change brought about by the changing forces of water: one gradual and slow, the other abrupt and discontinuous. The first, known as accretion, is defined as the gradual and imperceptible deposition of material along the bank of a body of water and the lands formed by this process. Its inverse, reliction, is the gradual uncovering of land caused by the recession of a body of water. In both of these cases, the morphology of ownership maps onto the morphology of the river—with alluvial accretions or relictions belonging to the owners of the coterminous land. The second category, known as avulsion, is defined as the sudden and rapid change of a channel of a boundary stream. Such wholesale shifts in the river channel are quite common in rivers such as the Rio Grande that experience wide fluctuations in flow across the year, where oxbows and meanders are cut off regularly during the spring freshets. In these cases, the changes brought about by such large shifts do not easily map onto adjacent property and ownership structures, resulting in the potential for pockets of alternating ownership—and in the case of the Rio Grande, of citizenship—existing across the river boundary. At the heart of these attempts to tame the river through surveyed lines and legal words is a fundamental irreconcilability of language and landscape—an irretrievable misfit between the map and the territory. Writing in his 1857 Report on the United States and Mexican Boundary Survey, surveyor general Major William H. Emory highlights this gap when he explains: “The [river] does not always run in the same bed; whenever it changes, the boundary must change, and no survey nor anything else can keep it from changing. A survey of that river, therefore, as it fixes nothing, determines nothing, is of minor importance. It forms of itself a more apparent and enduring monument of the boundary than any that can be made by art.” Against Major Emory’s advice, the International Water and Boundary Commission set out in the early 20th century to “rectify”—or straighten—the natural meanders of the Rio Grande in a futile attempt to make the world out there approximate the bright-lines of boundary law. These so-called Banco Conventions, named after the riverbanks cut away by river avulsion, carried the additional political dimension of citizenship: where those who opted to remain on their original land could either preserve title and rights of citizenship of the county to which said banco formerly belonged or acquire the nationality of the country to which the territory would belong in the future. Yet the engineer’s channelization of the Rio Grande could no more make the river act like the surveyor's line on the plat than it could erase the fundamentally dynamic and relational qualities of being and belonging that mark this border region. Language and law, boundaries and territory, citizenship and rights—these are only a few of the fundamental correspondences that the fluvial geomorphology of the Rio Grande River both narrate and problematize. Jesse Vogler is an artist and architect based in Tbilisi and St. Louis and is an assistant professor of landscape architecture at Washington University in St. Louis.
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As remittances flow to Mexico, a new architectural style blooms

This article is the third in a series that originally appeared in AN's July/August 2018 issue which focuses exclusively on Texas and was guest edited by AGENCY. The rest of the essays will be released in the coming days and examine architecture and practice across the southern border of the United States. In discussions of the U.S.-Mexico border region, what often gets lost is a full exploration of the geographic and social networks produced by the lives that span it. Taking in the meaning of the U.S.-Mexico boundary, the largest migration corridor in the world, requires an understanding of both ends of the journey as well as what lies in between. One way to do this is to follow the money—in this case, migrant dollars earned in various locations throughout the U.S. that are channeled back to households in Mexico. The economic term for this capital flow is remittances, typically used by political scientists, demographers, and NGOs that investigate how and if remittances alleviate poverty in receiving regions. I follow this capital flow to its material conclusions as manifested in migrant hometowns. The “remittance house,” a term I use to describe houses built in Mexico by workers performing unskilled or semiskilled wage labor (or migrants “from below”) in the U.S., reveals Mexican pueblos as distant hinterlands of American cities and as critical nodes in our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands at large. I first became interested in the remittance house through the stories of my co-workers, Mexican male migrants who lived and worked in Berkeley, California, while investing a portion of their earnings into new homes in Guanajuato, Mexico. The Central Bajío state of Guanajuato and its neighboring state of Jalisco have historically high rates of both emigration and remitting. Economist Paul S. Taylor documented migrants using dollars to build or remodel homes in Jalisco as early as the 1930s. Jalisco is an epicenter of