A Look into the Mexico Program 2010 Oct19

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A Look into the Mexico Program 2010

In January 2010, ten students from the University of Washington embarked on a 3-month trip to Mexico, the first “Mexico Abroad Program” conducted by the Department of Architecture since the Mexico Design/Build program taught by Steve Badanes. What made this program unique amongst the many study-abroad programs offered is that it collaborated directly with an on-site institution. Our partner institution was the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana-Xochimilco (UAM-X) located in southeastern Mexico City, consisting of fifteen 4th-year undergraduate architecture students led by Professors Andrea Martin and Eduardo Basurto. The studio was complemented by Professor Michael Pyatok’s visits, who brought a valuable social component to the studio, as well as his expertise in housing.

This collaboration provided many special and unique opportunities for the UW students. The Mexican students served invaluably as guides to Mexico City, introducing the American students to taco stands, public transportation, the nightlife scene, as well as how (and how not) to get around the immense city using Sitio taxis and Paseros (small typically packed buses which spew fumes into the already heavily polluted streets). Our visit to Mexico started with a 2-week whirlwind bus tour to the Yucatan Peninsula, where we based ourselves in the colonial town of Merida, the location for our studio project. This memorable trip which “kick-started” the Mexico program provided students the opportunity to live in the town of Merida, and to visit the Mayan archaeological ruins of Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Pelenque, and Oxkintok, amongst numerous other sites. The 2-week whirlwind tour served as an ideal introduction to Mexico, and allowed the faculty and students the chance to get to know one another outside of the classroom in preparation for their work in Mexico City. Without the UAM-X professors and students, the program would not have been anywhere near as rich, or as culturally integrated. And certainly nowhere near as rewarding, fulfilling, or entertaining.

The following images show documentation projects created by the ten UW students which complemented their design studio projects (click images for larger views). (Thanks go out to Aaron Menkens for assembling all of these). I requested that each student find something of specific interest to them about Mexico City. This interest then became their ‘topic’ of documentation for the remainder of their stay in DF. To help the students achieve specificity, I gave them a single request: that their ‘topics’ deal in some way with ‘public infrastructure’. In very little time, all ten students selected individual topics which developed out of their own personal interests, many of which dovetailed with their online casino design studio projects. Ashle Fauvre filmed the cemeteries of Mexico City, and became intrigued by the cemetery walls which separated the city of the dead from the greater urban fabric;

Carissa Franks developed a focused interest on the omnipresent ‘Shrines to Guadalupe’ found throughout public markets, back streets, and taxi cabs;

Alaina Hamel discovered the ubiquitous public hand-washing stations found throughout taquerias and other eating establishments;

Amit Ittyerah became fascinated by how street vendors could commandeer public space for their own purposes;

Cory Mattheis became interested in how advertising billboard structures would transform over time;

Aaron Menkens discovered dragons lurking behind the security gates and doors which separate public from private along the back streets of Coyoacan and San Angel;

Ashley Muse became fascinated by mobile vendor carts and realized that architecture could be set up and dismantled in the course of a single day;

Carlene Thatcher-Martin found delight and inspiration in the architecture created by vibrant colored tarps strung up by street vendors;

Titus Uomoto’s interest in street dancing led him to the realization that dancers and spectators alone can create ‘space’;

and Chris Wong’s love of the El Pastor taco led to a fanatical mission to document every taco stand and menu throughout the metropolis of Mexico City.

Through these personal investigations, my ten students allowed me to “see” Mexico City in a new way.

Robert Hutchison is a Principal at Hutchison & Maul Architecture  and Part-time Lecturer.

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