Mexico City's Cineteca Nacional, designed by Michel Rojkind, is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. Photo by Frances Anderton.
FROM THIS EPISODE
While President Trump sends out tweet after negative tweet about Mexico, designers are preoccupied with the country -- for its food, fashion, architecture and products that meld old traditions and new technology.
“In Los Angeles particularly, there’s a really growing interest in Mexico’s culture at large,” said Hernan Diaz Alonso, director of LA-based SCI-Arc. “I really believe that Mexico City has become the beacon of the Latin American city.”
The experimental architecture school has set up a satellite school in the capital.
Francisco Pardo directs the program out of his architecture office in the Juárez neighborhood, buzzing with new eateries, clubs and modern Mexican design stores.
“The contextual condition of Mexico City is very particular. It’s super eclectic. It doesn't have a homogeneous mass like Paris or like Barcelona,” Pardo said. “Mexico City is experimenting on different kinds of architecture. The codes are changing to densify the city so you can have a high rise of 30-40 floors next to a two-floor house.”
“And this is super exciting for architecture because it doesn't give you the boredom of cities of having the same kind of condition all over,” he added. “I'm sure LA is going to start going in that direction for sure because it needs density to be able to work for the next 50-100 years.”
Visiting students and faculty from SCI-Arc collaborate on projects of interest to both cities, such as affordable housing. And they study the highly built-up Mexico City for lessons it might teach about growth.
Pardo tells DnA about how Mexico City compares to LA in terms of street vendors and the use of public space, earthquake resilience, parking requirements, homelessness and affordable housing.
Mexico City’s Biblioteca Vasconcelos, designed by Alberto Kalach, serves as both a public library and a botanical garden. Photo credit: Frances Anderton.
This week the first full-length trailer was released for “Crazy Rich Asians,” a film opening in August. It’s based on the bestselling rom-com of the same name by Kevin Kwan. “It's really the Downton Abbey of Asia. This is a family story it's about a ridiculously rich clan that's been privileged for generations,” Kwan said.
The book details the relationship of Rachel Chu, an American-born Chinese woman, who falls in love with Nicholas Young, a fellow professor at NYU. When he invites her to a wedding in Singapore, Kwan says, what she assumes is just a summer holiday turns into “Pride and Prejudice in Asia” when she realizes “his family is richer than God and he's sort of the Prince William of Singapore, or of Asia, really.”
The popular novel invites readers “to just see the clash of cultures and get a peek behind the scenes of this very privileged class of people that exist in Asia,” Kwan says, and he worked with the film’s costume designer Mary Vogt and production designer Nelson Coates to get the fashion and food and sets just right.
“Basically you try to become the expert in whatever your subject matter is,” Coates tells DnA, adding that it was an “unbelievable, unabashed joy” to work on this movie.
He had to do extensive research into the fashions, art and tastes of the Chinese diaspora, including the specifics of the old Peranakan culture in what is now Singapore.
This promoted DnA to ask if below the line talent such as designers should hail from the community the movie depicts.
After all, issues of identity are front and center right now, in the era of #OscarsSoWhite and the Academy’s campaign to boost diversity. And the relevance of identity to design is going to be a focus of upcoming DnA shows.
Coates says that even as a good designer can do the research, he’s certainly been thinking about this issue in his role as head of the Art Directors Guild.
“As designers we should be able to go beyond just our particular cultural touch points,” he said. “I've always hired a colorblind crew. That's always been a very, very strong concern for me. Just because you get different perspectives.”
Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians (2018). Photo by Sanja Bucko - © 2017 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. AND SK GLOBAL ENTERTAINMENT
Kevin Kwan, Author of "Rich People Problems" (@kevinkwanbooks)
Nelson Coates, Production designer and art director, production designer for “Crazy Rich Asians”
Ruth E. Carter, costume designer, “Black Panther” (@iamRuthECarter)
DnA: Kevin Kwan satirizes Asian elite in "Rich People Problems"
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Drops Lavish First Trailer
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Star Claps Back At Criticism That He’s ‘Not Asian Enough’
'Black Panther' Costume Designer Draws On The Sacred Geometry Of Africa
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