Why is Mexico City a magnet for designers and architects?

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No amount of badmouthing from the White House can dampen enthusiasm for Mexico, a fount of exciting design and architecture. DnA learns more about it, on a trip to Mexico City and in conversation with the founders of SCI-Arc’s satellite school in the Mexican capital.

Mexico City’s Cineteca Nacional, designed by Michel Rojkind (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

While President Trump sends out tweet after negative tweet about Mexico, designers and architects are preoccupied with the country for other reasons: it is fast emerging as a capital of cool.

Marisol Centeno, Creative Director of Bi Yuu, designs rugs using natural dyes that she creates in collaboration with craftspeople in Oaxaca. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“In Los Angeles particularly there’s a really growing interest in Mexican culture at large, and Mexico City particularly,” said Hernan Diaz Alonso, director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, or SCI-Arc, in the Arts District.

What is attractive, he says, is the combination of “contemporary technology and old crafts traditions. And you can see these in food, in fashion, in art.”

Alberto Kalach designed the astonishing Biblioteca Vasconcelas, opened in 2008 after construction problems, but was worth the struggle — library as cathedral. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

You can find cross-border collaborations, pop-ups of Mexican design in Los Angeles and, in Mexico City and other cities, dazzling new buildings by architects such as Michel Rojkind and Alberto Kalach as well as ancient edifices dating back as far as the Aztec empire.

Diaz says he believes that “Mexico City has become the beacon of the Latin American city,” and the school has established a satellite in the capital.

It is helmed by the architect Francisco Pardo out of his architecture office in the Juarez neighborhood, buzzing with new eateries, clubs and modern Mexican design stores.

The roof of Francisco Pardo’s office in Juarez serves as display space for work by students at SCI-Arc’s satellite school. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Visiting students and faculty collaborate on projects of interest to both cities, such as affordable housing.

One of the cross-collaborations was to design prototypical houses for INFONAVIT, the Mexican “Instituto del Fondo Nacional de la Vivienda para los Trabajadores,” a federal organization established in 1972 to provide credits for worker housing in Mexico to maquiladora employees.

Prototypical $10,000 house for INFONAVIT by RNThomsen (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

In the view of Pardo and other critics, INFONAVIT has devolved into a loan agency, relinquishing design, build and quality control to developers. The result: thousands of ill-built homes located in unsustainably distant locations.

Prototypes by four SCI-Arc faculty teams (Griffin Enright; Pita + Bloom; Zago Architecture; RNThomsen Architecture) were selected and are being built.

Prototypical $10,000 house for INFONAVIT by Pita-Bloom

Students also are learning how to manage growth in cities that are essentially city-states. The two cities share some challenges, like over-dependence on cars and fast-growing populations. At times they follow each other.

Los Angeles is embracing Latin-style public space more than in the past, evidenced most recently by passage of a framework for a street vending law.

And it has differences. There is huge poverty in Mexico City and the rest of Mexico but, according to Pardo, less homelessness. Why might that be?

Pardo talked to DnA about all this, and about what visiting Mexican students take away from their visits to SCI-Arc. The photos on this page are of some sights in Mexico City, taken on a recent trip there.

Ikal is a new concept store in the Polanco neighborhood promoting new, independent Mexican design. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Pre-columbian imagery is celebrated in this mural in the Roma Norte neighborhood. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Mexico City has an energy that results from the collision between old and new buildings. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Casa Gilardi by Luis Barragan is a late work by Mexico’s famed Modernist. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Heres one way to decorate a street tree, seen in the Roma neighborhood. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
Designers have come up with inventive ways to enliven the street furniture, seen in the Roma district. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
A cotton candy vendor on the street in Mexico City. All photos by Frances Anderton. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)
What a Babe! Pigs are an accessory for some Mexico City residents; one is walked here by a dog walker seen in the Condesa neighborhood. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)