A Habitual Architecture Workshop
“Only in receiving the emotions of architecture can man come to regard it as an art,”
– Mathias Goeritz
The Museo Experimental El Eco, one of the great cultural spaces in the city, was designed and built by Mathias Goeritz in 1953 in the San Rafael neighborhood, opposite the Jardin del Arte and behind the Monumento a la Madre, though not obviously, on calle Sullivan.
Mathias Goeritz was a Mexican sculptor of German origin who left Europe after the Second World War. He settled in Mexico and made such prominent works as the Torres de satélite, visible along the Queretaro highway leaving the northwest of the city, la ruta de la amistad, (literally, “the Route of Friendship”) no less than 22 major sculptures to coincide with the 1968 Olympic Games and la osa mayor, (named for the constellation, in English, known as “the Big Dipper) near Palacio de los Deportes.
Sensations and emotions are critical to an understanding of this space which is, almost by definition, pioneering and innovative. It remains so experimental that it doesn’t age, but works like a machine of proposals and inspiration. The building was originally billed as “emotional architecture” due to the philosophical and architectural characteristics it presented.
The building was originally ordered by businessman, Daniel Mont from Goeritz to be purpose built as an art gallery. But the construction was modified as it was being built. That’s to say, there was no strict, functionalist planning. It was emotional and intuitive and hence the word “experimental” in the name of the museum. The work was, and remains, an experiment.
Goeritz thought of the space, itself, as a work of art, and one which create an asymmetric and surprising space. The space is accessed through a long corridor, one which seems still longer owing to the inclination of a wall directed toward the vanishing point of the entrant, and to changes in height along the route. At the entrance, visitors are greeted by a poem written on a yellow tower and which “sculptural, pictorial and emotional.” The words are written in an abstract typography because, for Goeritz, the meaning of the words had lost strength.
The courtyard was once bedecked with a snake and a mural. The snake represented an abstract reinterpretation of the theatrical context of the German expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and Goeritz’s own personal experiences in Mexico.
The yellow tower, visible from the street, remains the only element of color throughout the building. It represents an invitation to conservative 1950s Mexico to open itself artistically, philosophically and socially.
The museum was run as a gallery and art space, later as a restaurant and bar, and then as space for theatrical experimentation and activism. It was eventually abandoned until the National Autonomous University of Mexico took over the site in 2005 and converted it to a university museum.
English architect, David Chipperfield, took inspiration from the door of the Goeritz museum in designing the Jumex Museum and expressed this in the thought that “as long as the museum is running the door is open.” The Jumex Museum later extended this same sentiment in inviting the public to visit.
The museum currently hosts art exhibitions and an annual competition is held to design a pavilion for the courtyard of the facility.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 am – 6pm, the Museo Experimental El Eco is at 43 Sullivan, col San Rafael.
Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons
Mexico City’s Tepito neighborhood has for a millennia history offered resistance, rebellion, and hope. Tenochtitlan relegated dissidents to Tepito’s crooked alleys. The “brave neighborhood,” even hundreds of years later, is still marginalized and bent on survival. Somehow residents seem to bear that history in the very DNA.
With a reputation for violence, deprivation, and overcrowding, some of the great characters of Mexican history have come from Tepito. The cradle of Mexican boxing, in the 1970s an important literary movement emerged in Tepito, and the neighborhood has contributed as much to the culture of the city and country as have many, much wealthier places.
Among all the stories of people whose hard work is performed with an enviable dignity, there are thousands of women who carry out similar work for their families. Resident Mayra Valenzuela Rojas remarked, “In Tepito there’s a matriarchy (…) Every woman has her own story. Each of us is a spark, but together we are lighting a candle for Tepito.”
German photographer, Anja Jensen, is currently exhibiting her work in a show called “Ciudadanas-Caminamos a oscuras” (Citizens-We Walk in the Dark). Having spent months in Tepito, she’s documented the women challenging the stereotypes of the neighborhood.
Jensen was assaulted and threatened, but she was also clothed and cared for by the women who opened their stories and lives to her. The result is a series photographs, “Las Cabronas de Tepito,” (Bad Girls of Tepito) a collective portrait of the matriarchy whose fervor makes the neighborhood better and regularly improves the lives of the people living there.
The photographs will be exhibited through February 12, 2017, as part of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year, at the German Pavilion on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, in Roma Norte.