Learning from... Mexico City

Talk, in English, Paul-Desmarais Theatre, 10 May 2012 , 7pm

Arturo Ortiz Struck describes the boundaries of formal and legal building in the context of Mexico:

In order to build a critical view of the production of space and architecture in this environment, we should start from two fundamental premises. The first considers that spaces reflect who we are, and they express our cultural ways and how we unfold in everyday life. The second premise is based in the understanding that cities are an expression of societies in relation to their historical production, but also to their ideological background. The millions of little houses constructed in the urban outskirts of Mexico exemplify this premise; the financial and governmental institutions that produce them see the population not as citizens but as gears of the economy. They produce credits, not houses. The system of housing production generates the conditions in which citizens, without losing their rights and legal status, are scarred by the economic system while continuing to maintain it.

Design does matter in deeply aspirational societies, environments in which a frustrated materialism runs the decisions of millions of people. Through it meanings are generated, and these generally point out that personal growth lies within each individual’s capacity to prove his proximity to utopia and modernity, even if sometimes the utopia is more similar to a Disney film than an improvement in the quality of life. For example, in every district in Mexico City, there is a castle with battlements. People in Mexico love to have their own castle with ‘servants’. The ‘servants’ are a subject that uncovers the violence and the systematic informality of our societies, and spaces are there to verify it. As a market requirement, in every middle and high-class home a service room is destined to house a woman who generally does not enjoy labor rights, whose working hours are not established, who is not allowed to bring over friends or lovers, who is not allowed to leave when she pleases, and who is apart from her family at least six days a week.

Likewise, in the economical system’s inability to include everyone, informal settlements, favelas, slums, or however we wish to call them, define more than half the urban production in Latin America. These huge settings make clear that even if design does matter, the architects and designers don’t. They have become luxury tools that are useful to build castles, perhaps more modern, contemporary or global!

What is or should be the commitment of architecture and design in this context? Should we be worried about participating in new creative proposals that function for a global spectacle? Can we direct our view towards our local environment?

This lecture is part of the Learning from… series.


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