Mexico Studio: the last post Mar11


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Mexico Studio: the last post

( This is the last post on the Mexico Studio as we have completed the program and went our separate ways. We hope this gives an insight into a great program and amazing place.) 

Mexico City: Mid Review & Oaxaca field trip

After a grueling mid-review featuring an all-star jury from Seattle (Peter Cohan, Jennifer Dee and Ken Oshima) as well as two local architects, we took a 5-day field trip to the historic hill town of Oaxaca. 




The Church and former Monastery of Santo Domingo de Guzman is located only a few blocks North of the Zocalo in the center of the city.  The construction of the monastery began in 1570 and took 200 years to complete.  During the revolutionary wars the buildings were converted to barracks and it was not until 1938 that the church reverted back into religious use.  The Monastery was turned over to the Universidad Autonoma Benito Juarez until 1972, when it became a museum.  A full restoration of the buildings was completed in 1999. The museum features a sensitive intervention, which takes advantage of the underlining cellular units to house a series of exhibits on local culture and history ranging from indigenous artifacts to the arrival of the conquistadors and the Zapata Revolution.


The “Jardin Etnobotanico” is located behind the monastery and Church of Santo Domingo. Francisco Toledo, an Oaxacan and one of Mexico’s best-known living artists, designed the gardens after rescuing the grounds and monastery (at the time an army base) from becoming a luxury hotel. Known for his advocacy on indigenous arts and culture, Toledo’s garden tells the local history through the arrangement of plants by ecological and cultural themes (e.g. domesticated plants, edible plants, etc.). Excavations for the botanical garden began in 1998. Part of the original drainage system was recovered, along with other archeological artifacts. The gardens and adjoining church served a perfect backdrop for our studio which integrates both landscape architecture and architecture students.



Who could forget Valentine’s Day? As the men romantically requested mariachi songs to video email to their lovers, all the ladies received a white flower ring.

The large pre-Columbian archaeological site of Monte Alban is located atop an artificially leveled mountain in modern day Oaxaca, and was considered the most important political center during its time.  It is best known for its hundreds of artificial terraces and carved stone buildings used for different rituals, including sacrifices. Most of the artifacts originally found at Monte Alban are housed at the Museum on site or at the Anthropology Museum in Mexico City, both of which we visited.


The former San Pablo convent has been rescued and converted to a cultural and academic center education people about the indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica.

Mauricio Rocha (who’s office we will visit) worked to restore and uncover the history of the convent as well as add a modern intervention housing a library for the new academic center. Inside, we got a taste of the library’s special collections – books and manuscripts that tell the rich history of Oaxaca and its region.


The cypress “Arbol del Tule” (taxodiaceae family) in Santa Maria de Tule, Oaxaca, is the widest tree in the world at 14.05m. 


MexicoCity_21Feb13_image10We visited the “Nelson Perez Mendoza Carpets” gallery in the countryside of Oaxaca, which prides itself on producing and using organic wool and dyes. They explained how the Chochineal, a parasite feeding on cactii moisture and nutrients, was used as the first permanent red dye in the world. This (highly sought after) technique was used in 15th Century Central America and developed into a prominent export of the Colonial Period. A French naturalist then smuggled the cactus pads with the insects into Haiti, which is the primary exporter of Chochineal today. The parasite is still used today as a natural dye – ketchup and strawberry yogurt being prime examples.

Other dyes include aluminum or calcium salts which is primarily used as food and cosmetic lipstick coloring.

A master carpet weaver gave a demonstration of how lime is added to the Chochineal powder, to create a vivid and permanent dye. Seconds later lime was mixed in, quickly turning the brilliant red dye into purple.  Given that one kilo of Chochineal is needed to dye four carpets, organic carpet manufacturing is becoming a fleeting art form, sadly being replaced by synthetic dies and mechanical looms. 



Next stop on the tourist tour was the “El Rey de Matatlan” artisanal mezcal factory. Mezcal is a local distilled alcohol made from the maguey agave plant, which is native to mainly Oaxaca. Tequila, also made from different agave, is the international alcohol of Mexico. Mezcal, on the other hand, is the local alcohol of Mexico and on our Oaxaca trip we did as the locals do…

The heart of the maguey plant “pina” is baked, shredded, and grinded to extract the liquid that is then distilled. There are many types of Mezcal from aged to flavored, and they all have the strong unique smoky flavor.


…yes, Tak ate the worm.


Mitla is what remains of the Zapotec city of the dead where the elderly and infirm came to live-out their remaining years. What makes this site unique is that one can enter the numerous tombs, which at other sites remain closed. 




MexicoCity_21Feb13_image17Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico, and we were more than happy to immerse ourselves in the delicious local cuisine and shopping. On our last night, we all went out in celebration of Eddy’s birthday.



All along out trip we kept their eyes and ears pierced for subjects to record for our documentation project. Each student picked a unique subject to document during the duration of our stay in Mexico. Subjects range from drawing and photographing the countless market halls  in every neighborhood to the various street vendors that give this country life.

Written by  Takeru Stewart, Dechen Gonnot, Mackenzie Sims

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