Of architecture and diffusion in Mexico: Narratives of (de)centrality.


The diffusion of national architecture has gone through different stages, all with a common characteristic, its focus on what happens in Mexico City and on the work of the main figures of architecture and design. Now is the time to turn to see the new creators of culture, the peripheries and those people who raise their voices and are redefining themselves, the current culture.

In Mexico, architecture, like culture in general, is legitimized and spread from the centrality. It is not arbitrary, then, that Mexico City holds the country's cultural hegemony given its historical status as political capital and as the most populated and traveled mega-city. Its rich cultural and social heritage, in constant growth, has materialized its own and foreign avant-gardes, procreating and attracting new actors and creators who will continue to feed it. As the seat of government and administration of resources, from this centrality the discourses that make up the (questionable) concepts of official history and national identity have been generated and, with them, the propaganda instruments for their dissemination. Beyond geographies and territorialities, exploring the phenomenon of the diffusion of architectural culture implies questioning the processes of centralization and the powers that make them come together to, from a single place, validate some and marginalize others.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the post-revolutionary nationalist project embraced the promises of progress and growth, imagined from the utopias of Western modernity, seeking to intersect them with the national tradition. From the shelves of university libraries and specialized bookstores, architects and designers were nourished by the ideas contained in avant-garde European and American publications that dictated what the "new style" should be like, while intellectuals debated in famous talks of architecture on the ethos of the discipline. The construction industry was the one that began the promotion and dissemination of the new architecture, through the magazines "El Concreto" and "Cemento/Tolteca", promoted by the "Committee to Propagate the Use of Portland Cement", formed the first wide-ranging editorial project that profoundly influenced the construction of Mexican architectural modernity. In this way, the press, industry and capital conditioned the evolution of material culture.

By mid-century, the consolidation of the national architectural scene, with internationally renowned figures such as Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and Mario Pani, among others, led to the creation of publications that allowed the reproduction and amplification of their works. Magazines such as “Calli” and “Arquitectura México”, the latter headed by Mario Pani, became essential devices for the exhibition of national and international architecture and design. In its pages, the space for criticism and the proposal of innovative architectural imaginaries was also opened.

Despite the boom in the publishing industry that allowed for increased print runs, with the development of improved production and printing techniques and with a greater distribution infrastructure, these publications became niche products, later cult products, and gradually disappeared. Outside the printed pages, cultural and museum spaces sporadically dedicated an exhibition or conference related to architecture. It was not until 1984 that the National Museum of Architecture was established, on the upper floor of the Palace of Fine Arts, the only space (practically residual) with an exclusive vocation for architecture.

At the end of the century, postmodernity, the establishment of the neoliberal economy and consumer culture brought a diversification of editorial products that massified architecture and design in terms of decoration and lifestyle. Magazines became pay-for-sale storefronts offering their aspirational wares to the middle-class proletariat along with an eternal promise of well-being. Eventually, the weariness before the frivolity and the emptiness of content of the mass media would end up awakening new concerns and editorial projects. At the end of the 1990s, the magazines Arquine (1997) emerged as an independent editorial platform and Bitácora (1999) from the UNAM Faculty of Architecture. Both projects, still in force, focused, the first, on curating and disseminating international architectural culture, favoring the Mexican scene, and the second, on disseminating and generating critical thinking from research and academia. The media changes that would come in just a couple of decades accelerated the displacement of printed editorial projects to a peripheral condition in the face of the ubiquity and massiveness of the Internet.

At the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century we can assess the state of architectural culture and its dissemination from a completely different perspective than that of the 20th century. Although the "official" media continue to be monopolized by elites, telecommunications have democratized the production of content and the amplification of diverse discourses. Today the most influential architecture medium is in virtuality: Archdaily, the most visited architecture portal in the world (and one of the most visited sites on the web) while new architecture blogs and accounts/pages every specialized companies generate up-to-the-minute content from all social networks.

Traditional platforms have had to reinvent and diversify their content offerings, which has added exponentially to the construction of culture. Fairs and festivals such as MEXTRÓPOLI, the Mexican Design Open, Design Week Mexico, etc. they have occupied the physical spaces of the city making the culture of architecture and design more visible and accessible. Particularly noteworthy are the independent initiatives for exhibition and experimental curatorship: LIGA. Space for architecture and ARCHIVE, projects that operate not only as showcases for emerging architectures but also as research laboratories and documentation centers. Exhibition projects such as the (now defunct) contest for the Fair of Friendly Cultures and the El Eco Museum Pavilion have also been carried out from the institutional framework, bringing the proposals of young practices to larger audiences, highlighting the essential value of what is public in the architecture.

The internet has changed the rules, opening participation to new and unexpected actors, but it has also concentrated the niche phenomenon, validating the status quo of those who inherit the prestige of economic, social and architectural capital; and that they exploit the privilege of carrying out construction with a voracious spirit that, even disguised as sustainable and progressive, continues to be hoarding and capitalist. The current health crisis has stopped participation and exchange in public spaces in its tracks, but digital connectivity has given rise to an opportunity for emerging voices and platforms that dare to question the modes of production and dissemination of culture and architecture. It is then time to generate our own content, to confront, through projects and criticism, the injustices, inequalities and precariousness that affect us, assuming the social responsibility of our discipline and establishing the priorities of our discourse, discarding frivolities. It is time to establish links with those who have a voice and return it to those who have had it taken from them, historically and systematically. It is time to make community with the peripheries, both physical and virtual. It's time to decentralize the architecture.