Caiana Revista académica de investigación en Arte y cultura visual

Caiana Nro13

Zoe Goldman


Imagining a City of Plastic Integration through Guía de Arquitectura Contemporánea Mexicana / Guide to Contemporary Mexican Architecture 

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Guía de arquitectura contemporánea mexicana [1] / Guide to Contemporary Mexican Architecture is both an informative guide to Mexican modern architecture and a designed object in its own right. Produced by the editors of Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas with the help and support of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) on the occasion of the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects held in Mexico City in 1952, this book presents the media of architecture in an unusual and visually arresting manner. The subdued and earthy brown cover with embossed gold, bilingual titles belies a striking interior, filled with dense collages, bright color washes, and vellum overlays. This approach to presenting architecture sets Guía apart from other architecture texts of the time not only in Mexico but globally.

 

This differentiation stems from the fact that in both design and content, the editors center plastic integration (integración plástica), or the idea that architecture is one of the arts and must work with and alongside other works of art and artists. The texts and examples of architecture included in this book propose plastic integration as the defining feature of and the path forward for Mexican architecture. However, it is the design of the publication, specifically the interaction of representational systems (photography, schematic drawings, text) within this book form, that engages with questions about the object-ness and plasticity of architecture and urban space. Through this innovative design that enacts principles of plastic integration, alongside an editorial perspective focused on plastic integration and architecture as art, Guía utilizes print media to break through the two-dimensional page and establish a spatial experience akin to moving through the physical world, creating an imaginary city where plastic integration is able to take ideal form.

 

Defining plastic integration was a central feature of architectural discourse in Mexico in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Historians such as Leticia Torres and Alberto Hijar locate the origins of this discussion in the 1920s with artists who strove to understand their relationship to and dependence on architecture, although they did not yet use the term “plastic integration”.[2] When Diego Rivera was appointed the head of the School of Plastic Arts at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in 1929, he redesigned the curriculum to address architectural construction and theory alongside the more traditional elements of a fine arts curriculum. This change was so radical, particularly for the conservative architecture faculty of the university, that within a year Rivera had been pressured to resign.[3] Despite the conservatism of the architectural academy, historian Kathryn O’Rourke marks 1929 as a turning point for architecture as well, pointing to the buildings of Juan O’Gorman and his rejection of the academic architectural style in favor of one that blended historical and vernacular forms with Corbusian modernism.[4] Notably, O’Gorman was a painter as well as an architect, and a prominent advocate for plastic integration.

 

By the late 1940s, architects took center stage in this discourse of plastic integration, promoting architecture as one of the fine arts, interconnected with other modes of art. When the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (INBA) was formed by presidential decree in 1946, it included an architecture department, making it one of the first fine arts institutions in the world to include architecture alongside the plastic arts.[5] The department’s first director, Enrique Yañez, promoted plastic integration both in his architectural practice and through the activities of his department, such as exhibitions and lecture series.[6] In 1950, the department formed the Taller de Integración Plástica, focused on monumental art works and their integration into architectural spaces. This workshop provided a space for artists to collaborate with architects and served as a pedagogical outlet for the department’s theories on plastic integration.[7]

 

Espacios journal, which produced Guía and was founded by practicing architects Guillermo Rossell de la Lama and Lorenzo Carrasco Ortizin 1948, emerged as a central organ of plastic integration. The men had worked together on a previous publication they created as architecture students at the Academia de San Carlos. In both journals, they were motivated to move architecture away from academicism.[8] Espacios did this by engaging with plastic integration both in design and contents in a manner deemed unprecedented by its founding editors.[9] Key figures of the plastic integration movement such as Diego Rivera and the director of INBA’s architecture department, Enrique Yañez, were frequent contributors to the journal. In addition to the articles on architecture, both practical and theoretical, the journal included creative writing, fine art photography, and articles on and by printmakers, painters, and other artists. For Rossell and Carrasco, Espacios served as a model of structural change in how artists and architects could tackle social problems such as poverty and underdevelopment through a new integrated approach.[10]

 

Rossell and Carrasco’s pursuit of a new structure for and understanding of integration translates directly to their publications’ designs. The editors distinguished Espacios visually with an unusual horizontal format, colored paper, cut-outs, color masks, fold-out pages, and vellum overlays. In the second issue, printmaker Carlos Alvarado Lang comments on the “necessity of combining all the plastic arts with a sense of integration,” and on the importance of a journal like Espacios for realizing this goal by establishing “greater understanding between painters, architects, sculptors and print-makers.” To achieve this aim, he notes the value of clean and tasteful design, particularly in presenting the plastic arts.[11] Similarly, Rossell and Carrasco write of their journal that it was an attempt to accurately “visualize” Mexico’s reality.[12]Their focus on plastic integration in print form suggests how attention to forms, colors, and their interactions can shape the experience of a publication, and in doing so implies the way these ideas can impact the built environment as well. These design principles that shaped the journal are clearly visible in their book Guía, with its matching horizontal layout and innovative use of color, vellum, and collage.

 

In Guía, the idea of plastic integration is similarly supported by the involvement of artists as well. The book prefaces the section of architectural photographs and plans with five opinion essays from five authors: an architect, an archaeologist, a painter, a writer, and a photographer. In selecting this diverse group to preface the visual presentation of architecture, Rossell and Carrasco demonstrate their belief that architecture can be understood and contextualized through other arts. Even the choice of photographers for the architectural images in the publication reaffirms the relationship between architecture and visual arts.[13] With photography as the dominant form of representation in Guía, the choice of images and image makers is critical to understanding how buildings are represented. Guía credits four photographers: Guillermo Zamora, Luis Limón, Gisèle Freund, and J. Murphy.[14] These four embodied the integration Espacios espoused. Zamora began his career photographing the artwork of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, and José Chávez Morado before turning to architecture as his subject matter.[15] Freund, in addition to being a photographer, was also a photography historian and theorist who championed the social role of the medium.[16] She was close with Rivera and Kahlo as well. Limón stands out for his role as an official photographer for the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (INAH), which oversaw the documentation and preservation of historical monuments.[17] His involvement signals the continued relevance of Mexico’s ancient built heritage for modern architects.

