thank god. i was even boring myself with all this talk about the torre bicentenario. fortunately, the project has been called off before i could get deeper into it. grupo danhos, the developer behind the project confirmed this yesterday. an informal meeting between marcelo ebrard, mexico city mayor, and a group of opposing neighbors a couple of days ago brought rumors that the project was being cancelled. danhos is already on the hunt for an alternative site, and the city government is hoping to keep the 60 million dollar projected investment the group along with spanish developer pontegadea had promised for the building. so, we might expect the fiery urban drama to keep unfolding elsewhere in the not-so-distant future (the city has promised to announce a new location by the end of this year). in the meantime, we can discuss more relevant matters.
i am so depressed with the crap i'm expected to read as an urban aficionado, not to mention as a moderate architecture enthusiast (downgraded enthusiasm after 3 years of dealing with architects and/or architectural ambience). i try so hard to find my way into spaces. theory seems like such a pain in the ass right now. i hate all this quick-quote cool-cut theory popping up everywhere paired with pictures of pogroms and prada pasted on top of each other. it is so difficult to stitch together a critical standpoint. i'm looking to expand my urban horizons. grade-c urban shock-journalism and yellow press seem suitable:
the new alarma!.* only the truth.
*beware! gruesome photos and even scarier cheesy photochopping.
1. a natural object or an animate being, as an animal or bird, assumed as the emblem of a clan, family, or group.
2. an object or natural phenomenon with which a family or sib considers itself closely related.
3. a representation of such an object serving as the distinctive mark of the clan or group.
4. anything serving as a distinctive, often venerated, emblem or symbol.
beyond hybrid and fad, neoprehispanic architectures in mexico have been very much about politics. in the form of neoaztec, mayan revival or even officialist state architecture (barroco priísta), neoprehispánico style has shaken pastiche, indigenismo, bloated patriotism, brutalism and a dash of altantic (from atlantis) fantasy in the process of concocting modern-day totems for the nation.
theme-wise, the oman scheme for the torre bicentenario (a pyramid set on top of another inverted one) is just a (too) late, skimmed-down, space-aged, millennium-friendly adaptation of the same architectural bosh that comes and goes every so often in the name of fathom and effigy.
a brief recapitulation of mexicanista neostyles would be fun and in order as a backdrop to this candyland bicentenario brief.
come now, let us visit the prehispanismo of the late 1800s, the messy spillovers of border revival styles, the primitivist fantasies of postrevolutionary experiments, the glories of post-ww2 internationalized aztequismo; hell, we might even get us some 80’s-90’s technotzompantli…
the new york times just ran a little something on the torre bicentenario scandal, nicely condensed, as usual. i like it that they point to the affair in all its libretto cheesiness:
an influential developer plans an enormous skyscraper at the edge of the city’s giant central park. a celebrity architect is commissioned, and the ambitious mayor unveils the proposal at city hall. instantly, the prospective tower’s largely genteel neighbors rise up in arms. they vow to tie the plan up in lawsuits and procedural reviews. there is also a reclusive investor, a much-questioned relationship between the mayor and the developer and a building on the site that, though it has long been ignored, preservationists now want saved.
it could be new york.
but this is mexico city, and the fight over what would be latin america’s tallest skyscraper — at 300 meters, or 984 feet — takes on a tinge of high drama...
revolution baking, vladimir kaspé popped out of the oven. it was 1910, mexico was overthrowing a modernist dictator and russia was getting ready for a second shot at revolution. the countries' paths would cross intensely in the next couple of decades, and major soviet figures would flock to mexico for whatever reason (be it communist intrigue, cultural fascination or running away from stalin; from trotsky and alexandra kollontai to maiakovsky and einsenstein). kaspé came after the big soviet infiltration fuss was about over (around 1942), and mexico's own version of revolution was well on its way to being "institutionalized" (that is, neutralized) through single-party corporate authoritarianism. it was also around this time that the base values of the struggle (popular, agrarian reform, social equality, wealth redistribution, etc.) were belied into those of the "peaceful revolution", or "constructive period" (urban, modernizing, industrial, middle-class, state-control, etc).
kaspé had gone to school in paris with mario pani, the pet architect of the developmentalist regime (the hand behind the unam and tlatelolco). pani invited him to mexico to be editor of arquitectura méxico, local modernist bible. kaspé also started building: the lycée franco-mexicain, the centro deportivo israelita, the economics faculty at the unam, the roussell labs. quite the hardcore functionalist, kaspé thought architecture should "furnish the country with that which is necessary and sufficient." his legacy has been kept by a private trust, that recently got its own cultural center by BH architects.
