Archive for the ‘pritzker’ Tag

Condesa Art Deco, Mexico City

Mexico City is a new, old favorite destination of mine, at least as far as cities go. I first visited 20 years ago, and was surprised and delighted by the chaos and vitality. This was in the bad old days of the 1990s, when the city was seemingly on the edge of oblivion, with 20+ million souls living at a mile and a half above sea level, a place badly damaged by the 1985 earthquake, hopelessly polluted, sinking like Venice in the spongy lake bed, and high in crime. I visited during one of the volcano Popocatepetl’s eruptions, the mountain casually spouting ash and smoke 40 miles east of the city, nearly lost in the haze that blanketed the city.

I’ve returned twice since then, in the space of a few months. Mexico City has changed much over the past decade, becoming cleaner, sporting bike lanes, cutting edge, world-class food, audacious new architecture, while still being an inexpensive place to visit. It’s actually quite close to the Four Corners, and a fun place to go for a long weekend. That said, it’s so vast that you can’t really see a whole lot in a weekend. It’s probably going to be one of those places that I go to regularly, like LA, where I feel familiar enough that I can visit a different section each time and see something new each time. The UNESCO-listed historic center (Centro Historico) is still my favorite part of town, with these austere, tilting structures of dark red and gray volcanic stone that have survived every natural and political calamity over the past 400 years. To this day it’s still the commercial and political heart of the city, and the entire nation. The central square, Zocalo, is the epicenter of Mexico, a space of gigantic proportions much like Red Square is to Moscow, or Tiananmen Square is to Beijing.

About three miles southwest is a neighborhood called Condesa, developed in the 1930s, which was badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake and fell into obscurity until about ten years ago, when it underwent a major resurgence. Now it’s the yuppie / trendy / gay center of town, cosmopolitan, featuring a mix of new architecture mixed in with many Art Deco buildings in various states of repair. It’s also one of those few places in city that’s actually green, with a couple of large parks that make it a pleasant place to hang out, day and night. Despite the incessant traffic on the main streets, it looks like a great place to live.

There are also some buildings by the Pritzker laureate Luis Barragan, who’s work seems to be neglected in Mexico despite his fame worldwide. I took a tour of his works scattered throughout the city, and for the most part, they really slip under the radar. His house and studio is a must-see for architecture buffs, located a mile beyond Condesa in Tacubaya. So here’s a sampling of the buildings and streetscapes of Condesa.

Houses by Luis Barragan, Avenida Mexico 141-143

Houses by Luis Barragan, Avenida Mexico 141-143

Art Deco house, Condesa

Art Deco house, Condesa

Edificio San Martin, Avenida Mexico 167

Edificio San Martin, Avenida Mexico 167

Edificio Tehuacan, Avenida Mexico 188

Edificio Tehuacan, Avenida Mexico 188

Shigeru Ban’s Aspen Art Museum

Located in downtown Aspen, this building and the museum’s collection is a real treat to visit. It’s quite small, with three floors of exhibits, no permanent collection, and very friendly staff that approach you to ask whether you have any questions about the art being shown. They’re also very enamored of the building, which was designed by 2014 Pritzker laureate Shigeru Ban, and opened in August 2014.

The most noticeable part of the building is the wood-weave exterior that graces the two streetfronts, providing the visitor peeks at the mountain and town surroundings. Between the exterior and the interior of the building is a grand staircase that is echoed in the interior, divided by a glass partition. Essentially it’s an in-between space, “engawa” is the Japanese term for it, and the grand stair unites the outside and inside of the structure.

Ban also elaborates on the woven wood theme in the roof elements, which are elegantly curved wood trusses that are easily missed. You’ll need to look up at the ceiling while you’re walking the grand staircase, or check out the rooftop terrace skylights to see the trusses. He also blends in the interior and exterior space very cleverly on the top floor, where a small outdoor sculpture garden merges seamlessly into the indoor / outdoor cafe, and then the interior staircase leading to the exhibition levels. It’s also an unusual feature in Aspen to have a rooftop view, affording a unique, although not so spectacular perspective on the surrounding urban scene.

The sidewalk in front of the entrance is also turned into a plaza, with a few trees, benches, and a reflective sculpture. The architect designed this space to de-intimidate the experience of visiting a museum. So this is very different from the grand urban museums (like the Met, British Museum, etc.).

Ban is known for his use of recycled materials and for his temporary structures. This museum is no different, with a wall built out of recycled tubes, and this becomes a prime decorative element.

Best of all, it’s free, which is something rarely experienced in Aspen.

Aspen Art Museum facade, with the plaza in front

Aspen Art Museum facade, with the plaza in front

Front entrance, wood weave detail

Front entrance, wood weave detail

Wood roof structure, over the grand staircase

Wood roof structure, over the grand staircase