 

The editors also highlight when buildings featured in the book integrate plastic arts, such as sculpture or murals, particularly in the final section of the book on UNAM’s Ciudad Universitaria (CU). Next to images of Escuela Nacional de Ciencias Químicas and the list of the architects who designed it is a photograph of David Alfaro Siqueiros with the caption “Plastic Integration and Interior Murals by: David Alfaro Siqueiros”.[18] Similarly, when murals are visible in the photographs of buildings, the muralist is credited alongside the architects, and there is an entire page devoted to photographs of a sculpture in front of the Facultad de Ciencias. CU functioned as a kind of utopic city, a laboratory for ideas of plastic integration. Therefore, it is unsurprising that this section contains the most information about artists and artworks together with the architects and architecture. Crediting visual artists alongside the architects places both types of creators on equal ground.

 

Although the philosophy of plastic integration was integral to the overall plan for CU, and INBA and Espacios served as nodes of discourse of this movement, plastic integration was never monolithic; there was no stable or agreed upon definition of how to integrate art into architecture or what this looked like in practice. Supporters of plastic integration pulled from many sources including pre-Hispanic and vernacular Mexican architecture, Spanish colonial architecture, and Bauhaus philosophy. The architects and artists of this movement drew on historical examples to propose a model of distinctly Mexican architecture for the future. Nonetheless, essays and lectures from the late 1940s and early 1950s demonstrate a range of opinions on what true integration meant, and major figures in this movement, such as Juan O’Gorman, even very publically changed their views on the matter. This lack of consensus in part explains the spirit of experimentation that seems to underlie the architectural projects of this period as well as Espacios and Guía; with each building or article or issue, the practitioners explored the features, limits, and possibilities of a yet-undefined plastic integration.

 

Nonetheless, plastic integration, in its many forms, was influential to the design, intellectual philosophy, and architectural narrative Rossell and Carrasco promoted through Guía. Viewing the publication in this light, analysis of the design and use of various artistic media in Guía can further illuminate this idea of plastic integration and vice versa.

 

The “Intrinsically Architectural”

 

Although Espacios was an independent journal, its viewpoint and the timeline of its development align closely with those of the government arts agency, INBA. Formed in 1946, INBA’s core function was the promotion and dissemination of the arts, including architecture, to the general public, with an emphasis on both working class and scholarly audiences.[19] This bureaucratic association of architecture with the plastic and other fine arts reflects the same spirit motivating Espacios: that of a close and collaborative relationship between architects and artists, and therefore architecture and the plastic arts. This alignment of INBA’s and Espacios’ goals is also visible in the frequent collaborations between the organizations. Beginning in 1952, INBA sponsored occasional special sections in Espacios, often in relation to an exhibition or event.[20] This partnership includes the publication of Espacios’ Guía.

 

The repeated collaboration raises the question of what INBA’s architecture department was able to accomplish through print media, and Espacios’ unusual approach to media, that it could not accomplish through its other activities alone, particularly museum exhibitions.[21] In 1959, a spokesperson for the department wrote of architectural exhibitions:

 

In the first place, architecture cannot actually be exhibited. You cannot demonstrate it to the public except through photographs, maquettes and, exceptionally, drawings. Therefore it presents the danger that the exhibitions will be of photographs and not buildings…and like this it is easy to fall into a series of museographic formalisms, which consider directly the plastic and graphic qualities of the photographs and models exhibited, with the lamentable omission of the intrinsically architectural.[22]

 

For INBA in 1959, and likely during the prior decade as well, “architecture” referred to the physical building only. All means of displaying and reproducing the building risked becoming objects in and of themselves rather than gesturing toward the building. While this publication does not define the “intrinsically architectural,” presumably this idea relates to the experience of being in a space, of moving through multiple viewpoints in a physical building.

 

Beatriz Colomina’s more contemporary theories of architecture and media are helpful for understanding the movement between building and printed object that occurs in both exhibitions of architecture and in publications. Although at odds with INBA’s statement on the relationship between image and building, Colomina’s book Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media proposes a theory of modern architecture that intrinsically links built space to its media representations. While her focus is a new approach to understanding modern architecture, specifically using Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier as her case studies, the book is equally a theory of modernity as shaped by mass media, particularly photography and film. Central to her argument is the idea that media produces modern architecture, and it is actually through media that architecture becomes modern.[23]

 

Colomina holds that for modern architecture media representations are architecture and architecture is media. Colomina writes of architecture and its representations:

 

To think about modern architecture must be to pass back and forth between the question of space and the question of representation. Indeed, it will be necessary to think of architecture as a system of representation, or rather a series of overlapping systems of representation…The building should be understood in the same terms as drawings, photographs, writing, films, and advertisements; not only because these are the media in which more often we encounter it, but because the building is a mechanism of representation in its own right.[24]

 

Architecture encompasses more than the building alone; it includes the myriad forms of representation that lead to the creation of the building, both physically (plans, sketches, elevations) and in the popular imaginary (photographs, films, advertisements). For Colomina, this multi-modal definition of modern architecture is a product of modernity, in which the lines between subject and object and inside and outside blur and multiply, bringing an object’s “objecthood” and a subject’s singularity under scrutiny.[25] A building is both physical construction and two-dimensional representations; it is both object and image.[26]

 

This framework prompts a deeper examination of Espacios’ Guía, which raises questions about the object-ness and image-ness of buildings while engaging deeply with various representational systems within the context of a book. In some sense, while Colomina’s text urges us to see buildings as media, Guia encourages us to see media as building through its design. That the editors of Espacios were practicing and accomplished architects is important to keep in mind, because it suggests a deep understanding of the interaction of the various materials of architecture within the discipline, as practitioners and designers. As Colomina reminds readers, modernist architects frequently controlled and produced the media of architecture, and in this regard Mexico in the 1950s aligns with her European case studies.[27] Although it is unlikely Rossell and Carrasco understood architecture in Colomina’s postmodernist terms, Guía produces a parallel between the space of the book and the physical space of the city. By working with Espacios, INBA placed architecture in a formal conversation with other arts, in the spirit of plastic integration. In doing so, it was able to approach the “intrinsically architectural” through the use of media that the rest of this essay explores.

