The Flexible Leviathan: Reconsidering Scale and Fixity in the Contemporary Metropolis

Mexico City is one of the most dynamic and complex metropolitan areas in the world today. With over 20.1 million inhabitants, remarkable urban growth, an active, yet dual economy and a palimpsest of material histories centuries-old, it is quite a case study for architecture and urban planning today. Iztapalapa, in the southeast part of the metropolitan area is the most populated ‘delegación’ (borough) in Mexico City with over 1.8 million inhabitants. It also is one of the poorest, most underserviced, crime-ridden and stigmatized areas in the city. Despite all that, it is a location with a strong cultural voice, an active youth population, and demographic diversity. Within Iztapalapa, the Centro Oriente (East Center) site comprises close to 40 hectares in size and is one of the largest open territories within the urban area of Mexico City. As a terrain surrounded by large-scale infrastructures, formal and informal housing, squatter settlements, complex geological and hydrological issues as well as massive housing estates, Centro Oriente offers a possibility to reimagine urban planning as a tool of socio-spatial transformation.

This studio seeks to produce a vision for Centro Oriente, both in the local context of Iztapalapa and in metropolitan terms, thus theorizing the meaning of sustainable urbanism in large cities while also engaging the real world, local context of urban policy-making through urban planning and design intervention. The course is informed by two driving questions:

·Is it possible to critically reassess the scale of intervention traditionally used to change an area’s profile and relationship to its surrounds? That is, are there forms of intervention other than large-scale/large-site transformation (such as urban renewal, the master plan, or other massive urban projects) that hold the potential for transformative urban change?

·Is it possible to critically reassess the materiality of urban change by pondering both fixed and flexible processes of city-making? That is, are there forms of intervention that presuppose fluid and dynamic rather than fixed uses of space, and that could be prioritized or integrated with more lasting transformations to alter the built environment so as create a new urbanism?

The guiding hypothesis is that by reframing the issues of scale and temporality we can create a different urbanity, one that is better able to address the social, economic, ecological and programmatic imperatives of the contemporary metropolis.

The local government of Iztapalapa is the studio sponsor.

Course Structure and Deliverables:
There is one class trip to Mexico City planned for February 9-16th. Professors Davis and Castillo will guide students through classroom lecturing and other forms of grounded knowledge-production about the politics and financing of urban interventions in Mexico as well as the socio-economic and built environmental history of Iztapalapa and Mexico City. Students will learn about the regimes of planning in the city, as well as the forces facilitating and/or harnessing urban transformation at a variety of scales. Exercises include:

·Mapping Mexico City; Mapping Iztapalapa
·Case studies of innovative urban practices
·Strategies to address poverty, security & urbanity

Students will be evaluated on the basis of two final deliverables:
·A proposed vision for Centro Oriente (document, design, project, plan, etc.)
·A methodology to assess and qualify the relevance of certain processes, strategies and design decisions as they relate to large-scale or fixed transformations vs. targeted or ephemeral transformations.