Tuesday, January 20, 2015


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...




Rochelle Cashdan said...

What a good eye you have, Jim. I'll start looking for modules in Guanajuato Capital too before I make a trip to Mexico City next month.

kate said...

Love the architecture in the DF. Looking forward to a visit in May. Thank you for the wonderful pictures.

Anonymous said...

On a totally unrelated note:
Two things I suggest you share with your tourist readers:
1. When going to a museum, always ask what exhibits/rooms/floors are closed. Otherwise, you will pay full price only to find out that a great deal of the building may be closed (such as Palacio de Bellas Artes last week).
2. Never expect a museum to be open, just because the schedule says it should be (e.g., the Palacio Nacional until further notice).
Best wishes.

Doug said...

What a great post! I love these patterns (I've pointed my camera at Viviana before). I never knew to describe this as modular architecture. On several trips to Milan I've marveled at the similarity of post-WWII buildings in Italy to those in Mexico. Now I know some of it is "beaucratic chic." Thanks for this informative piece.

laura ann loveland said...

Excelente! You have opened my eyes and now I will see with more appreciation from what I have learned from your posting. Gracias and saludos, Laura

Señor H said...

Hello from Sweden!
Great blog with interesting architecture!

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that you start by pointing out the ugliness of the Edificio Insurgentes. Personally, I don't think it's bad at all. But more notably, there are *FAR* uglier buildings in DF, as you know, even (perhaps especially) on Insurgentes. One of the big problems for buildings in DF is that few ever get their facades cleaned, which of course really detracts from a building.

I enjoyed the rest of your shots, though. I've spent a lot of time in DF, and always found the architecture an interesting melange.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where our city hall is a central monument to architecture gone bad.

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