“Incorporation of the Spacial Emptiness” That is one of the statements that modernism in Mexico pursued when planning city development in terms of social housing. This statement caused me many reflective thoughts on how people inhabit their living environment and their behavior on the given surroundings of a housing unit. Talking about modernism and housing respectively, is an endless, fascinating topic, of course. However, the approach I want to give here is the pure “feeling of it.” I won’t cover much of the theoretical aspect of housing nor modern architecture. Since this a place for me to express pure aesthetics around fashion and architecture, as previously stated on this site. Therefore I will provide you with a wave of sensorial images so that my perspective on the living environment can be portrayed somehow.
The aim of building densified cities during the modern movement around the world gave freedom to architects to imagine ideal living environments, where people could take advantage of the bast green areas and recreational activities around their housing units. Determined functionalist mindsets and raw aesthetics came across all drawing plans around the world. Eventually, cities became ideal scenarios for “unicity” and allocated families within giant blocks with plenty of infrastructure at their service. However, this type of architectural projects happened to either succeed or fail, given the economic context and other political factors affecting different cities across the globe. Eventually, this type of housing projects transformed into massive urban frames where people got enclosed within a strong identity of poverty and limitation. In other words, they were locked and left out from the surrounding city’s well being. In the case of Mexico City, local economies could not afford for a more extended period the bast program architects proposed with such excitement. Construction costs were on top of the city’s budget, and housing master plans stopped from being conceived.
I am telling you this, so you get into context, and therefore I slightly put a seed of the architectural background from this post while you read it. So, what does it mean for a human being to have bast green areas and recreational facilities meanwhile, it is being locked within four walls of modernist idealism and social labels? During the spread of modernism around the world, people were feeling excited inhabiting these impressive, very well equipped blocks where they could have the privilege of “a modern way of living.” And especially in Mexico City, back in the ’50s, a lot of self-construction works were exploding here and there along with the entire city, without much urban planning and, of course, without architects and urban designers on charge. So, living on this type of blocks was actually a symbol of evolution and status back in those days. You belonged to a particular group of people, and they respected such identity.
They were live proof of well being and smart planning. Nowadays, its the exact opposite. Even if housing is funded by local governments across European cities, for instance, people are still being treated under similar strategies without feeling excluded from city well being. Contrary, here in Mexico City, it is quite different. Since such projects stopped existing as I said, these housing blocks are like cemeteries for modernist aspirations and dreams. They represent forgotten places where time and social evolution stopped. They are traces from what before, people were climbing towards a better life.
Why is collective evolution being intersected by the physical living conditions? Why, in this particular housing block, the overall atmosphere is quite charming but deteriorated at the same time? Architecture always plays a crucial role in people’s lives, of course. And this is the core of the aesthetics I love to portray. When human interaction with the living environment suggests the unknown and the abstract.
What happens around the collective well being within the block is that people feel belonging in two different ways. They see the building, and it represents a unique symbol of belonging for them, contrary to someone who owns a house, for instance. The building itself is “owned” by them in a certain way. And secondly, the other belonging is non-existent. That is for me, they are just one more family out of thousands of people inhabiting the block. So, this is very interesting for me indeed. The mixture of feelings that turn around a whole life occupying a particular space. It gives you a very different perspective of the city and of life itself.
I see people on the terraces far away. Floor 21st. Watching the football match at a distance. They observe the “outside” world. Meanwhile, I observe the “inside” world. Given I am not an inhabitant there. That is why I referred to these projects as massive urban frames. Where inhabitants see life occur from their apartments or terraces and think the rest of the city as a detached part of their lives. Whereas, people passing by this block think to themselves, what is this place? How many apartments must be? How unpleasant would be living here?
I thought to myself. Inhabitants have close neighbors, places to sit down and chit chat about life, walkways that make people reflect on architecture and materials, proportions, and so on until they make their way out. I mean, it is a dictating fact of life. Living there. It is something you eat every day, even if you are not aware of it. Unconsciously, inhabitants reflect on their block daily. When walking out the door, when closing a window, when grabbing a spoon, when walking down the stairs to work. There are endless situations that fascinate me when thinking of how complex is the philosophical part of inhabiting. That I’ll be showcasing you along the way…
Photos by Lorena Cruz