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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

Across the last 25 years, digital projects on the visual culture of Latin America have begun to shape, ever more fundamentally, both research and teaching environments. To be sure, books and journal essays remain the dominant mode of publishing (and significantly so), but digital projects—made possible in part because of increasingly accessible databases and less expensive editing platforms—are becoming widely recognized as key elements in the visual and intellectual landscape. The visual culture of Spanish America (also known as colonial visual culture or viceregal visual culture) extends across three centuries, dating from roughly 1520 to 1820. Yet its history, which embraces both the physical traces of everyday life and ephemeral experiences, is arguably the least familiar of Latin America’s artistic and material legacies, especially outside Latin American Studies. Nonetheless, the period has inspired a suite of projects that, considered together, highlight the current potentials (and limits) of digital work, provide useful models for future research, and open onto debates relevant across the digital humanities (as they are currently called). If this is the basic landscape, then what are the important issues when it comes to the intersections of digital technologies and colonial visual culture? This question is considered here along three avenues. First, what can be achieved with existing software, particularly imaging software, and the inherent epistemological assumptions imbedded in software commonly used? This topic receives the most attention because future research depends so heavily upon our perceptions and understandings of present technological capabilities. The second theme considered is accessibility. Given that institution-driven projects, most often online ventures sponsored by a museum or a library, have opened certain collections to an online public, what are the implications of the accessibility they offer, and how might such databases shape the parameters of research—both in the data they provide and in the kinds of questions their technologies make it possible to pose and answer? Finally, consideration is given to the possibilities and potentials for collaboration that the online environment offers in the study of visual culture of Latin America. To set a framework for discussion, this article begins with a broad view, “The Object(s) of Visual Culture,” and then turns to examples of scholar-driven projects currently online. Typically, these are generated by scholars working at universities and dependent upon both internal and external funding. The sections “Seeing Images, Knowing Landscapes” and “Epistemological Assumptions” not only describe examples, but also explore the modes of interpretation that digital environments enable and the habits of viewing that are produced as a result. Because scholar-driven projects do not exist in isolation, the article turns to institution-driven projects, represented primarily by digitized museum collections and archives, which have become central components of the research environment. Many projects in this vein are well-described elsewhere—our focus therefore rests on the effects on the larger research landscape, in a section called “Accessibility, Canonicity, Finance.” Lastly, issues related to collaboration are dealt with, in order to both address ideas that are being explored through digital work in other fields, but which have not yet surfaced with much force in the field of colonial visual culture, and to ask why.

Article

Fernando Luiz Lara

Brazilian modern architecture was widely celebrated in the 1940s and 1950s as a tropical branch of Corbusian architecture. While there is truth and depth to the influence of Le Corbusier in Brazil, the architecture of this country is much more than simply an application of his principles to a warmer climate. Moreover, Brazilian 20th-century architecture cannot be defined only by a few decades in which their buildings coincided with and reinforce northern expectations. Many contemporary authors have explored the pervasive nature of such ethnocentrism in architectural history, which denies agency and initiative to anyone outside its intellectual borders. A more adequate analysis must give proper emphasis to Brazilian architects’ motivations and agency, exploring in their main buildings how they struggled to express themselves and their societal aspirations by skillfully manipulating a formal and spatial vocabulary of international modernity. A contemporary study of Brazilian 20th-century architecture would not be worthy of its title if it did not address similar double standards that have been applied domestically. It is paramount to understand that the influence of modernism in the built environment reached way beyond the well-known centers of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and its manifestations go way beyond the high modernism of the 1940s and 50s. The ethnocentrism of the global North Atlantic repeats itself in Brazil, with the architectures of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo overshadowing all others. If Brazilian architecture in general is not well known, notwithstanding its extraordinary achievements, still less known are the buildings erected in Recife, Porto Alegre, Belo Horizonte, and Salvador, to mention only four other major urban centers, or the hundreds of buildings in medium-size cities with as much quality and intentionality as those of Rio and São Paulo.

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

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

Mexico’s involvement in world’s fairs and other international expositions is examined. From 1867 to 1929, governments promoted nationalism and industrialization through world’s fairs in Europe and international expositions in America. Mexico, which had recently achieved independence from Spain, became involved in these fairs to bolster its economy and image, competing with other nations to sell local goods and offer investment opportunities to foreigners. Since 1850, Mexicans have encouraged commerce and industry while enthusiastically marketing their country as a tourist “wonderland.” Accounts of Mexico’s participation in world’s fairs draw attention to the imperialism embedded in such events, suggesting that they were deeply problematic. Defined as cultural palaces and trade shows, fairs have chronicled changing ideas about nationalism, modernity, and, more recently, branding. In the wake of the Mexican Revolution, Mexicans have recognized their strategic importance, although a persistent theme in the literature is that these are inherently tiresome and expensive undertakings and a significant drain on economic and political life.

Article

Housing has been a central feature of Latin America’s dramatic transformation into the most urbanized region of the world. Between 1940 and 1970, the portion of people who lived in urban areas rose from 33 percent to 64 percent; a seismic shift that caused severe housing deficits, overcrowding, and sprawl in Latin America’s major cities. After the Second World War, these urban slums became a symbol of underdevelopment and a target for state-led modernization projects. At a time when Cold War tensions were escalating throughout the world, the region’s housing problems also became more politicized through a network of foreign aid agencies. These overlapping factors illustrate how the history of local housing programs were bound up with broader hemispheric debates over economic development and the role of the nation-state in social affairs. The history of urban housing in 20th-century Latin America can be divided into three distinct periods. The first encompasses the beginning of the 20th century, when issues of housing in the central-city districts were primarily viewed through the lens of public health. Leading scientists, city planners, psychiatrists, and political figures drew strong connections between the sanitary conditions of private domiciles and the social behavior of their residents in public spaces. After the Second World War, urban housing became a proving ground for popular ideas in the social sciences that stressed industrialization and technological modernization as the way forward for the developing world. In this second period, mass housing was defined by a central tension: the promotion of modernist housing complexes versus self-help housing—a process in which residents build their own homes with limited assistance from the state. By the 1970s, the balance had shifted from modernist projects to self-help housing, a development powerfully demonstrated by the 1976 United Nations (UN) Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat I). This seminal UN forum marked a transitional moment when the concepts of self-help community development were formally adopted by emergent, neo-liberal economists and international aid agencies.