From March 5 through March 8 Mexico’s publisher and portal to the architectural world, Arquine, hosted MEXTRÓPOLI, the third installment of its annual international and city architecture festival. If one could not make their way to attend the bountiful number of lectures and gallery exhibits, including a keynote speech by former-Pritzker prize winning architect José Rafael Moneo, at least one could not escape the design takeover that invaded the Alameda Central.
Historically an Aztec marketplace, the Alameda Central is a large municipal park that sits adjacent to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, situated near the historical center of Mexico City. A large swathe of green gardens and paved pathways, the Alameda Central is adorned with decorative fountains and statues and is the perfect location to observe how the public interacts with a shared public space.
For five days the Alameda was injected with installments of design intervention, with each proposing a solution for the use of public space. More than 400 international submissions were accepted from students, young architects, and professional design and architecture firms. Ultimately, only a handful were selected to be built and inserted into the Alameda, with winning designs sharing in common the themes of inclusivity and sustainability.
THE NEWS met with Roberto Ransom of the OORG collective, recipients of Arquine’s first place prize for their Pabellón MEXTRÓPOLI design contest, to discuss their proposed solution and the performance of their design over time.
‘ESTO ES UNA MESA …’
At the announcement of the contest winners, skeptics and other participants began by calling it exactly what it was: a table.
The simple design consists of what appears to be pre-cast concrete forming an extremely long communal table with bench-seating along either side. The invitation seems clear: ‘Sit here!’
As Ransom explains, by placing a long table within the context of public space, it “lives as the meeting point between the domestic stage and public life.”
Though “hardly a groundbreaking idea,” Ransom admits, it was important for them to remove themselves as architects, and provide not just an impressive design, but a medium that acts as a catalyst for dynamics and dialogue. “We wanted something which, more than proposing a solution or bearing an ideological message or critique, could allow for encounters and self expression in the public sphere.”
Ransom also cited the reality of classism and race in Mexico, and how when a city defines what a public space is, it becomes a privileged space, and that comes with sanctioned and prohibited uses. (One example persists within the Alameda, as years ago the space was fully-inhabited by street vendors, whom have since been relocated into a designated quarter.) One of the goals for their proposal was to overcome these social divisions and ‘nudge’ people into sharing a space respectfully.
DESIGN OVER TIME
One of the most intriguing features of the design was its collaborative and dynamic nature, which really exemplified the notion of a table of the city. The table signified not just a design, but a destination, a meeting point, a stage, a canvas. “We invited some graffiti artists, Erick Sandoval from PYL Crew and Tlatoa, which are both collectives for graffiti artists, and then suddenly there was a young woman from Oaxaca who painted as well. Later a young graphic designer, Jose Manuel Gomez from Baja California, also volunteered to paint a part of the table.
“We had initially proposed to intervene the table ourselves, but I’m glad we didn’t because these interactions were exactly what we were looking for,” said the young architect. Throughout the day, people freely used the space to eat, shine their shoes, play music, but most importantly they used it as anyone would use a table. At night, one borracho even used the table as a bed. “A wise decision, I would say,” added Ransom.
A PUBLIC SUCCESS?
According to Ransom, the collective was always curious as to what was going to happen and how the space would end up being used. Ideally, he said, they would have liked to see how the proposal would change over a longer period of time. Five days was not really long enough to see patterns or study the changing dynamic, so “instead of a more methodic or scientific approach we were left with a more emotional and intuitive way of assessing the project,” he said.
“It was a minimal intervention limited in time and resources that had a visible impact … so we think it was successful.”
One thing that surprised the group, was how everyone respected the table. “We had absolutely no instances of vandalism,” said Ransom, who admitted that outcome might also have changed over time. “People respected the table … we even invited some skaters to skate on it, they hesitated,” he added, saying they saw some people were still eating at the table and stated that they’d rather wait till later at night.
So was it just a table? I think not. The success of the design lies in its symbolism. As Ransom so eloquently described, “a table is a plane that predisposes us to certain codes of conduct, there is a mutual agreement of civility, of respect.”
Maybe that’s all that’s necessary to begin chipping away at social division: an equal seat for everyone at the table.
The OORG collective is a collaboration between architects César Gutiérrez, Alan Orozco, Fernando Orozco, and Roberto Ransom.