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Historians have extensively explored the topic of architecture in Mexico City in the 20th century. From the relationships between politics, public patrons, new construction technologies, and new idioms of modernism, the impressive story of architecture in this megalopolis continues to astound and captivate people’s imaginations. Architecture was a channel that politicians used to address housing, education, and health care needs in a rapidly growing city. Yet scholars have not been especially concerned with private construction projects and their influence on the process of shaping and being shaped by the visual representation of Mexico City. Private building projects reveal an alternative reality of the city—one not envisioned by politicians and public institutions. Private construction projects in the historic city center are particularly interesting due to their location. These buildings are built on ancient clay lakebeds and volcanic soil on which the Aztecs first built the city. Not only are these buildings located in the heart of the city, the buildings in the rest of the historic district are also sinking. Any building in a historic district that has withstood the test of time should be an object of interest to scholars. The Torre Latinoamericana is perhaps the only building in the historic district and the entire city that ceases to sink, and instead floats! Located on the corner of Madero and San Juan de Letrán, the building sits at the heart of history, culture, and ancient Aztec clay lakebeds. The Torre Latinoamericana was built between 1948 and 1956 and is one of the most important visual symbols of resilience and modernity in Mexico City today.

Article

Ricardo Pérez Montfort

From the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, Mexican popular music underwent a significant transformation, thanks to the growth of Mexico City as an urban center and to the influence of both regional and international music genres. At the same time, the Mexican public experienced a profound shift in the way music was consumed. Over the course of five generations, traditional modes of encountering music gave way to a more cosmopolitan enjoyment of new and old musical styles.

Article

Historians have extensively explored the topic of water control in Mexico City. From the relationship between political power and hydraulics to detailed studies of drainage and other large-scale infrastructure projects, the epic story of water in this megalopolis, constructed over a series of ancient lakes, continues to captivate people’s imaginations. Securing potable water for the fast-growing city is also a constant struggle, yet it has received comparatively less attention than drainage in historical research. Moreover, until quite recently scholars have not been especially concerned with water control as a process of representation—that is, a process shaped by, and shaping, visual culture. Yet, potable water brings together many stories about people and places both within and outside of the Basin of Mexico. As such, the history of potable water is communicated through a diverse array of objects and modern infrastructures not limited to the idea of waterworks in the traditional sense of the term. A more expansive view of “infrastructure” incorporates more than the commonplace objects of hydraulic management such as aqueducts, pumps, wells, and pipes: it also involves architecture, photography, and narrative history, official and unofficial. Built in the first decade of the 20th century as a response to acute water shortages, the impressively modern Xochimilco Potable Water Works exemplifies a system that delivered far more than fresh drinking water through its series of modern electric pumps and aqueduct. The system was a result of a larger modernization initiative launched by the administration of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). It wove together an official history of water, which included the annexation of Xochimilco’s springs, through its diverse infrastructures, including the engineering of the potable water system as well as the significance of the structures themselves in terms of locations and architectural elaboration in neo-styles (also known as historical styles) typical of the period. Demonstrably clear from the sheer investment in making the Xochimilco waterworks appealing to the public is that infrastructure can possess a rich visual culture of its own.

Article

Urbanization and environmental change have worked in tandem over the course of Mexican history. Hinterland production, the establishment of market economies, and the intensive transformation of nature have fueled urban growth. The concentration of capital and expertise in cities has, in turn, enabled urban elites to rework the urban environment by creating industrial centers, executing technical-heavy infrastructure, building new subdivisions, and regulating hygiene. From the beaches of Cancún and the air and water pollution of Tijuana’s industrial parks to the prolific silver mines of Zacatecas and the henequen monoculture surrounding Mérida, Yucatán, rapid urban growth and profound changes to the environment within and outside cities have depended on and intersected with each other.