kaspé's first mexican project (1946-1948) was a multi-use, multi-function, "ahead of it's time" bulding: the super servicio lomas, now slated for demolition to open the way for oma's torre bicentenario, intended to occupy the same site. in its day, the super servicio included a gas station, a car dealership, a minimart and the ciro's de las lomas nightclub, where everett hoagland played and boppy starlets such as as los hooligans, julissa, los jiggers and enrique guzmán fought the 1960 "radio exitos" duel (apparently fans who got left outside of the packed event trashed the place). only five years ago, the super servicio lomas was trashed again ("refurbished", as they say), this time by matthai architects.
the building was hardly noticed before the tower was anounced. it wasn't listed as heritage (only a provisional "building of exceptional value" decree was anounced by the national fine arts institute in the midst of the bicentenario scandal). i heard somewhere that louise noelle, a relatively well-known architecture historian who happens to be the authority on both pani and kaspé, and who has become very outspoken against the tower, is also gabriela cuevas's (the miguel hidalgo delegada heading the snob résistance against oma and the city government, see older post) mother-in-law.
personally, i don't get this whole preservationist appeal biz. first of all, the building is not the original, it has suffered various major alterations (including to the beautiful concrete nautilus garage). moreover, its razing could actually culminate the building's pseudo-revolutionary vocation. considering the regime and culture that brought it to being, the demise of the super servicio lomas would close a mini-circle of extinguishing dissent and upheaval, the turnover to reactionary consumerism, the ultimate lasting heritage of postrevolutionary mexico. a living testimony to our failed (and still failing) path to revolution.
a couple of months ago, oma unleashed the torre bicentenario project on their website. in mexico city, word about the proposal was out before, and a major political scandal was in the making. intended as an urban benchmark for the celebrations of the country's independence 200th aniversary in 2010, the construction of the tower has stirred a bitter political debate and revealed the exasperating state of development affairs and the dispiriting urban aptitude of local actors and decision-makers. once again, formal or professional criteria have been left out of the discussion, and the whole thing has turned into a big local political pissing contest.
driving down the flawless section of paseo de la reforma that crosses las lomas (formerly known as chapultepec heights, and commonly reffered to as "el beverly hills mexicano"), something seems off. not drivers and thugs washing their bosses' hummers or sportscars, not the uniformed maids scooping-up dog poo from the perfect lawns on the median strips, not even the total absence of any means of public transportation...
what seems strange this time around is the "civic resistance" movement that announced on posters and plaques on the massive walls of most of the mansions in the area, with bold statements like:
RESPETO A NUESTRAS COLONIAS...¡NO A LA MEGATORRE! (respect our "colonies" -that's what we call neighborhoods in mexico- ... no to the mega-tower!)
the rich have reacted. they are afraid the tower will take a chunk from chapultepec park (just like they did to develop their own lots forty years back) and generate congestion (just like they do with their high-end schools and shopping malls and restaurants and valet parking stops) in the area. they don't want a skyscraper blocking sunlight from their 500m2 backyards. they don't want all those yucky middle-class corporate types with their cheap suits and tsurus adding to the already hectic everyday life threatening their fenced (more precisely, fortified) privileged havens. and they have their delgada (the city is divided in administrative districts called delegaciones, headed by an elected delegate, a sort of submayor) on their side. funny: miguel hidalgo, the delegación where the tower is to be located, is not only the richest district in the city, but also the only one headed by the right-wing pan, the main rivals of the city's left-wing government led by marcelo ebrard and the prd (the president of mexico is from the pan, after beating the prd in a sketchy and still-contested election).
the promoters of the tower, on the other hand, have the full backing of the city government. funny: a huge, private development, with a whole lot of juicy personal interests involved. this is the "left-wing" urban politics we've grown accostumed to in the past years. the government of the poor and needy is also the government of the privatization and gentrification of downtown, of huge investments in transportation infrastructure catering to automobiles (when 70% of the city relies on limited and sometimes shitty public transport), of stinky agreements with big business. funny: the "independence" tower is half financed by spanish boss amancio ortega of inditex (the zara mogul). funny: the other half is provided by grupo danhos, one of the largest real-estate developers in the country. the city government has been kind to the group, that has built 4 huge shopping centers in the last couple of years, and the gigantic reforma 222 mixed-use development, currently ongoing construction.
the old pri (70-year single-party rule in the country people) has gotten in on the game: "we believe this is a patriotic pretext to cover up a big business deal, and therefore there is no way we can accept it" said the party senate leader maría de los ángeles moreno (i guess she means they only accept it when it came from within the pri).
i wonder what koolhaas thinks. or if it's important.
landed on soft barcelona. city sparkling and bubbly. full of tourist types, lost where i knew. after mexico spain seems to be switzerland. i breathe deep. the mediterranean drag is getting to me. feels good.
df left behind. felt she was a little ingrate, maybe jealous. rained down on me for weeks. in the end though, it is the only place i feel real in every sense.
now for the promised flashbacks.