remittance construction that includes homes as well as communally funded public projects like rodeo arenas and cultural centers. Today, Mexico ranks as the world’s fourth-largest remittance economy after China, India, and the Philippines, receiving approximately $20 billion dollars annually, and new construction financed by remittance dollars is evident across Mexico’s 32 states. Formally and materially, the remittance house has become a source of curiosity both for people who live in Mexican towns as well as for those peering in from afar. This has to do with the houses' heavily articulated facades that present a dizzying array of representational strategies. Fluted columns, zigzagging concrete cornices, and repetitive pediment-shaped window frames grace facades topped with false fronts that represent gable roofs or brick battlements. These eclectic arrangements clash with the built fabric of small towns composed of adobe or fired brick buildings with teja tiled roofs—towns once marked by uniformity and homogeneity. In the remittance house, architectural style carries great symbolic weight, as design ideas are pulled from various corners of migrant experiences and journeys. Homes with recessed yards, metal fences, carports, and picture windows are referred to as “estilo Californiano,” or “California style.” Yet they are hybrid forms, where the image of wooden stick-frame construction is translated into local masonry traditions, supported by migrants’ desire to have homes “built to last.” New migrant homes have created a maelstrom of commentary throughout small towns. A local architect in Jalisco described the migrant building style as “garigoleado,” or excessively adorned, pointing out a lack of rhythm, proportion, and pattern in the use of generic classical ornamentation, while some neighbors described migrant homes as distinctly modern. Whatever their stylistic attribute, the homes, as defined by artist Walterio Iraheta, are autorretratos—or self-portraits—of their makers. They are a material transformation of the built environment directly linked to the interior world of the self. But the remittance house is not primarily an opportunity for migrants’ personal expressions; it is the material manifestation of the specific political and social conditions under which contemporary social mobility and immobility for migrants takes place. Structural inequality, an absence of access to legal documentation in the U.S., and diminishing opportunities for economic and social mobility in the U.S. and Mexico have produced the spaces in which the remittance house becomes a viable, albeit imperfect, option. To understand these newly constructed homes as imperfect is to ask about the costs and consequences of binational building from below, building a dream home in one place while living and working in another. In order to remit, nuclear families are often separated or fragmented across geographies. For example, mothers and daughters live in a remittance house in Mexico, while fathers and sons work in and send money from the U.S. Meanwhile, elderly parents live in a home built with dollars on a street mostly abandoned or empty due to what neighbors refer to as “the floating population” abroad. Families split by gender or generation incur social and psychological costs as bodies are replaced by dollars, and living at a distance from one’s immediate family is normalized. The project of building a remittance house—of attempting to secure and invest in a future for one’s family—is also susceptible to the complexities of living life as a migrant in the U.S. Both documented and undocumented migrants might lose their jobs, build new relationships in the U.S. while attempting to maintain marriages or relationships in Mexico, become responsible for their ill parents in Mexico, or become ill themselves. Undocumented migrants are especially vulnerable as they live under the terror of apprehension, incarceration, and deportation, and are generally unable to return home without incurring great risk. For any number of reasons, homes may be incomplete or abandoned altogether. Ultimately, the remittance house teaches non-migrants important lessons. They are evidence of migrants’ strengths, the discipline required to achieve personal goals. They are evidence of complex social patterns and costs for families fragmented by global capital, and for whom remitting has become a way of life. Scaling up, they are also evidence of the Mexican and U.S. governments’ unwillingness to enact binational protections and opportunities for a flexible and exploited labor force that the U.S. economy has depended on for over 100 years. Understanding the remittance house in its messy complexity can cultivate the public’s awareness of the extended and complicated spaces that “migrants” are enmeshed in and co-constituting. If Mexican migrants in the U.S. were collectively supported, the term “remittance house” would become obsolete. With the capacity to choose where to live and work, and with the ability to travel, those who built homes in Mexico would join the millions of elite Americans and Mexicans who have second homes or vacation homes. For now, the remittance house captivates, and its meaning reverberates within Mexico and across the Rio Grande.