Article

Kathryn E. O’Rourke

Architecture in Mexico City in the mid-20th century was shaped by rapid economic and urban growth, demographic change, new construction technologies, and politics. Architects adapted modernist idioms and those that evoked historical precedents for new purposes. Key figures who had begun practice earlier in the century, including Mario Pani, Juan O’Gorman, José Villagrán García, and Luis Barragán, designed major new works and strongly influenced the profession, even as a new generation led by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Ricardo Legorreta, and Teodoro González de Léon came of age. As they had been since the 1920s, public patrons were the most important clients of modern buildings, which often addressed needs for better housing, education, and health care. The period also saw the rise of modern suburbs and the evolution of the single-family house, as well as the creation of major buildings for increasingly important cultural institutions, especially museums. As they had in preceding decades, architects used the non-architectural arts, particularly painting, to distinguish their works. The legacy of the Mexican muralist movement was most evident on the facades of major buildings in the new University City, where the influence of international modernist planning principles was also striking. In 1968 Mexico City hosted the Olympics, for which architects, planners, and designers created a network of buildings and images that functioned interdependently to present Mexico as cosmopolitan and historically rooted in its indigenous history. Sprawl and pollution worsened in the 1970s, as the capital came to be dominated by buildings that were not designed by architects. While some observers questioned the relevance of architecture in the face of seemingly unstoppable and uncontrollable growth, talented young architects responded with buildings notable for their monumentality, mass, and sophisticated engagement with historical types.

Article

Female occupational and economic choices help clarify understandings of colonial historic agency, especially in the lives of Mexican women who made their income as alcahuetas or “bawds.” These women hosted and managed other women in the marketing and selling of sex acts in the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Viceregal bawds manipulated both the sex lives of their clients and the paternalism of crown justice in hopes of exoneration in court. They walked a precarious legal tightrope, negotiating the fluctuating margins of legal procuring and the transition to more stringent laws against sex for sale. The examples presented here, drawn from contemporary archival documents, show that these women’s lives span most of New Spain’s history, ranging from 1570 to the independence era in the early 19th century. In the 16th century, bawdry resembled the clandestine personal mediation that was common and familiar in medieval and early modern Spain. Bawds working in the 1st century of Spanish rule in Mexico carefully defended their social respectability to contradict evidence that they solicited for clients in the street. Reputable hospitality featured prominently in the early 17th-century procuring, while indigenous-influenced sorcery and love magic dominated the understanding of 17th- and early 18th-century alcahuetas. Lastly, in the 19th century, profitable market exchange characterized professional brothel operations, granting bawds honorable status within their economic and occupational community. Bawds recorded in the archives demonstrate communication skills, entrepreneurialism, and a concern for reputation through all of these eras. These intelligent female survivors offer compelling representations of viceregal women who exercised their personal agency to forge their own economic prosperity.

Article

Beginning in the 1880s, the modern foundations for architecture as a profession and academic discipline were established in Latin America’s major cities. Soon thereafter, urban planning (urbanismo) began to emerge as a distinct discipline in a period of scientific and technological innovation. This rich history has been compiled, digitized, and made available to the public by two key institutions: the Facultad de Arquitectura of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (FA-UNAM) in Mexico and the Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo of the Universidad de Buenos Aires in Argentina (FADU). Collectively, these two digital projects contain a wealth of information for scholars to research the cultural and intellectual histories of cities in both Argentina and Mexico. The primary resources available on both platforms provide valuable insights into how Latin America’s leading architects and planners analyzed, debated, and envisioned urban life in the 20th century.

Article

Mexico City’s subway, commonly known as “el Metro,” opened its first line of service on September 4, 1969. Since then, the mass transit system, operated by the Sistema de Transporte Colectivo (STC), has expanded to include 195 stations across twelve lines that serve an estimated five and a half million riders per day. The metro was constructed not only to alleviate severe traffic congestion in the city’s center due to population growth and private car use, but also it was envisioned as part of a plan to modernize the city and raise Mexico to the status of world cities such as Paris and Montreal. The low fare has made it one of the primary modes of transportation for the city’s working class, who use it in combination with other forms of public transportation to reach jobs in distant parts of the metropolis. Some studies have shown that the Metro has exacerbated geographic segregation between rich and poor as well as perpetuated low wages. Beyond its function as a mass transit system, the Metro was envisioned as and still serves as an important cultural space. The graphic designers and architects who led the project integrated modern architectural elements with graphic embellishments and signage that incorporated national culture and history to present a modernity uniquely Mexican. In its almost fifty years of service, the Metro has become an important symbol of the capital’s cultural life that everyday Mexicans have used for their own political, economic, and cultural purposes.

