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May '13 - Feb '16

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    one day tour of the bleeding glass-and-concrete edge of Mexico City Modernism

    Alec Perkins
    Aug 27, '13 1:50 PM EST

    A reader requested a one day itinerary to visit the highlights of "innovative contemporary architecture" in Mexico City, and it made me think about what I've seen here (and about what I've missed).

    I'm probably omitting buildings, either because I don't know them, or because I'm trying to condense sightseeing to a single day. I'm also deeply in debt to my friend Salvador Patiño for his amazing map of things to see and do in Mexico City, without which, I would not have discovered many of these.

    I've organized the tour in a rough arc which sweeps up from Tlalpan/Coyoacan in the south to Polanco in the East, to Buenavista, and finally arcing back to end in the Centro Historico.

    Most places don't open until 10am in Mexico, so take the time to eat a good breakfast or a leisurely coffee. If you're in a mid-century modern kind of mood, there's an unpretentious and quite good cafe on Reforma near the Angel called Yug which serves up vegetarian Mexican breakfasts in the ground floor of a 1950's apartment building by Mario Pani. Or grab a coffee from Starbucks (walking on Reforma, you pass about a Starbucks about every two minutes) or Celito Querido in the nearby steel and glass mall Reforma 222 by Teodoro Gonzales Leon. Really, there is a plethora of high-design coffee shops and bars all throughout Centro Historic o, Roma, Condesa, and Polanco.

    It is almost a requirement for visiting architects to visit at least one work by the master of Mexican Modernism Luis Barragan, and the most accessible (and cheapest) is the Chapel and Convent of the Capuchinas Sacramentarias in Tlalplan. You don't really need a reservation, although it's helpful to have one since they're only open during the weekdays between 10am and noon, and then from 4-6pm. It's about 60 pesos and takes about an hour for a Sister to guide you through. Tlalpan is on the far southern edge of the city, and although its pretty, if you want to limit yourself to works within the last decade, you can take it as read.

    Next stop is a quick spin by MUAC, the museum of contemporary art in the south campus of UNAM, the national university. This building was one of the latest works by the incredibly prolific Mexican modernist Teodoro Gonzales de Leon, and is a work of minimalist glass and concrete set on top of a lava field.

    Farther north on the northern edge of Coyoacan, check out (at least the exteriors) of the Cineteca Nactional and the Centro Cultural Roberto Cantoral. The former is a bunch of movie theaters (photos) showing independent and foreign films (excluding Hollywood) and the latter is a new concert hall (ArchDaily). They're right next door to each other. Although I haven't yet been to see them, they're next on my personal list of recent projects.

    Take a half hour stroll through the outdoor Monument to the Victims of Violence in Chapultapec park. It's on Reforma, past the national auditorium and the campo militar polo grounds. It's both severe and serene at the same time.

    If you're hungry at this point (and you probably will be) you can stop for lunch at the Camino Real by protege of Barragan, Legoretta, on the edge of Polanco. Expensive, but considered to be a fantastic example of Legoretta's work.

    Or if you´re in the mood for something a little more contemporary, grab a bite at the trendy rooftop bar of Condesa DF, a sleekly remodeled and minimalist hotel in the center of Condesa.

    Moving on to cultural district of Polanco, you have many examples of some wild and expensive architecture that's so new, some of them aren't even open yet. The Mueso Soumaya by Fernando Romero is definitely worth a visit (free) although really only the first two levels (and the hexagonal tiled hyperbolic exterior) are interesting architecturally. Next door, take a photo or two of the amazing steel canopy of the yet-unfinished underground Cervantes Theater and look across the street to shoot the exterior of the David Chipperfield designed Collection Jumex which is due to open later this year.

    For a nice example of high-design meets high-fashion, take a look at the curving canyon of cantilevers, stone, and glass at the Centro Comercial Antares which is right behind the Jumex, which from the various catwalks and wood decks, frames the new contemporary architecture going up all around it.

    Don't linger too long here, because you need to get to the Biblioteca José Vasconcelos, which is my favorite new building in Mexico City. It's an unbelievable, massive, jaw-dropping building, essentially a national library where they took away the floors and left the shelves suspended in space. This place is open until 7:30pm most nights, but best viewed in daylight.

    Almost done, continue the trip westward to the Centro Cultural de España, another new building(ArchDaily) which I have not yet visited, but on my list. Located in the heart of the central historico, literally up against the Aztec ruins of the Templo Mayor and contrasting with the ancient palaces, it contains exhibition spaces, galleries, and I believe also a museum of the city. This center closes at 6 typically.

    From the centro cultral de Espana, it's a short walk across the Zocalo to the hotel Downtown Mexico. This is a modern remodel of one of the old palaces, and a delightful contrast between the preserved ancient building and the minimalist interventions inside. Skip the high end tourist boutiques and designer chocolate stores, and eat at the Azul Historico in the center. It's less of an architectural recommendation (although a wonderful place to eat) and more of a "best restaurant experience I've had in Mexico City" recommendation. Also go up to the swanky roof bar with views of the palaces lit up at night, although you may want to pass on their 60 peso domestic beers.

    Please keep in mind, this is mostly compiled "if memory serves" and its always beneficial to double check hours of operation. In general, most museums in Mexico City are closed mondays. Typically, most places are only open from 9 or 10 am until 6 or 7pm. Given the amount of time it takes to get around this city, even if you're going by taxi, you're going to have to move quickly through these places.

    Please let me know if I am missing something, or if you would replace one building with another. I'm very curious about what I'm missing from this list.

    Other contemporary projects of note which I have not yet visited but look worth the trip

    -Mall of Paseo Interlomas for the Michael Rojkind zaha-esque Liverpool department store and the kengo kuma style japanese restaurant Kiga

    -Samara Mall in Santa Fé(o)

    -The Church of San Jose Maria in Santa Fé(o)

    -The Centro Cultural Elena Garro in Coyoacán

    -An underground mall in Santa Fé(o) which should be opening very soon.


    • hey Alec i hope you don't mind put i put all your map links/coordinates onto one Google Map (for my future reference)

      Sep 2, 13 10:12 pm  · 

      hey Nam, and anyone who got here looking for tips to DF architecture: here's my own google map--in time i'll try to consolidate since i missed so much in my short one-week visit but in case it's of any help:

      Sep 3, 13 2:40 pm  · 

      (and Alec, thanks for posting!)

      Sep 3, 13 2:41 pm  · 

      Thanks guys!  Actually, this weekend I was down in Cuernavaca to check out two projects- the new Taller de Siquieros and Felix Candela's Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca (although Google maps recognizes it as Parroquia San Felipe de Jesús). Cuernavaca's about an hour outside of Mexico City, so I guess it depends on how hardcore of an architecture tourist people are.

      Also, aml, you must have run like a crazy person to hit all those sights. That's pretty amazing.

      Sep 9, 13 6:00 pm  · 

      Hi there!

      Recently came across this post as I'm in Mexico City and I was wondering how I could make a reservation at the Tlalpan Chapel? I couldn't seem to find any website... And unfortunately I don't speak Spanish...

      Thanks in advance!!

      Aug 10, 14 10:21 pm  · 

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Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer

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