Carranza, Luis E.: Architecture as Revolution: Episodes in the History of Modern Mexico.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Carletta, David M.|
|Publication:||Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308|
|Issue:||Date: Fall-Winter, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 3-4|
|Topic:||NamedWork: Architecture as Revolution: Episodes in the History of Modern Mexico (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Carranza, Luis E.|
Carranza, Luis E. Architecture as Revolution: Episodes in the
History of Modern Mexico. Austin,TX: University of Texas Press, 2010.
xiv + 241 pages. Cloth, $60.00.
Under the authoritarian rule of Porfirio Diaz, Mexico experienced rapid economic growth from 1876 to 1911. Transportation and communications systems improved, agribusiness and mining increased, and new industries flourished. Amid this financial expansion, Diaz and his supporters emphasized their cultural ties with Europe. Subsequently, architecture and urban planning reflected nineteenth-century European, especially French, styles. Most of Mexico's architects were graduates of Mexico City's Academia de San Carlos, the Mexican counterpart of the French Ecole des Beaux Arts. The Diaz government maintained the stability necessary to attract international investors and increase foreign trade. However, the benefits of economic expansion were monopolized by Diaz's cronies and foreign interests. Meanwhile, Diaz turned Mexico's political system into a giant patronage machine, but he eventually disaffected the majority of Mexicans through policies that excluded them from sufficiently enjoying their nation's wealth. The Mexican Revolution (1910-1920), the twentieth century's first great political and social revolution, began when Mexicans rose up in arms against Diaz, who fled to Paris as Mexico embarked on a decade of violence and political turmoil.
The chaos of the Revolution ended with the election of Alvaro Obregon to a four-year presidential term in 1920. With the ascendancy of Obreg6n, Mexico's political and economic leaders, encouraged by the nation's foremost cultural and intellectual figures, took great interest in the potential of art, architecture, and literature to transform Mexican society. Mexico's post-revolutionary intelligentsia rejected the nineteenth-century European styles associated with the Diaz regime and encouraged the formation of a modern Mexican national identity through class and race consciousness. As the Revolution became institutionalized during the 1920s and 1930s, Mexico became animated by extraordinary cultural activity. Variously inspired by socialism, Marxism and nationalism, as well as by the European and North American avant-garde, Mexican architects, artists, and writers produced distinctive theories and works expressing their interpretations of the Revolution's political, social, and economic aims.
In Architecture as Revolution: Episodes in the History of Modern Mexico, Luis E. Carranza, an associate professor of architecture at Roger Williams University, offers an absorbing account of the architecture and architectural discourse produced in the aftermath of the Revolution. Emphasizing the interplay of social, literary, and philosophical ideas, Carranza makes clear how modern Mexican architectural production reflected diverse notions of the Revolution. Beginning with a chapter on the construction of the Secretaria de Educacion Publica headquarters in Mexico City, Carranza thoroughly describes the ideas and debates behind several key works built by Mexican architects in the 1920s and 1930s. The Secretaria de Educacion Publica architecture, murals, and sculpture reflect the aesthetic and pedagogic philosophy of Jos6 Vasconcelos, who was appointed minister of public education by President Obreg6n. Conceived by Vasconcelos as an architectural model for modern Mexico, the Secretaria de Educacion Publica building was renovated as a modernized version of the Spanish colonial style. Vasconcelos transformed colonial-era architecture into a nationalistic expression of the synthesis of races. He initiated a movement of cultural nationalism that challenged established notions of Social Darwinism and white racial superiority to honor Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage. In the Secretaria de Educacion Publica, the mestizo people of mixed European and Indian ancestry were venerated as the prototypical Mexicans while Mexican history was celebrated as a popular struggle for social justice against wealthy capitalist elites and foreign imperialists.
Carranza explores the relationship between Mexico's literary avant-garde and Mexican architects who sought to institute a new post-revolutionary Mexican society. Since many in Mexico's intelligentsia trained abroad, the domestic avant-garde owed much to their European counterparts. Focusing on the work of the Estridentistas, Carranza illustrates how European avant-garde ideas were received and adapted by Mexicans. Led by the poet Manuel Maples Arce, the Estridentista movement was founded in December 1921. "Estridentista texts," explains Carranza, "called for work to accentuate and articulate the present through glorification of the effects of modernity, metropolitan life, and technology" (p. 64). Governor Heriberto Jara of Veracruz was the leading Estridentista patron. With the fall of the Jara administration in September 1927, the movement celebrating cosmopolitanism came to an end. Though short-lived, the Estridentista movement profoundly influenced later cultural and architectural developments in Mexico.
The Mexican Pavilion at the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition in Spain is also addressed. Designed by Manuel Amabilis, the pavilion was pre-Columbian in style with Mayan architectural components. Born in Yucatan, Amabilis was educated at the Ecole Speciale d'Architecture in Paris. After returning to Mexico in 1913, Amabilis was inspired to incorporate pre-Columbian architectural forms into a new hybridized Mexican national style. By incorporating pre-Columbian elements in their work, Amabilis and other post-revolutionary Mexican architects hoped to encourage the masses to embrace the socialist aims of the Revolution at home. The use of pre-Columbian architectural elements by Mexicans abroad made a nationalist statement rejecting the arrogance and exploitation of their former colonizers.
Carranza also analyzes the work of Juan O'Gorman and recounts the development of functionalist architecture in Mexico. Carranza relates how the functionalist theories of the influential Swiss architect Le Corbusier were adapted by O'Gorman, who "sought an architecture that shed its pretentious transcendental aspirations and solved the squalid living and working conditions of the Mexican poor in a precise and direct way" (p. 119). O'Gorman championed an economical and technical architecture, scientifically designed to serve Mexico's need for hygienic buildings and more adequate housing. As director of construction for the Secretaria de Educacion Publica from 1932 to 1935, he created many low-cost public schools. Despite his rejection of aesthetics, O'Gorman designed some of the most interesting buildings in modern Mexico, including the house and studio of the renowned artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. In 1936, he quit architecture and took up painting after concluding that functionalism no longer represented the socialist concern for improvement of the masses but had become co-opted by cement industry executives who wanted to enhance their profits with minimal financial expense. As functionalism became state policy in Mexico, O'Gorman's work remained extraordinarily influential into the 1940s and 1950s.
Carranza takes up the monumentalization of the Revolution in the book's final chapter. Examining the process of the Revolution's political institutionalization, Carranza highlights the creation of two monuments in Mexico City: the Monument to the Revolution by Carlos Obreg6n Santacilia, and the Monument to Alvaro Obreg6n by Enrique Arag6n Echeagaray and Ignacio Asunsolo. In the Monument to the Revolution, Santacilia reused the abandoned cupola designed by the French architect Emile Bernard for the Legislative Palace that the Diaz government failed to complete due to the outbreak of the Revolution. The Monument to Alvaro Obreg6n was completed in 1935 on the site where Obreg6n was assassinated in 1928.
Carranza's splendidly illustrated, fascinating study of early twentieth-century Mexican architecture presents many issues that excited architects as a result of the Revolution. Published by the University of Texas Press as part of the Roger Fullington Series in Architecture, Architecture as Revolution will be welcomed by those interested in understanding the importance of architecture in modern Mexico.
The Rev. David M. Carletta, Ph.D.
The Church of St. Matthew and Timothy
Instructor of History
Brooklyn, New York
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