Article

Aridity, a significant characteristic of the U.S.–Mexico borderlands, has affected water use patterns for different groups of people in this region for thousands of years. From indigenous groups to European invaders and colonizers to 20th- and 21st-century farmers, ranchers, and policy-makers in Mexico and the United States, controlling the area’s scarce water resources has been a vital concern for survival and economic success. Given that an international border divides the region, national-era relations between the United States and Mexico often have been marked by water issues and the development of water projects and policies. And on both sides of the border these projects and policies have caused environmental changes that merit attention. Much of that history revolves around agricultural development with the need to ensure steady sources of water for irrigation. But industry and urban areas have also been enormous consumers of scarce water resources in the region, issues that are discussed here.

Article

Porfirio Díaz’s liberal dictatorship used the centenary of independence to promote material progress, political stability, and the mestizo nation, all of which have remained important characteristics of the Mexican state. The centennial program lionized José Maria Morelos as a mestizo hero of independence and Benito Juárez as an architect of La Reforma and savior of the nation. Besides his remarkable political career, Juárez symbolized the cultural transformation of an Indian into a mestizo through education and secularization, a process advocated by Porfirian social engineers as essential to Mexico’s modernization. Porfirians also viewed Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage as a source of national pride and identity. For the Centenary, the government expanded the national ethnographic museum, reconstructed Teotihuacán, and sponsored the International Congress of Americanists where scholars presented papers on precolonial cultures. Porfirians’ appreciation for the pre-Columbians, however, did not extend to contemporary Indians, who were considered to be a drag on modernization and an embarrassment. Mexico’s modernization was symbolized by the transformation of Mexico City, the principal venue for the Centennial programs. The capital had been remodeled along Parisian lines with grand boulevards, roundabouts (glorietas), and green space. Electric tramways also connected neighborhoods with downtown, new fashionable suburbs displayed mansions with modern conveniences, and high-end department stores sold merchandise imported from Paris and London. During the Centenary, the Paseo de la Reforma and downtown avenues accommodated parades with patriotic and commercial themes, and central plazas provided space for industrial and cultural exhibitions similar to those found at international fairs. The Desfile Histórico depicted scenes from the conquest, colonial, and independence periods that outlined a liberal version of Mexican history. The program also featured openings of primary schools, a public university, an insane asylum, and water works, all indicative of Porfirian notions of modernization. The Centennial’s audience included Mexico City residents, visitors from the provinces, and delegates from the United States, Europe, and Asia. International and liberal newspapers characterized events as festive and patriotic, while the conservative press protested the lack of attention given to Agustín de Iturbide, the conservative independence leader, and to the Catholic Church. During the celebration, supporters of Francisco I. Madero, the reformer imprisoned by Díaz, organized two protests that interrupted events and foreshadowed troubles ahead. Following Madero’s escape from prison, his call to revolution was answered by peasants, provincial elites, and local strongmen whose movements forced Díaz to resign the following year. Revolutionary governments subsequently used Independence Day celebrations, including another centennial in 1921, to promote their political and cultural agendas, including anti-clericalism and indigenous culture as national culture.

Article

Researchers in major Mexico City archives in the early 1970s had access to very few finding aids for historical documents and record sets. Since then, archivists and researchers have worked diligently to organize record sets and create catalogues for an untold number of documents. Since the early twenty-first century, researchers in the Archivo General de la Nación, the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México, the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México, the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, and the Archivo General de Notarías have been able to access databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and a small array of digital collections. Work toward inventorying and cataloguing record sets began long before the development of technologies available today. Typescript catalogues for record sets in the Archivo Histórico de la Ciudad de México date from the 1920s. Work on inventories, card catalogues, typescripts, and published catalogues for record sets in the Archivo General de la Nación and the Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional began during the 1930s and 1940s. Work on cataloguing the documents in the Archivo General de Notarías and the Archivo Histórico del Arzobispado de México began during the 1980s and 1990s. Since the early twenty-first century researchers have been able to access databases, searchable PDF catalogues, and a limited number of digitized documents for all these major archives. New technologies began to make digitization possible, and thus Mexican libraries, along with archives, began to digitize primary and secondary sources. Some of those projects involve digitizing microfilm; others involve digitizing complete record sets and printed books. Still others involve transcriptions of historical documents. While the scope and quality of those projects vary from institution to institution, all create heretofore unimaginable access to historical documents.