Revitalizing Mexico City: two GSD studios

Geography and Geometry studio/Jerome Byron Hord

By Noam Dvir

Two GSD studios have made Mexico City their laboratory and have taken dramatically different approaches to solving problems and liberating the potential of this thrilling metropolis.

Mexico City’s airport is situated in the midst of a densely packed neighborhood. When the planes prepare to land they seem to scrape the roofs of the surrounding buildings. For urbanists, landing in Mexico City offers a rare bird’s eye view of a vast city stretching kilometers in all directions yet seemingly within reach.

This February the studios—one led by Felipe Correa (associate professor in urban planning and design and director of the Urban Design Degree Program) and Carlos Garciavelez (teaching associate in urban planning and design) and the other by Diane Davis (professor of urbanism and development) and Jose Castillo (design critic in urban planning and design)—visited the Mexican capital accompanied by the Loeb fellows.

Although Latin America is a prominent field of research at the GSD with its growing number of South American students and faculty, it is rare that two studios conduct research in the same city at the same time. Davis argues that the size and political role of the city in Mexico and in the larger global context make it a fascinating urban lab. “This is a place where we can investigate the possibilities and challenges facing the disciplines of planning and design.”

Garciavelez and Correa’s studio “Between Geography and Geometry: Mexico City” is examining the design of a future monorail line and the role of infrastructure as the catalyst for new and ambitious urban projects. The students constructed a “graphic urban biography” to visualize the evolution of city in relation to political, cultural, social and ecological transformations. Since their return from the field they have been designing projects that range from intermodal hubs to recuperation of ecological systems and the introduction of new housing typologies. A book documenting the studio work will be published next year.

The studio led by Davis and Castillo, “The Flexible Leviathan: Reconsidering Scale and Fixity in the Contemporary Metropolis,” is studying the southeastern delegación (borough) of Iztapalapa, the largest in the city. Iztapalapa is a key transportation and logistical hub, although it also suffers from deficits in infrastructure, services, and employment and associated challenges.

Working with the new borough president Jesús Valencia, the students are forming a concept for a 36 hectare project that holds the potential to recast the identity and function of the entire area. Officials from the delegación are expected to attend the final review and Davis and Castillo plan to exhibit the work in Mexico City.

Both Correa and Davis agree that the trip reshaped students’ perceptions of Mexico City. “We are looking forward to seeing how students digest the complex information they encountered and how they combine their proximate knowledge of the city with a more ‘distanced’ repertoire of professional ideas to address the problems on the ground,” adds Davis.

Noam Dvir (MAUD ’14) is a journalist and critic covering the architecture world for the past decade. He contributes regularly toHaaretz newspaper in Tel Aviv and various design magazines including Frame and PIN-UP.