 

Architecture and Media

 

In order to understand how Guía transcends the media it uses, it is important to understand the nature of the representational media and the history of its relationship to architecture. Even as, for Colomina, media may be considered architecture, the experiences of a building and of print material differ.  Photography is the dominant form of media used in Guía, and certain images or image combinations in the book demonstrate an engagement with the nature of this medium, highlighting its limitations while using the physical space of the book to push back against them.

 

Although photographs can be considered truthful representations of the physical world, photographers use framing to shape the interpretation of objects. Photographs are able to elide difference between objects that may appear unlike when viewed in person, in part because of its ability to transform scale and render color as tones of black and white.[28] PierreBourdieu succinctly summarizes the qualified transparency of photography:

 

"…photography captures an aspect of reality which is only ever the result of an arbitrary selection, and, consequently, of a transcription; among all the qualities of the object, the only ones retained are the visual qualities which appear for a moment and from one sole viewpoint…"[29]

 

While he uses this comment to degrade the idea of photography as a medium of truth and objectivity, Bourdieu highlights elements of its utility. With reference to architectural photography, Bourdieu’s argument allows the photograph to serve as one facet of the many systems of representation of a building. This sentiment can harmonize with Colomina’s view of architecture because Bourdieu maintains that photography is the visual experience of a space, however arbitrary, limited, and particular. In essence, the photograph may be the experience of a building, but it is just one experience–solely visual, singular, and two-dimensional. The viewer is fixed in that moment, unable to move to another vantage point, to experience another unfolding of the space.

 

Certain images or image combinations in Guía demonstrate an engagement with and opposition to this nature of photography described by Bourdieu and thereby suggest a deep understanding of the medium. Two nearly identical photographs of a house by Rossell and Carrasco, one placed on the recto and the other on the verso of the same page, give the viewer a feeling of déjà vu (Figs. 1-2). Initially, it is the unlike proportions of the images that strikes the reader as different. However, flipping back and forth between the images, a subtle shift in perspective becomes apparent. The proximity of these images to each other and yet the inability, due to the design of the page, to see them side by side, highlights the specificity of any given photograph’s perspective; the perspective recorded in each image exists from a certain point in space at a certain moment only. Flipping between these images on the page evokes the experience of moving through a building, with the subtle shifts in perspective and view that occur with each step, while simultaneously signaling the limitations of photographic representations of space.

 

While photographs are the dominant form of representation, Guía also uses floorplans, elevations, and drawings to push against photography’s limits and create a multi-dimensional experience of architecture in print, and one that is integrated with and through plastic arts. Bruno Latour’s theory of optical consistency can help, in part, explain how architectural drawings function alongside photographs in Guía. In his essay “Drawing Things Together,” Latour analyzes how print media creates and mobilizes knowledge, particularly through the use of illustrations and figures. Optical consistency is the first feature that Latour defines of his “immutable mobiles,” which is a category of inscription that has the qualities of being mobile, immutable, presentable, readable, and combinable with other immutable mobiles. [30] For Latour, data -the work and reality that informs a diagram or image- is veiled within any final figure.[31] Architecture as a field and as representation does differ from the scientific knowledge Latour studies, particularly in that buildings themselves can in some sense be considered an inscription, but the process of translating a three-dimensional world to two-dimensions is relevant in both fields.[32]

 

Latour explains this mechanism as the idea of “optical consistency,” or a uniform system of translating objects from three dimensions into two and, crucially, back from two dimensions into three. Latour even uses architecture as his example of this two-way process.[33] Like Bourdieu, Latour acknowledges the primacy of vision in this translation, but contends that through vision, the figure is able to “present absent things,” namely the other sensory experiences that the figure points to but does not directly present.[34]  The two images of Rossell and Carrasco’s house suggest that this “absent thing” can be the experience of being in and moving through space. Equally significant, optical consistency allows different and even disparate elements, real or imagined, to be combined.[35]

 

The editors of Guía employ a few kinds of media, specifically photography, elevations, and floorplans, to represent buildings. This tactic and the interaction of these media is immediately visible in the first building presented in the Guía, an unusual private residence designed by Carlos Lazo.[36] A floorplan and elevation are printed on a vellum sheet, through which a black and white photograph is visible (Figs. 3-5). This building in particular is hard to understand by any one of these representational modes (elevation, floorplan, or photograph) because it defies expectations of what a building, particularly a residence, should look like; it is partially underground and round. However, none of the three representations is easy to comprehend at first glance. The elevation, printed as a negative (white) image against a red backdrop makes it difficult to read clearly, especially when viewed over the photograph of the building, which has strong black lines that cut through the round forms of the diagram. In the photograph, first seen through the printed vellum, the dark and imposing stone column stands out immediately, leaving the glass construction largely hidden behind the red elevation rectangle. The yellow bar printed to the left of the photograph balances out the column’s dark weight, bringing color into the space of the page.

