An architectural rendering is not a neutral artifact: as an image it always wants something, and its production, distribution and circulation are conditioned by the social context. Renderings that have circulated of the “Cultural Corridor Chapultepec” [Mexico City] are imbued with specific conceptions about what city life is, ideas about what could and should be an “ideal” public space.
The first rendering showed an upscale neighborhood: modern buildings, signage of sushi and gourmet shops – you can imagine people around living in lofts. In another one, people walk at a distance of two meters from each other, in groups of two or three: young people and families, holding hands or lying on the grass. No litter, no noise, no informality.
Going on a Sunday walk down the main road of Chapultepec Park, on the other hand, means walking through a sea of people. There are countless colours, smells and sounds. The constant cry of mask vendors or of people who paint faces. The applause to street comedians and break dancers. All of Mexico´s families – in groups of two or three generations – seem to be present in that spot.
Although being the closest thing to it, both spatially and culturally, the Cultural Corridor feels like a world apart. The majority of people who use the space, according to the images, are white and have small families. The spaces are barren, and the division of the park in artistic ‘blocks’ does not take into account more irregular interventions in public space. You can imagine pre-programmed use of the space, through a cultural calendar.
There´s another image, of ‘Glorieta de Insurgentes’, done half a century ago. In it, the space is pristine, the cars have plenty of space between them: it is an area of high visibility. No one would believe that this space would become a meeting point for subcultures like punks, skaters and trans.
You can not predict the use of a new space. Additionally, places to intervene are always being used by someone else. When the AIDS epidemic swept through New York, the abandoned train platform, now known as the elevated Highline park (benchmark for the Cultural Corridor) was used for secret meetings of the LGBT community. They met there and in abandoned docks, because these were the only safe places to do it. They were discriminated against in public places with more visibility.
It is an integrated project – we are told – where financial, social, economic, cultural and environmental aspects have been taken into consideration. And the images are faithful to this impulse towards the absolute: one intervention, and it’s done; as if a city – or at least this area of the city – was an “almost” finished product that needed a single element to function at full capacity. As if the noise and disorder were problems to be solved with one gesture. But the idea of a public space masterplan is an anti-urban stance of modernist heritage, which projects ideals of the suburbs into the city. It transfers perceptions of a shopping mall, where the visual and public space of low intensity rule.
There are many problems in Chapultepec Avenue: traffic, noise, informality, the inability to cross, lack of bike lanes, the lack of a Metrobus. But in a place of high entropy, like this one, an intervention, however small, can cause effects that cannot be planned.
The role of the government should be to learn through tactics, to collect information on an intervention and then put together a design in an iterative process. It should take into account that it is intervening in a complex matrix and that the ramifications of such actions are both local and global. It should refrain from contributing to this pastiche of ‘iconic’ buildings, called Mexico City, where buildings are designed without any contextual sensitivity. In this sense, the architectural renderings of the Cultural Corridor Chapultepec – a completed product, a First World public space fantasy – should be seen for what they are: advertising strategies.”
This article first appeared in Spanish in Arquine: http://www.arquine.com/el-corredor-cultural-el-imperio-de-lo-visual/
writer · consultant · strategist
“Communication (n): from commons,public, general, shared by all.”
“I´ve worked in communication processes with groups and organizations in New York, San Francisco, Istanbul, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Amsterdam, Prague and Mexico City. These experiences have taught me that each context has its own language, whether it’s an office room, a street corner, a living room, or a bar.
There’s a wealth of quantitative, data-driven decisions being made: a focus on formulas, methodologies, algorithms and protocols. But human beings are more complex than data points. We thrive within communities of meaning. We evolve through our relationship to the past.”