I'm a believer in the power of architecture (or construction in general, no matter how bad it is) to have an impact on the way we live and how we feel. I saw the Taj Mahal for the first time last month and wondered at man's amazing capacity to express the concept of perfection. Closer to home, a visit to the Palacio de Bellas Artes might lift your spirits and create a sudden urge to drink champagne. A ride to the mirador atop the Torre Latinoamericana may cause your concept self-importance to shrink to microscopic size. Passing by the derelict Edificio Insurgentes, you might find yourself clutching your bag closer to your chest, holding your breath in fear.
For years I've been looking out my studio window in Colonia Roma and seeing the building in the photo below, without giving it much thought.
It used to seem quite ugly to me, just another example of the cheap building techniques so common in post-earthquake design here. Recalling cheesy sci-fi movies with its robotic repetition, it seemed nothing more than an optic nerve narcotic.
But there was something oddly fascinating about it as well, although I could never put my finger on it--until one day when my friend Lewis was visiting and we were taking in the view from my studio. "I like those modular buildings," he said. "You get a feeling they could just keep on reproducing themselves, that the design could go on forever."
It struck me that this was a great metaphor for the city itself. It's a building that suggests endless possibility, and a comforting sense of repetition and order. It's architecure that suggests that there will be a tomorrow.
Once I became attuned to this modular element I started noticing it everywhere. Ajaracas, those delightful bas-relief designs, adorn colonial facades in the Centro Histórico and Coyoacán. The buildings atop most city metro stops boast repeated 'bureaucratic chic' window motifs. The chain store Viana sports an repeating Aztec Deco facade. Everything from cheap public housing to the hip new Downtown Hotel, the Soumaya Museum, and Terminal 2 of Mexico City's airport all incorporate modular elements.
Ugly became beautiful as I saw these buildings in a new way. They began to move, dancing to Mexico City's unique urban rhythm. Have a look...