 

This insertion of color aligns with popular images of Mexico’s architecture and culture, particularly for a US audience. Architectural historian Patricio del Real highlights the “colorful and friendly” images of Mexico created through publications in the late 1930s in order to counteract negative US press over President Lázaro Cárdenas’ oil nationalization.[37] By the 1950s, the association between Mexico and bright color was undeniably strong. For instance, MoMA’s influential 1955 exhibition Latin American Architecture since 1945 consisted almost entirely of black and white photographs, the exception being a few small stereoscopic viewers with color images. Nonetheless, a review of the exhibition by Aline Saarinen in the New York Times argued that color was the essential feature of Latin American architecture. Even when the buildings themselves were white, she contended that Latin America’s “Technicolor-vivid blue sky and greenery” defined the forms.[38]

 

In this first photograph of Lazo’s building in Guía, the bright yellow rectangle allows viewers to more easily imagine color into a black and white image, as the few color stereoscopic photographs do for Saarinen in MoMA’s exhibition. The height of the yellow space is equal to that of the sky in the photograph, emphasizing what would be a big blue sky and turning the photograph into an even more evocative representation of openness, space, and light.

 

While suggestive of a certain mood, the photograph of the Lazo house itself provides only a very minimal sense of the actual building. Indeed, this spread highlights the limitations of singular representations and the power of images to disambiguate each other. Reading the three figures together provides a more complete image of the building as form and space. This disambiguation can be explained through Latour’s optical consistency, which allow these different visual, two-dimensional representations of a building to be projected back into three-dimensions together; they are “combinable”.[39]  In the context of a book, and Guía in particular, each photograph or figure may be one visual experience, but as in scientific papers for Latour, images taken together, in a particular configuration, and alongside a literal text disambiguates each image and develops a particular kind of “fact”.

 

By providing multiple kinds of figures –photographic and technical– the book also addresses the various audiences for Mexican architecture and leaves them with somewhat different “facts” about the nation’s modern buildings. Elevations and plans are most legible to a specialist audience of architects and for these readers create a deeper understanding of the building. Architects are most capable of projecting these three kinds of figures together into an imagined structure. For them the relationship between these different modes of representing three dimensions creates movement, perhaps even approaching the sense of moving through an imagined building, as the representations are mapped onto each other in the architect-reader’s mind. However, Rossell and Carrasco emphasize the importance of the photographic image and its interaction with the plans in allowing the round floorplan to overlap with the black column. Even if a building’s shape and construction can be better understood through plans, by overlapping the plan with the photograph, the editors emphasize the plastic arts, here represented by the photographic representation, and their impact on understanding. This physical overlap on the page symbolizes how different systems of representation overlap in terms of meaning.

 

For those unfamiliar with architectural drawings and perhaps unable to fully understand what they signify, such as artists and bureaucrats, their inclusion in the book and their relationship to the photographs is certainly different.  The figures still signal toward this other, professional audience, which legitimizes the book as “architectural.” At the same time, these schematic drawings are not necessary to get a general sense of Mexico’s architecture (rather than a specific understanding of certain buildings.) The emphasis on the photographic engages a popular, artistic, or non-architect audience, perhaps towards the end of supporting conversations between specialist and non-specialist groups. In Espacios, Carrasco and Rossell demonstrate interest in fostering conversations between different professional groups and in finding common spaces for those conversations to occur, both through the diverse contributors they bring together and the editorials explicitly calling for cooperation, often in the realm of urban planning. This ethos can be read in Guía through the introductory texts by non-architects and the primacy of photography, a more accessible medium than schematic plans.

 

Bending Time and Space

 

Through this first spread of Lazo’s house, editors Rossell and Carrasco also engage with the element of time. Most obviously, the 1948 house visibly references Mexico’s pre-Hispanic architectural heritage through its imposing stone column. The index entry for this house ends by saying “interesting suggestions of Prehispanic [sic] Mexican architecture,” ensuring that even readers without knowledge of Mexico’s heritage, who might not identify the visual references to this past, nonetheless understand that this building draws from a specific history.[40] Here, Guía reflects the unusual sense of time popular in Mexican modernist architecture, in which pre-Hispanic influences are re-appropriated while the colonial are largely ignored.[41] This attention to the pre-Hispanic is also important in the discourses of plastic integration, visible in Espacios’ paired images of contemporary and pre-Hispanic sculptures, or essays in which artists and architects extoll the harmony of art and architecture in Mayan ruins.[42] In locating plastic integration in pre-Hispanic culture, these artists and architects establish a pre-modern, non-European touchstone for their aesthetic theories as well.

 

Perhaps more important to the urban image Guía seeks to (re)create is the ways in which the book deals with simultaneity. Simultaneity is embedded in the urban fabric, although it is rarely framed in this way. Mexico City, where the overwhelming majority of buildings featured in Guía are located, has a deep history as an Aztec and then colonial capital before becoming the center of Mexico’s urban core. To move through this city is to view the juxtaposition of these periods through their architecture. Although Guía effaces much of this history by focusing solely on modern architecture, it presents twenty-five years of development, representing at least two generations of architects.[43] In combining buildings from across these generations on the same pages and without placing the year near the figures, the book avoids creating a trajectory of architectural development and instead proposes a simultaneous development of Mexican modernist architecture.[44] This proposal works well with Latour’s idea of immutable mobiles, in which printed figures allow not only the accumulation and combination of different spaces through optical consistency, but also of different times.[45] Finally, the book engages simultaneity through the use of vellum. If, as Bourdieu says, a photograph is one view in one moment, the layering of images on vellum, albeit not photographic images in the case of Lazo’s house, allows for the viewing of multiple “moments” of the building simultaneously.

 

In addition to temporal displacement, the content and layout of Guía engages with spatial dislocation. Carrasco and Rossell use the introduction to clarify that they do not intend the volume to be a complete or definitive representation of the contemporary architectural movement in Mexico, although they do not mention, explicitly, that this book looks almost exclusively at architecture in Mexico City.[46] A map of the entire city, printed on a single leaf, separates the introductory opinions from the photographs of architecture (Fig. 6). The map is divided into sections labeled Map 1, Map 2, and Map 3. The photographs of architecture that follow are organized into these sections, with a fold-out map placed before the images of buildings located in that section of map (Figs. 7-9). In each of the section maps, numbers placed on the map relate to a list of buildings and their architects printed below or to the side of it.

