INDEPENDENCE. 19th century.
Mexico's is part of a European urban tradition dating before Hausmann's Paris or Nash's Regency London.
The Plaza of the Constitution, El Zocalo Figure 1, Centro Historico, adheres to that European tradition despite its many transformations. Of those transformations, the parterre of some sixty years ago was far more appropriate for a humane city than it's current guise as a vast wind-swept military parade ground. Yet, while lacking in human scale, appropriate for its military function, it makes up in grandeur that, clearly, is a part of Mexican's psyche, as evinced by its popularity.
And yet as an interesting anecdote aside I am intrigued by the way people seek relief from the glaring Sun on this vast expanse by congregating in the only, if meager, shade there is in the shadow of the flag pole in the center. Maybe the parterre with shade trees may, one day, be re-introduced!
Leading off to the west from el zocalo is Avenida Cinco de Mayo Figure 2,. It covers eight blocks, just over one kilometre in length. This is a particularly beautiful urban avenue because it clearly starts from somewhere, i.e. el zocalo, and clearly ends somewhere, i.e. Palacio del Bellas Artes. At el zocalo, the eastern end, the western tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral satisfactorily terminates the vista. The western vista is open to the Central Alameda and the plaza fronting the Palacio. All buildings make a direct front with no open spaces to the street, which means its geometry is easily recognized as though adhering to a well-defined 'IBEX,' build-to line.
Most calles and avenidas within Centro Historico are similar to Cinco de Mayo: textured cobble stoned paving, pedestrian-scaled, busy with people and traffic.
Plaza y Portales Santo Domingo, Centro Historico is shown in Figure 3,. Dilapidated it is! The plaza is busy dawn to dusk for business and pleasure. It is far more than a picturesque tourist attraction, though. Printers, las evangelistas, working from their unique wooden stalls, and their customers, bring it alive.
Plaza Santo Domingo has a scale and use that makes it one of the city's great urban spaces. Proportions, dimensions, height of buildings to width of plaza, are appropriately humane. Tactile, somatic experiences abound. This is what has attracted me to Mexico: the way public urban space is scaled, varies and inter-weaves: Santo Domingo, contrasting, and connected, to el Zocalo demonstrates this.
Mesones @ Correo Mayor, Centro Historico Figure 4, and similar streets are as much a part of urban space as are zocalos and plazas: as this intersection demonstrated by the widened sidewalk on the Southeast corner. The streets are narrow and congested but clearly popular.
Plaza Hidalgo y Jardin Centenario, Coyoacan Figure 5,. Is this a hippie market? It is certainly a picturesque tourist attraction on weekends. Still, it is a model worthy of the attention of contemporary urban designers.
Trace a path Figure 6, from Jardin Centenario, across Plaza Hidalgo, along Higuera to Plaza Conchita to the park beyond Fernandez Leal. It is an experience, moving through somatic sensibilities, space - scale - aroma - sound - touch - light, of a well designed urban ambience.
Yet another interesting urban experience is from Churubusco to San Angel Figure 7,. Avenida Xicotencatl, Churubusco, is relatively low density residential; Avenida Mexico in Coyoacan is somewhat higher density residential; the Viveros Coyoacan forestry reserve is surprisingly tranquil considering its location within the largest city in the world; Vito Alessio Robles is a gracious boulevard shaded by large eucalyptus and finally San Angel, with its textured streets and Plaza San Jacinto. A wise government decision in 1932 decreed that streets be paved with textured cobblestones and historic buildings be preserved. We benefit, today, greatly from that decision in colonial and 19th century developments such as San Angel and Coyoacan.
All told, Figure 7, describes a five-kilometer walk but with all the attractions it will take all day.
Such places can inform modern urban designers, as well, in the way they have accreted incrementally. As a contrast to today's homogenization, and unlike today, no one developer took over these vast areas of land, imposing their singular sterile style. Individuals contributing to the unified entirety accreted the whole.
ART DECO. 1920 - 30's.
Art deco, probably more than anywhere else in the world defined Mexico's national culture. These were the hay-days for artists, Rivera, Siqueiros, Orozco, Guerrero. The revolution safely behind them Mexicans began the creative task of building their country. Those were exciting times.
The creative energy of this period came from a self-confidence that gave these artists the opportunity to express the national spirit in an original, conscious style.
Nowhere is the era of Art deco in La Ciudad de Mexico more vividly represented that in the area known as Hipodromo La Condesa Figure 8,. I can best describe Hipodromo by quoting a recent magazine devoted to the Canadian architectural profession 'The Canadian Architect' from its Travel Diary***.
"Wandering south of Mexico City's Zona Rosa one beautiful spring day, I came across the tree lined Avenida Amsterdam quite by accident. Nice place I thought, as I walked along the leafy boulevard running down the centre of the street, eager to discover where this may lead. I was engrossed with the colourful array of art-deco apartment blocks lining the avenue when after about half an hour, I arrived back at where I started. Odd, I thought - just like a racetrack. Later that evening in a Mariachi Bar near the Plaza Garibaldi, I was told over tequilas that I had inadvertently stumbled across the Hipodromo la Condesa - a racetrack that once existed on the former hacienda inherited by the Condesa de Miravalle. Not only had I taken a highly entertaining walk in central Mexico City. I had inadvertently engaged in a little urban archaeology as well.
The Colonia Condesa neighborhood was laid out to facilitate residential development by an Emilio Donde in 1902. It was not until 1925, however, that architect Jose Luis Cuevas (not to be mistaken for the Mexican artist of the same name) took advantage of the abandoned jockey club by turning it into the boulevarded Avenida Amsterdam. An inner ring road, the Avenida Mexico, was laid out inside this track to encircle the new Parque San Martin. Over 13 hectares in area, this shady green contains sumptuous fountains, a spectacular outdoor theatre shaded by pergolas laden with mounds of magenta bougainvillaea, a large reflecting pond, and plenty of serene places to sit. The Avenida Michoacan was extended through the development and where it bisects the park there is a large statue / fountain of a robust, nude woman, who I have been emphatically ensured, is not the Condesa. Two small circular Plazas, the Popocatepetl to the north and the Citlaitepetl to the south, complete a system of garden city green spaces that help to orient both locals and visitors as they make their way among the radiating streets of the neighborhood. "
I should mention that in addition to the small circular plazas Popocatepelt and Citlaitepetl there is one other, Plaza Iztaccihuatl in the southeast quadrant of that area. The "nude woman, who I have been emphatically ensured, is not the Condesa." is quite striking!
Hipodomo La Condesa incorporates all the attributes that make a beautiful urban park: pedestrian activity, humanely scaled streets, incrementally developed buildings and, easily accessible commercial, retail establishments. I have visited this park on many occasions and always there are many people enjoying leisurely strolls or children playing: even boy scout and girl guide troops.
I couldn't convince my friend as we drove by one beautiful new colorful modern building on Amsterdam that it was in fact a very well designed contemporary single-family residence. It is in fact the very famous Casa Amsterdam, designed in a Corbusian style, by Arq. Teodoro Gonzales de Leon: indeed, it is his home. And note, Figure 9,, how it respects the traditional 'build to' line.
Thus, incrementally, building still goes on. There are additional interesting, recent designs, other than Casa Amsterdam: the point being, of course, incremental building continues even though the bulk of development commenced in 1925.