CSD Seminar: Summary of “On architecture’s nationality: Mexico City, 1938-1963”

Event Description:
CSD Seminar by Dr Adam Kaasa on “On Architecture’s Nationality: Mexico City, 1938-1963”, 23rd February 2016

Contributed by Carl Truedsson with Mara Nogueira

Dr Kaasa spoke in the CSD (Cities, Space and Development) seminar series about his ongoing research exploring architecture as a discursive practice. His research focuses on the evolution of such discourses in Mexico’s leading architectural journal – ‘Arquitectura/México’. The journal was co-founded and edited by Mario Pani, perhaps the most famous Mexican architects of the twentieth century. It was through the process of thinking about one of Pani’s designs, a housing block in Mexico City – El Centro Urbano Presidente Alemán (CUPA) – that Dr Kaasa began to explore how buildings can have very different meanings depending upon the social/political/cultural context in which they are produced, both physically and discursively.

Mario Pani was trained at the distinguished École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris where he may or may not have been in direct contact with renowned architect Le Corbusier. Regardless of their potential paths crossing, Pani’s CUPA (and indeed other significant projects) clearly drew upon Le Corbusier’s architectural and urban design principles. Dr Kaasa has explored the visual resemblance between styles to discuss how these representations can mask important distinctions in several dimensions relevant to the politics of architecture. In order to explore the process through which architecture “becomes written as national project”, Dr Kaasa has focused on the evolution of Arquitectura /México’s content, comparing its first issue in 1938 to the 25th anniversary issue published in 1963.

Dr Adam Kaasa with the cover of Arquitectura /México's 25th anniversary issue (number 83) published in 1963. Photo by Jeanne Firth.

Dr Adam Kaasa with the cover of Arquitectura /México’s 25th anniversary issue (number 83) published in 1963 (Photo by Jeanne Firth)

Originally only titled ‘Arquitectura’, the first issue clearly reflected Pani’s European connection. It also advocated a globalist perspective – that time-space compression was homogenizing architectural design. However, over the coming decades, the journal became increasingly Mexican-centric. Issue number 83 in 1963 represented the complete ‘about face’ of the journal from its original ambitions. A new logo and name (‘Arquitectura/México’) was produced and a new focus on “mature Mexican architecture”, announced. This singular national focus becomes interesting contrasted with the journal’s own history of featuring several Mexican projects in the past. Writing, however, brought this national style ‘into being’. The ‘about face’ came at a time of tremendous urbanization projects in Mexico (e.g. Pani’s CUPA) fuelled by foreign direct investment. It can be understood as a way to discursively legitimate this specific form of ‘urban development’.

Dr Kaasa concluded showing some data from the ongoing process of coding the content of the magazine’s forty years of history. This data points to declining European influence and rising connections with the United States.

This very interesting and well-presented talk was followed by an engaged Q & A session with the audience.

More information on Dr Kaasa and his work can be found here: http://www.rca.ac.uk/more/staff/dr-adam-kaasa/

Carl Truedsson is a research student in the Department of Geography and Environment.

Mara Nogueira is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography and Environment.