 

Although the maps suggest a way of understanding the layout of the city and the location of its modern architecture, the orientation of the maps within the book is disorienting. The complete map, Map 1, and Map 2 are oriented sideways, with the book’s spine as North. However, in Maps 1 and 2, the list of buildings and architects is written below the map (Figs. 7-8). Therefore, the book cannot be reoriented to place North at the top and read the map more easily without making it more difficult to read the buildings and architects selected by the editors. The division of the city into parts and the frequent need to reorient the maps, at least mentally if not by physically rotating the book, to piece the city back together suggests a flexibility of the physical layout of the urban environment.

 

The malleability of the city is underscored through the seemingly arbitrary assignment of numbers to buildings and the order in which those buildings appear in the book. The numbers assigned do not align with a building’s geographic position, the name of the architect, or the order of the buildings as they are presented in Guía. Furthermore, not all of the numbers included on the map are included as images in the book.[47] While each photograph is numbered, and therefore locatable on the map, this lack of any discernable system makes it difficult to understand at first glance any details about the building outside of what is presented in the photograph. Despite the map, then, the buildings are first understood apart from their geographic location and context; they are dislocated, even if they are locatable by moving back to the map.

 

Additionally, certain buildings appear more than once in a section, usually a few pages apart and photographed from different angles. For instance, the round Lazo house appears again seven pages later in a photograph taken from within its courtyard (Fig. 10). The glass structure, the main feature visible in its first photograph, is apparent at the top of the frame, helping to contextualize the viewpoint of the image. However, because these photographs look very different and are separated by a number of pages containing many buildings and photographs, establishing a link between these two images of Lazo’s house is challenging. This reappearance of buildings in different contexts further destabilizes a sense of physical rootedness.

 

For Colomina, any use of photography destabilizes location. She asks of the photograph of architecture, “[does it present architecture] in a new vision, or is there a deeper transformation, a sort of conceptual agreement between the space this architecture comprehends and the one implicit in photography?”[48] The transformation she pinpoints is that of “place” into “commodity”, something to consume. For Colomina, this process of dislocation also removes any thing-ness from the building and instead turns it into an idea about the object, an abstraction.[49] This property of photography is heightened in Guía by the dislocation of the map; images are first understood apart from their physical location, highlighting their importance as representations of Mexican modern architecture rather than as specific, physical places.

 

Furthermore, this indirect relationship of building images to the map allows each photograph to be mediated by the photographs or diagrams that surround it rather than by its location and surroundings in the physical built city. Similar to Latour’s ideas of disambiguation, Colomina writes, “…a photograph does not have specific meaning in itself but rather in its relationship to other photographs, the caption, writing, and the layout of the page”.[50] As with both instances of Lazo’s house, spreads in Guía can combine photographs with diagrams of the same building or place single images of a building alongside images of other buildings. These two kinds of layouts function differently. In the former, as discussed above, the combination of images with diagrams work together to disambiguate each other and create a fuller sense of a single building.

 

However, in the latter, Colomina’s understanding of photography and Latour’s optical consistency explain how the combination of photographs of different sites create imaginary buildings and cityscapes. The photograph effectively removes place and objecthood while optical consistency pushes readers to piece the multiple photographs together into three dimensions. Because photographs capture an arbitrary and single view, the reader understands they must fill in the space around the image. Spreads containing interior and exterior images, such as in figure 10, invite the reader to combine these images into a single, imagined, three-dimensional space to mimic their simultaneous existence on the page. The possibility of combining interior and exterior photographs into one imagined building is also facilitated by the “arbitrary” relationship between interiors and exteriors in architecture. Colomina writes of the city as a series of masks, placed side by side. For her, there are two sides to a wall: the outside, a public facing mask, and the inside, a support with no essential relationship to the outside.[51] Guía builds on the arbitrariness of this connection as the exterior and the interior placed side by side on the page may not exist together in any built state. The readers create buildings in their mind that exist only in the world of this book.

 

In other layouts, pages containing only facades of office or apartment buildings form theoretical cityscapes. A reader can easily imagine the buildings pictured existing side by side in the world as they are in these pages, particularly because the photographs focus squarely on the buildings, removing as much of the urban context as possible (Fig. 11). One particular photograph of an office building stands out as one of the few images in the book to include a bustling street scene with cars and people and as the only photograph that hints at the existence of other architectural eras (Fig. 12, left). Along the left and right edges of this photograph are reminders of other stylistic periods such as the neo-classical or baroque. Apart from this single photograph, which signals to the diversity and even chaos of the real built city, it is easy to imagine Mexico City through Guía as consisting entirely of modern architecture. In this way, Guía presents the real city as a modernist utopia. The implicit veracity of photographs strengthens this illusion; these modern buildings are not only plans, but rather truly exist in the city. Guía’s trick is that it presents the city as if modern architecture is all that exists.

 

The instability of the link between image and space or location alongside the compression and mixing of space and place through layout hint at the value of presenting a general idea about Mexican architecture rather than any concrete understanding of specific buildings as exemplars. As Latour writes, figures and text work together to develop particular facts. In Guía, those facts reflect not only on each building included, but also on Mexican architecture in general; the book’s title, Guide to Contemporary Mexican Architecture, and the numerous images of nearly as many buildings promote the impression of this volume as a kind of overview.

 

An Enduring Ideal of a Modern City

 

Through images, text, and diagrams, Guía simplifies a confusing, diverse, and busy three-dimensional city into a more-easily digestible, modernist, two-dimensional form. Photography and print media simplify architecture, translating it from three-dimensions into two and thereby making it easier to understand. Colomina pushes this idea further: “...when architecture is built it gets mixed with the world of phenomena and necessarily loses its purity. And yet it is significant that when this same built architectural piece enters the two-dimensional space of the printed page it returns to the realm of ideas”.[52] Photography translates complex space into easily grasped image, and through that translation the building can become a substitute for or representative of ideas. With minimal text, Guía creates space for a reader to engage in imagining and creating an image of Mexico City based on the photographs and buildings presented.

