In early 2013, Gaeta-Springall Arquitectos completed a Memorial to Victims of Violence in Mexico. Many people understood the memorial as particularly memorializing the victims of the drug war in Mexico, of which somewhere around 60,000 people have been killed since 2006. As such, it remains controversial, interpreted as a mute and subtle criticism of the federal government's war on drugs.
The memorial is located at the far end of Chapultapec park, in a quiet corner, where unless you know where to look for it, you are unlikely to stumble across it. The site formerly belonged to the Mexican department of defense, which still holds the adjacent property, a massive field with spectator stands used primarily as a polo field. Unpleasantly, depending where you are in the memorial, the smell of horses wafts over the fence, and on game days, the amplified announcer breaks the site's solemnity and peace.
The memorial consists of a series of 70 massive rusted cor-ten steel slabs, arranged on the site either vertically or horizontally. Many of the slabs include quotes about death, peace, and understanding from a variety of mostly Latin American authors, but also notables such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The entrance is marked with a single vertical slab, a few benches, and a horizontal slab with the name of the memorial, architects, etc. A path leads you through the site where you encounter more and more slabs until you reach the center of the memorial, where you are overwhelmed with all of the slabs around you, dark angular shapes cutting out the sky, and interrupting your vision through the site. You also find water here, in the form of connected, rectangular shallow pools, some of which have been covered with bar grating to extend the walking surface over them. The beginnings and endings of the pools are often ambiguous so you may be surprised to look down and see the reflection of the sky.
The memorials are also subject to the appropriation of visitors. The architects have stated that they intentionally wanted the steel panels to be a board for people to write the names of victims, to vent their feelings. And people do write on the panels- not one was completely untouched by the white chalk. Other, more permanent media, spraypaint, markers, were conspicuously absent. The site is open on all sides other than the polo field, so it doesn't seem to be a question of vandals or taggers or graffiti artists not being able to get in.
With the rain, the white chalk fades, allowing an accumulation of drawings and messages layered on top of each other. People write different things, although I saw not one name of a victim. Most were messages of peace, some were celebrations of life, there were many "I love you Juanita" type messages, drawings of aquatic life, lyrics from music.
What does it mean as a memorial though?My first reaction were that the steel slabs were stele, oversized funeral monuments, 70 nameless tombstones, each commemorating a thousand dead. Perhaps it stems from an American way of thinking, literal representation- the Vietnam memorial with every name inscribed, the Oklahoma City bombing memorial with an exact number of chairs.
After awhile, I began to understand the slabs not as markers, but particular types of voids. When someone you care about dies, the pain never really goes away, it simply fades over time, becomes a dark block in your memory. A mute interruption in your backward gaze, an obscured block in the present when you look for them. Those slabs still haunt me, I know they're still standing there, miles away as they are.
Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer