Last week’s guide to the architecture of Mexico City took us from the structural expertise of the Torre Latinoamericana through the baroque bling of the Casa de los Azulejos to the sleek, simplistic Convento de las Capuchinas Sacrementarias. This week’s second half of out tep ten will showcase some of Mexico City’s finest, taking you from the pre-Conquest Aztec era right up to today’s modernism with a Mexican flavour.
6. KAHLO/RIVERA HOME AND STUDIO
The Kahlo/Rivera House and Studio; both photos courtesy of Adrián Mallol
Home to the famous fiery Mexican couple Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, the Kahlo/Rivera Home and Studio was designed by architect and artist Juan O’Gorman and completed in 1931. O’Gorman was deeply influenced by the work of the modernist Le Corbusier, who advocated function above aesthetics, and at first the structure looks to be a simplistic copy of a European discipline with its stilted sections, exposed services, geometric design and roof garden. However, the use of bright colours – a Mexican staple, but avoided in European design – along with the cactus fence and interior use of texture proves to be a mix of the two cultures, as well as being tailored towards O’Gorman’s famous clients. The use of distinctly separate living spaces – the red for Rivera, the blue for Kahlo (reminiscent of her childhood home, Casa de Azul, or ‘the blue house’) – brought together by a bridge that symbolises their passion for each other, emphasised by the scandalous way it connects to their bedrooms. O’Gorman himself was famous for using Mexican murals and symbolism in his art and architecture, and the building is now a museum to two of Mexico’s most famous cultural icons.
Left: Tenayuca double pyramid
Right: Stone Xiuhcoatl statue, with wall of serpents visible behind; both photos courtesy of Maunus
Tenayuca is a fascinating display of Mexico City’s past, situated in the heart of Mexico City D.F. and now almost entirely surrounded by modern city architecture. Whilst there is evidence that Tenayuca was occupied as early as 200 BC, it rose to prominence when the Chichimec tribe made it the seat of their power in 1224 AD, becoming an important regional power. However, in 1434 it was conquered by Tenochtitlan, becoming part of the Aztec empire, and was subsequently taken over by the Spanish. Bernal Díaz de Castillo, serving under Cortés, described Tenayuca as the ‘town of the serpents’, and these serpents can still be seen today, as a low interlocking wall of serpents around the base of the pyramid (originally plaster-covered and painted in bright colours), and as freestanding statues. These statues have star markings on their heads and represent Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent.
The double pyramid at Tenayuca is the oldest example of a double pyramid that has ever been found, and the Aztecs adopted the structure for their own temples after conquering the city. Here, the temples of Tlaloc, the water and fertility god, and Huitzilopochtli, the sun and war god, were situated – Tlaloc’s on the northern side of the pyramid, and Huitzilopochtli’s on the south. The pyramid was constantly expanded and remodelled; the pyramid as it is now dates from 1507, but underneath is the remains of the original pyramid, which went through successive phases of expansion at approximately every 52 years – the Aztec calendar version of a century. Sadly, now, much of the knowledge of the Chichimecs’ way of life has been lost, but their legacy still remains in the stone of Tenayuca.
8. JUÁREZ COMPLEX
Left: The buildings that make up the Juárez Complex; photo courtesy of Legorreta + Legorreta
Right: The ‘water mirror’; photo courtesy of Edgar Barrera
Legorreta + Legorreta, the father and son architects from Mexico City, have produced a number of key buildings in their home city, as well as designing a number of international projects such as the Zandra Rhodes Museum in London, Pershing Square in Los Angeles and Japon House in Japan. Disciples of Barragán, whose convent design was featured last week, the duo use bright colours, geometric design, sharp angles and the play of light and shadow to create dramatic architecture in a vibrant cityscape. Built in an area that was devastated by the 1985 earthquake, the Juárez Complex is an innovative take on the traditional office block, using extrusion to break up the mass of the buildings and create drama within the mundane. The red concrete is reminiscent of the traditional Puebla houses, made of earth and mud, and the red tezontle stone commonly used in building cladding, and the base buildings are clad in pearled stone from Huixquilucan. As with many Legorreta projects, the interplay of light and water is a fundamental part of the design – here shown through the ‘water mirror’. This is a pool punctuated with more than 1,000 pyramids, with a series of hidden air injectors to create dynamic movement of the water. The complex is currently occupied by the Foreign Affairs Secretariat and the Superior Court of Justice.
9. PALACIO NACIONAL
Left: Traditional Mexican mural art by Diego Rivera; photo courtesy of Olivier Bruchez
Right: Exterior of the Palacio Nacional; photo courtesy of Jorge Lascar
The Palacio Nacional, home to government buildings such as the Federal Treasury and the National Archives, has an incredible history that reaches into the heart of Mexico City’s past. On the site that the National Palace now stands once stood Moctezuma’s ‘New Houses’ – a series of buildings that housed the official residence and governing buildings of the Aztecs. Following the Spanish Conquest, these buildings were rendered uninhabitable, but the building materials were reused to construct the replacement palace for Cortés, and later – following that palace’s destruction – for the construction of the National Palace. Much of the current Palacio is built from the materials of the original Aztec structures, and between 1926 and 1929 the facade was partially covered in red tezontle cladding, a material used extensively (and almost exclusively) in Mexican architecture and construction.
The Palace as it stands now dates from around the start of the 18th century, although following Mexican independence from Spain in 1830 successive presidents extended and remodelled the building. The building is an essential part of Mexican history, housing the bell that Father Hidalgo rang to call for rebellion against Spain in 1810 (the bell was relocated from Guanajuato to Mexico City), and either side of the bell are statues of Aztec eagle knights and their Spanish counterparts, symbolising the synthesis of the two cultures. Within the building are housed many panels and murals painted by Diego Rivera between 1929 and 1935, following the Mexican traditional of mural art and depicting the history of Mexico and its indigenous people. These do not shy away from depicting the true ugliness of the Conquest, with scenes of rape and torture prominent amongst the fighting. Another treasure includes a statue of the admired President Benito Juárez, who guided the country through the French invasion and the Reform War of the mid to late 19th century. This statue is made from the French projectiles at the Battle of Puebla and the bronze cannons of the opposing Conservative army during the Reform War, therefore creating art from the very history of Mexico and Mexico City.
10. CONJUNTO ARCOS BOSQUES
Left: Torre I; photo by Eneas de Troya Right: Torre II; photo by Abbaner Casmill
The dual towers of Conjunto Arcos Boscos are both commercial towers situated on the same site in the region of Bosques de las Lomas region of Mexico City. Created by architects Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon and J. Francisco Serrano, both of Mexico City, the towers were not built at the same time, but over ten years apart, with the first tower, Torre I, reaching completion in 1996, and Torre II reaching completion in 2008. Both towers, however, are linked in their edgy geometry and unusual design. Both use a double-tower system with regular square windows to create a grid pattern in the facades; both use white concrete and glass to create a clean, elegant and sleek look to the elevations of the towers. However, both skew the dual tower system through their use of linking bridges between the towers, producing a new take on the traditional cuboid skyscraper – Torre I with its unusual upside-down U shape, and Torre II with its blade-like central walkway. As with most cities, human nature decreed that Torre I has been given the nickname ‘Torre del Pantalón’ – the Trousers Building.