 

This idea of Mexico City produced through print is both long lasting and far reaching. Latour calls publications “immutable mobiles,” reflecting how print permanently records an idea in mobile form. Colomina writes that the power of publications is that they “secure a place for an architecture in history”.[53] However, what she leaves implicit in her discussions of ephemerality and dislocation in architecture and media is that the easy movement of publications is key to forming this place in history. It is not just that buildings may be more ephemeral than print materials -although many mid-century buildings lauded in Guía have since been demolished- but rather that the portability of print materials allow for these spaces to be experienced outside of their physical location and time. The parallel bilingual titles emphasize that Guía was intended to travel not only in Mexico but also in the US, as Mexico vied for its place culturally and economically as a post-war power.[54] That this volume was created for audiences of the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects taking place at UNAM’s CU further supports the importance of mobilizing this modern vision of Mexico across the hemisphere.

 

CU, to which Rossell and Carrasco devote a long section at the end of Guía and in the concurrent issue of Espacios, embodies the image and spirit of plastic integration these men championed. As Mexican architectural historians Salvador Lizárraga Sánchez and Cristina López Uribe explain, “CU was the consensus; it was the end of a long journey in the search for the correct modern Mexican architecture,” making the campus a fitting ending for Guía and an appropriate site for the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects.[55] Understanding CU in this way, as a kind of consensus of Mexican modernism, alongside the insistence of Carrasco and Rossell that artists were integral to this architectural achievement reinforces the importance they placed on plastic integration as a defining feature of Mexican modernism.

 

Built south of Mexico City, before urban sprawl connected the campus to the historic downtown, CU represented a built version of the kind of modern utopia the editors sought to present throughout Guía.[56] In the campus as in the book, artists and architects collaborated. This city-scale campus utilized over 150 architects, engineers, and consultants to create a stylistically-diverse yet entirely modernist city, just as Guía collects hundreds of buildings by nearly as many architects in order to build a modernist city in its pages.[57] The campus, particularly through its emphasis on advanced scientific research and modernist design, represented the belief in Mexico that the nation would soon dominate the post-war order alongside the US.[58] Mexico City and the nation as a whole were deeply and visibly tied through architecture to Mexico’s long civilizational history and faced the substantial challenges of development and poverty, which would have been visible to attendees at the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects as they travelled from downtown Mexico City to CU. However, by presenting Mexico as if it were as modern as CU, Guía engages with this dream of Mexico’s modern, developed future and presents it as a reality, already visible in the built architecture of the capital.

 

Through an attention to arts integration, visible in content as well as in design elements such as the combination of media and a sensitivity to the medium of photography in particular, Guía demonstrates both the plasticity and artistry of architecture. These qualities also allow the book to approximate the experience of a city in print; it serves as a mobile version of an idealized Mexico City. Rossell and Carrasco are able to create the modernist, integrated city they dream of in book form and share that city with the world.

 

 

 

Cómo citar correctamente el presente artículo?

Notas


[1]
 N.B. All translations from Spanish are mine.

[2] See: Leticia Torres, Integración plástica: confluencias y divergencias en los discursos del arte en México, Abrevian Ensayos 6, México, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura, 2016; Alberto Hijar, “La Integración Plástica”, in: Fernando González Gortázar (ed.), La Arquitectura Mexicana Del Siglo XX,  México, Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1994, pp.148–53.

[3] Torres, op. cit., p. 4.

[4] Kathryn E. O’Rourke, Modern Architecture in Mexico City: History, Representation, and the Shaping of a Capital, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017, p. 22.

[5] The history of architectural display in galleries is still under-researched. In 1946, the only US museum with a department of architecture and design was MoMA in New York. MoMA’s department formed in 1932. Other museums were slow to follow suit. Place and Displacement: Exhibiting Architecture, Zurich, Lars Muller Publishers, 2014,has a section on “institutions”, although the only museum (as opposed to Biennial or World’s Fair) mentioned as displaying architecture (rather than something like murals or frescoes, which are architectural but for my purposes somewhat distinct) is MoMA. INBA notes of its architecture department that, globally, governmental departments of Fine Arts did not include architecture, which was frequently treated as a lesser plastic form. Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 25 Años del Palacio de Bellas Artes, México, Departamento de Literatura, 1959, p. 3.

[6] Alberto Hijar traces Yañez’s interest in plastic integration to his work with David Alfaro Siqueiros on the building Yañez designed for the Sindicato Mexicano de Electristas (1939), where Siqueiros painted Retrato de la burguesía. Alberto Hijar, op. cit., pp.148–49.

[7] Prologue to Marta Olivares Correa, Conferencias Sobre Arquitectura Organizadas Por Alberto T. Arai: 1954, vol. 1, México, Universidad Obrera de México Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco, 2014, p. 53.

[8] Yolanda Bravo Saldaña, “Recordando Una Revista Integral: Espacios”, in: Catherine R. Ettinger (ed.), La Situación Actual de La Historiografía de La Arquitectura Mexicana, Morelia, Michoacán, Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolás de Hidalgo, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2008, pp. 135–36.

[9] “Editorial”, Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n° 2, January 1949, n.p. None of the Espacios issues or Guía contain page numbers.

[10] In an editorial, Carrasco and Rossell largely focus on restructuring education by incorporating “integrated workshops” that essentially mirror the environment created in the journal. This idea seems to have come to fruition to some extent in INBA’s Taller de Integración Plástica. Ibidem.

Rossell also credits Espacios with launching the plastic integration movement in Mexico. See: Guillermo Rossell de la Lama, “En La Arquitectura”, Cuadernos de Arquitectura, n° 20, 1967, p. 41.

[11] Carlos Alvarado Lang, “[Untitled]”, Espacios: Revista integral…, op. cit.

