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Mexican Cultural Institute gives glimpse into Mexico City

March 22, 2002|By JENNIFER SARANOW
  • The Arcos Bosques Corporative in Mexico City was designed by architect Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon.
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Special to this newspaper

WASHINGTON (MNS) — As President George Bush travels to Monterrey, Mexico, this week to meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox, Americans hoping to catch a glimpse of that Mexican city need only travel to the Mexican Cultural Institute here.

There they will find photographs and plans of the Marco Museum and the Museum

of Mexican History in Monterrey among the 52 buildings represented at an exhibit of contemporary Mexican architecture open until April 14.

Luz Estela Santos de Bruck, deputy director of the institute, said she hopes the exhibition will change people's perceptions of Mexico and Mexican art.

"Many people associate Mexico with sun and tequila and don't think about the art made there," she said. "If they do think of Mexican art, it's always the pre-Hispanic or Frida Kahlo. People forget that we have people making modern art, architecture, sculpture and installation pieces, working with the most cutting edge advanced technology and artistic language."

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The exhibition, which was first displayed in Israel in 2000, traveled to Washington from the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City with the help of Robert

Moranchel, formerly an architecture professor at the University of Mexico City and now senior urban designer in Arlington County, Va.

"We brought it here to show people that just across the border there is a huge revolution of architecture happening," said Moranchel, who was born and grew up in Mexico.

And if, as he claimed, the works on display really are the most representative works of modern architecture in Mexico at the turn of the century, it's a revolution that can't be typecast into one particular trend.

"You see traditionalism and you see high-tech at the same time. You see different architects taking into account new materials with traditional

dimensions, and you see the high-tech movement that is blowing through the whole world," he said.

Traditional influences on many of the works include the Aztecs' ancient pyramids that seem to fuse with their natural surroundings, colonial-era haciendas with their characteristic central patios and courtyards as well as the works of Luis Barragan.

A minimalist style combined with a fascination for water, bright colors and the interplay between indoor and outdoor space characterized the work of Barragan, a preeminent Mexican architect who worked from the 1920s to the 1970s.

Many contemporary Mexican architects see themselves as the continuation of an unbroken chain from this Mexican master, though their styles also reflect an adaptation to their own times.

An example is "Casa Colorada," a single-family dwelling in Valle do Bravo designed in 1994 and 1995 by Ricardo Legorreta and his firm Legorreta Architects, who also designed the Marco Museum in Monterrey. The hard, geometric lines of the house's orange walls catch the sun and reflect in a rock- and water-filled courtyard.

Also reflected are trees that the house seems built around not vice versa, echoing both the Aztecs' and Barragan's incorporation of buildings into nature.

Photographs of a single-family home by Andres Casillas and another by design team Hector Velazquez Graham and Ramon Torres Martinez are on display.

Both houses have square pools in their outside spaces that call to mind Barragan as well as the importance of water in Spanish-Moorish style.

In many works, such traditional themes are fused with modern forms. For example, Carlos Mijares Bracho's Episcopal Christ Church in Mexico City was built in 1989 to 1990 with traditional clay brick, yet the bricks compose the square, rectangular and circular shapes that form the building.

Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon's Arcos Basques Corporativo in Mexico City also illustrates this trend. A giant white squared-off arch lined with windows, its

shape enables all those inside to see the beauty of its volcanic surroundings, Moranchel said.

In contrast, the Televisa building in Mexico City designed from 1993 to 1995 by

Enrique Norten and his firm Ten Arquitectos illustrates how Mexican architects are taking part in the most advanced world trends of architecture. Made out of traditional materials like glass combined with industrial metal components, the building resembles a flattened tube cut at both ends and closed with glass. It is reminiscent of many contemporary buildings in Europe.

"These structures are in a city famous for earthquakes which makes their merit even greater because they have to be built according to safety standards,"

Moranchel said.

The exhibit next will be on display in San Antonio and then in New Mexico. Moranchel said he expects to bring it to other U.S. cities as well.

"For the public of the United States," said Juan Jose Bremer, the Mexican ambassador to the United States, "it opens a window onto an astonishing variety of urban development styles with one common denominator: functional beauty."

The exhibition was conceived and sponsored by the Mexican Federation of the College of Architects and Grupo COMEX.

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