A Brave New Urbanism, Part 5 : Mexico City

“These great towns, temples and buildings rising from the water, all made of stone, seemed like an enchanted vision from the tale of Amadis. Indeed, some of our soldiers asked whether it was not all a dream. It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before.” Spanish Conquistador, Bernal Díaz del Castillo, circa 1519 on first sighting of Tenochtitlan. Original translation by J.M Cohen from the Conquest of New Spain.

Mexico City, formerly known as Tenochtitlan is the 5th chapter in StudioFYNN’s Brave New Urbanism series. The ideas of progress and evolution are fundamental concepts behind modernity. The pursuit of growth, technological development and knowledge are seen as prerequisites for economic development and in turn influence how we build today’s cities. However, progress may have many interpretations and there are no guarantees that all ideas of progress manifest in sustainable and enduring plans.

Tenochtitlan, the ancient capital of the Aztecs founded in 1325AD prospered as one of Mesoamerica’s greatest cities until its siege, conquest and destruction by the Conquistadores from 1519 -1521AD. The ancient Aztec city incorporated complex ideas of cosmology, mythology and religion entirely alien to the conquers beliefs resulting in their near complete elimination as a new city was built in accordance with European ideals and concepts of civilization. With a population at the time of conquest exceeding 200, 000 (amongst the worlds largest cities at the time) it appears that in Tenochtitlan, the Aztec concepts of civic function were masterfully integrated with the higher beliefs of their civilization. From the urban plan to the iconography so powerfully represented in sculpture, murals and artworks, the centers of trade, worship, governance and habitat were woven together with the coherent thread of the deeper belief systems.

Today’s Mexico City with an estimated 21 million inhabitants bears little resemblance to what went before. Its evolution is marked by the imposition of European ideals, many of which add a distinctive charm, and the ubiquitous verticality of emerging market capitals and commercial hubs. The issues of high density and compact living create challenges for urban planers, architects, designers and citizens alike while the combined forces of popular culture and consumerism fuel a proliferation of billboards. There are an estimated 15000 billboards adorning the city’s transportation arteries and upscale neighborhoods creating an imposing visual anarchy. Yesterday’s Aztec sculptures of gods and spirits are replaced by the billboard images upon which the monsters and myths of todays movies gaze down upon the daily commuters and brands compete to communicate their value through overpowering scale, clever and concise messaging and the overt or implicit images of sexuality.

According the the World Health Organization, the worlds urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and continues to grow. Progress, evolution and coherency do not necessarily go hand in hand but increasing urban densities and populations require a continual re evaluation of what coherency means and how we plan and design for our increasingly complex urban world. 

Note: All Aztec sculptures photographed at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City

Tenochtitlan, as envisioned at the time of conquest, 1519 -1521. From the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, Mexico City. Painting by Luis Covarrubias
The modern era
The Stone of the Sun. The most distinctive sculpture of the Aztecs/Mexica people. Steeped in complex meaning, its primary functions appear to be connected with sacrificial practice
The new skyline emerges
The ubiquitous verticality of emerging market capitals and commercial hubs
The ubiquitous verticality of emerging market capitals and commercial hubs
Older commercial and residential development near the Zocalo
Elevated highways and infrastructure development.
Symbols of evolution and revolution. 'El Angel' the angle of independence becomes progressively eclipsed by the 'new'. Her image is derived from Greek mythology and is based on Nike, the Greek god of victory
Aztec sculpture, Xochipilli, patron saint of flowers, including those fabled to facilitate communication with the divine.
New overshadows the old at the monument to independence
Construction site
Material, form and scale combine to create a landscape of modernity
Museo Soumaya, housing the art collection of Carlos Slim, the world's wealthiest man
Museo Soumaya, housing the art collection of Carlos Slim, the world's wealthiest man
The Thinker by Rodin. Museo Soumaya, housing the art collection of Carlos Slim, the worlds wealthiest man
Aztec sculpture, Xiuhcoatl, the fire serpent and weapon of the sun, dispelling the forces of darkness
Todays reptilian incarnations, myths and monsters gaze down on commuters from billboards
Aztec Sculpture, the masked image of feminine beauty
Wedding party
The proliferation of billboards creates an imposing visual anarchy
Alongside the highway, construction sites and billboards compete for space
Monkey head gargoyle from the original Tenochtitlan city center
Monsters and myths gaze down on commuter traffic. Los simios (the apes) proclaim a "last chance for peace"
Hotel Camino Real, Polanco, designed by Ricardo Legorreta
Hotel Camino Real, Polanco, designed by Ricardo Legorreta
Squatters house, UNAM, National Autonomous University of Mexico
UNAM, National Autonomous University of Mexico
Residential developments
Unregulated developments on the city periphery house the daily population expansion
Unregulated housing developments consume the hills
Unregulated housing developments consume the hills
Aztec sculpture, the skull represents death but is also symbolic of the underworld or a parallel world below
A hologram where the viewing angle reveals that we are all essentially the same beneath the surface, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City
Beneath the surface, Museo Nacional de Antropología. Mexico City
Coatlicue, the Aztec earth-mother goddess. A fearsome deity represented as an old woman, she is symbolic of earth worship.
Not so subtle messaging, underwear advertisement proclaims"for me, the movie finished with a happy ending"
All images © Shaun Fynn