[12] “Editorial”, Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n°. 5/6, August 1950, n.p.

[13] Curiously, architectural photography is largely left out of books on Mexico’s photographic history. The training and development of photographers skilled at architectural photography was one of the concerns of INBA’s Architecture Department from the beginning. See: Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes…, op.cit, p. 4.

[14] Individual photographs are not attributed in this book. The photographers’ names are found on the Credits page.

[15] Pedro Strukelj, “Un Trabajo Paralelo. La Fotografía de Guillermo Zamora En La Arquitectura Moderna de México / A Parallel Work. Photography of Mexico’s Modern Architecture by Guillermo Zamora”, in: Fotografia como arquitectura: Click 1, Barcelona, Prensas de la Universidad de Zaragoza, 2015, p. 46.

[16] According to Mexican art historian Olivier Debroise, Freund’s theories were most influential during the 1970s. Olivier Debroise, Mexican Suite: A History of Photography in Mexico, Austin, University of Texas Press, 2001, p.9.

See also: Brenda Úrsula Iglesias Sánchez, “¡Para Verte Mejor América Latina! Imágenes Dicotómicas de La Ciudad a Través de La Fotografía Contemporánea,” Memoria Y Sociedad 16, n° 33, July-December 2012, pp. 69–82; Gisèle Freund, Photography and Society, Boston, David R. Godine, 1980.

[17] “Fototeca de La Coordinación Nacional de Monumentos Históricos Del INAH | Sistema Nacional de Fototecas”, http://sinafo.inah.gob.mx/fototeca-cnmh-inah/, (accessed 15/12/ 2016).

[18] Rossell and Lorenzo Carrasco (eds,), Guía de arquitectura mexicana contemporánea, México, Espacios, 1952, n.p.

[19] "Ley que crea el Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura”, December 31, 1946, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/193_171215.pdf. (accessed 6/15/2018)

[20] The following essays were sponsored by INBA: Alberto T. Arai, “Caminos para una arquitectura mexicana: Necesidad de una doctrina arquitectónica propia”, Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n° 9, February 1952, n.p.; Clara Porset, “El arte en la vida diaria: Exposición organizada por el Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes”, Espacios: al de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n°. 10, August 1952, n.p.; Gabriel García Maroto, “Arquitectura Popular Mexicana”, Espacios: al de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n° 11/12, October 1952, n.p.

Alberto T. Arai, who became the second director of INBA’s Architecture Department in 1953, was a frequent contributor to the journal. Designer Clara Porset, whose 1952 exhibition El arte en la vida diaria was shown by INBA at both the Palacio de Bellas Artes and at UNAM for the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects, was also a frequent contributor to Espacios. Her collaboration with Espacios began with their first issue, for which she wrote an article entitled “El mueble en la arquitectura” (Furniture in Architecture).

[21] Architecture historian and curator Barry Bergdoll writes in an overview of the history of architecture exhibitions “The illustrated book, we might say, was the first traveling exhibition”. Although he provides no substantiation or evidence for that claim, similarities between publications and exhibitions permeate the discussion on exhibitions. Barry Bergdoll, “Out of Site/In Plain View: On the Origins and Actuality of the Architecture Exhibition”, in: Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen (ed.), Exhibiting Architecture: A Paradox?, New Haven, CT, Yale School of Architecture, 2015, p.15. 

INBA’s architecture department also considered publications to serve as a kind of exhibition. In a 1959 summary of the department’s activities, it described one of the books that grew out of its 1950 exhibition of architecture as “having almost the character of a traveling exhibition” because of how it collected and presented architecture to a domestic and foreign audience under the auspices of the Department. Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, op. cit., p. 6.

[22] Ibidem., pp. 4-5.

[23]Beatriz Colomina, Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994, p.14.

[24]Ibidem., pp. 13–14.

[25] Ibidem., p.14.

[26] Although images frequently become objects because they are printed in some manner, for the purposes of this paper it is useful to think of these concepts as separable.

[27] Beatriz Colomina, op.cit., p. 15.

[28] See: Fox Talbot, Pencil of Nature, London, Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1844, pp. 23-4; Walter Benjamin, “Little History of Photography”, in: Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (eds.), Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, vol. 2, Cambridge, MA, Belknap Press of Harvard U.P., 1999; André Malraux, Museum without Walls, vol. 2, New York, Pantheon Books, 1949, p. 24.

Of additional note, photographer Gisèle Freund, one of the photographers in Guía, cites Malraux and makes similar claims about the ability of photography to distort works of art in particular. Gisèle Freund, Photography and Society, Boston, David R. Godine, 1980, p. 95.

[29] Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art, Oxford, Polity Press, 1998, p. 73.

[30] Bruno Latour, “Drawing Things Together”, in: Michael Lynch and Steve Woolgar (eds.), Representation in Scientific Practice, Cambridge, Mass, The MIT Press, 1990, p.26.     

[31] Ibidem,pp.39–40. Latour uses the example of lab rats, which become invisible in a chart of results, but nevertheless are the fundamental elements of that figure.

[32] Architecture adds the additional complication that buildings frequently begin as two-dimensional inscriptions: plans, elevations, sketches, etc.

[33] “You can see a church in Rome, and carry it with you in London in such a way as to reconstruct it in London, or you can go back to Rome and amend the picture”. Latour, op. cit., p. 27.

[34] Ibidem., pp. 27-28.

[35] Latour returns to architectural examples when describing the potential of combining real and imagined objects: “Impossible palaces can be drawn realistically, but it is also possible to draw possible objects as if they were utopian ones”. Ibidem., p.28.The idea of presenting the real as utopian is meaningful when considering how Guía represents the actual, built architecture of Mexico City.

[36] Lazo was a teacher and mentor of the editors, in addition to being an important Mexican architect who oversaw the construction of CU. Kathryn O’Rourke, “Pasado Y Futuro de La Arquitectura Mexicana de Mediados Del Siglo XX”, in: Catherine R. Ettinger (ed.), Imaginarios de Modernidad y Tradición: Arquitectura Del Siglo XX En América Latina, Mexico, MA Porrua, 2015, p. 12.

Guía also credits Lazo for his support of the publication. Lazo organized the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects, for which this book was created, and he contributed one of the introductory essays.

[37] Patricio del Real, “Building a Continent: The Idea of Latin American Architecture in the Early Postwar”, PhD Dissertation, Columbia University, 2012, pp. 42–43, http://academiccommons.columbia.edu/catalog/ac:153195.(accessed 6/15/2018)

[38] Aline B. Saarinen, "Drama in Building: The Museum of Modern Art Sets Forth Impressive Latin-American Show", The New York Times, Sunday November 27 1955. p. x12 as quoted in Del Real, op. cit, p. 335.

[39]Latour, op.cit, p. 26, 31.

[40] Rossell and Carrasco, op.cit., n.p.

[41] This relatively common move to re-write the history of influence by removing the colonial period and therefore minimizing the European presence in Mexican heritage is evident in Guia through the selection of an archaeologist to write one of the introductory essays. See: Alfonso Caso, “Un archaeologo opina…” in: Rossell and Carrasco, op.cit., n.p.

For his part, Diego Rivera argues that the architectural character of Spanish colonialism was shaped by pre-Hispanic architecture, as the Spanish literally built on Aztec foundations and buildings. Diego Rivera, “Un Pintor Opina...”, in:  Rossell and Carrasco, op.cit., n.p.

[42] See: “Plástica escultórica”, Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n° 1, September 1948, n.p.; “Plástica escultórica”, Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n° 2, January 1949, n.p.; Raul Anguiano, “La plástica en Bonampak”, Espacios: Revista integral de arquitectura y artes plásticas, n° 4, January 1950, n.p.

[43] O’Rourke, op.cit, p. 16.

[44] All reference to the year a building was created are found in the index, which is organized by architect name. It can be challenging to correlate the index entry to the photograph, particularly for architects with multiple buildings in the book, because the buildings are labeled in the index by their address. This means moving from the photograph to the map in order to read the location of the building, then to the index at the back of the book.

[45] Not only can times and places be combined on the page for Latour, the ability of print to travel (the “mobile” part of his “immutable mobile”) allows the object to also travel through space and time unchanged. Latour, op.cit, p. 32.

[46] Rossell and Carrasco, op.cit., n.p.

There are a handful of buildings they include that are labeled as “Fuera del mapa” or outside of the map, but little additional information is provided about the locations.

Although Guía focused on Mexico City, INBA was simultaneously exploring the idea of interweaving pre-Hispanic culture, popular or rural design, and modern Mexican architecture through its exhibition Arquitectura Popular Mexicana (Popular Mexican Architecture), held at UNAM’s CU during the VIII Pan-American Congress of Architects, the event for which Guía was produced. Espacios ran a six-page article covering the exhibition, with four pages of images and two pages of text. The text states the goal of the exhibition was to inspire Mexicans to have “a methodical investigation of their past and present” with reference to popular architecture, which had been under-researched.  In this issue of Espacios, this article comes just eight pages after a section on CU identical to the one published in Guía.  The immediately preceding article is one on a new rehabilitation hospital and the following article addresses television technology on the UNAM campus. The placement of this article on popular architecture therefore suggests a more extreme simultaneity—that of urban and rural temporalities—than is visible in Guía, but this simultaneity is suggested in Guía’s prefacing essay by writer Richard Grove.

See: Maroto, op. cit., n.p.; Gabriel García Maroto, Carlos Chávez, and Enrique Yáñez, Arquitectura popular de México, México, Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1954; Richard Grove, “Un Escritor Opina...”, in: Rossell and Carrasco, op.cit., n.p.

[47] Carlos Ríos Garza, “Estudio Introductorio”, in Espacios: Revista Integral de Arquitectura Y Artes PlásticasRaíces Digital: Fuentes Para La Historia de La Arquitectura Mexicana, México, Facultad de Arquitectura, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011, p. 43.

[48] Colomina, op. cit., p.47.

[49] Ibidem, pp. 47-50.                                                  

[50] Ibidem, pp. 93-100.

[51] Ibidem, pp. 26-27.

[52] Ibidem, p. 114.

[53] Ibidem, p.15.

[54] Guía is not fully bilingual; one of the five introductory texts is written in English while the remaining four are in Spanish. However, the index entries for the buildings, which contain brief descriptions, are presented in both languages.

[55] Salvador Lizárraga Sánchez and Cristina López Uribe (eds.), "Introduction", in: Living CU 60 years: Ciudad Universitaria UNAM 1954-2014, Mexico, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2014, p. 25.

[56] Although CU existed in material form as a built example of arts integration, it equally existed as myth and idea. It is the location of the most iconic modernist buildings with strong pre-Hispanic influence and forms, including Alberto Arai’s Frontones and the stadium, and the myth-making around the campus draws from its location on an ancient lava bed.  See: Lizárraga Sánchez and López Uribe, op.cit.

[57] Rossell and Carrasco, op. cit., n.p.

[58] Lizárraga Sánchez and López Uribe, op. cit, pp.19–20.

 

 

Recibido: 6 de enero de 2018

Aceptado: 25 de junio de 2018

 


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El autor

Assistant Editor and Podcast Coordinator at Getty Publications, J. Paul Getty Trust, in Los Angeles, California.  Her research interests include the production of knowledge through and about art and architecture, with a focus on how archives, publications, exhibitions, and aesthetic objects shape and reflect culture and society. Her master's thesis investigated the architecture exhibitions and publications of Mexico’s Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes during the 1950s, a period of enormous economic growth and cultural change. 

zoegoldman@gmail.com

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Imagining a City of Plastic Integration through Guía de Arquitectura Contemporánea Mexicana / Guide to Contemporary Mexican Architecture 

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