The aim of the following text is to meditate about the differences and similarities between two architectural objects projected on the same site. Despite the fact one building was materialized (The Mexican Senate, completed in 2012) and the second was a fictional exercise for a design competition of architecture schools in Mexico City (2006), it is worth to analyse two contrasting approaches towards the same urban spot.
The first example is The Mexican Senate, a 74,000 sq m political institution designed by the Mexican architect Javier Muñoz; on the other hand, The Architecture Museum, with a built area of 25,000 sq m, was an academic project which was awarded with Honourable Mention at the V Design Competition of Architecture Schools in 2006, proposed by Ehecalt Cabrera, Tomas Diaz and Ernesto Valero Thomas.
When reading the Mexican Senate, one could realize that it is a solid, sophisticated building, designed to host one of the three political powers of the national state of Mexico -which along with the National Chamber of Deputies, forms the legislative power of the country. The Senate is well inserted into the context of Reforma, which is perhaps the most famous avenue of Mexico, a road surrounded by plenty of historical places, vegetation and contemporary skyscrapers. However, the building still communicates the message that there is a “wall” between the political class and the citizens (the city).
The public permeability of the construction, even in a symbolic manner, is insufficient. The “dialog” with the public space is very limited, scarce. It feels like it was designed to keep Mexicans away from the legislative power and their laws. A building designed to be the workplace of the 128 federal Senators is an outstanding achievement in terms of engineering; however, its architecture reflects the symbolic and de facto division between the “institutionalized power” and a city dwelled by 20 million people. It could be argued that the essence of this project rejects the democratic values of the political representation and government division in a Republic.
The second project of this comparison, the Architecture Museum, offered a dissimilar approach towards the same site. Its purpose was to incorporate public space to the museum, acknowledging the lack of green, open spaces of this sector of Mexico City. It is important to mention that the final project did not develop in depth the technical issues and difficulties regarding its huge “grass facade”; also, the construction method was only partly developed. It was a “naive” project with the intention to include the city into the museum and also to settle a “dialog” with the citizens, an urban dialog.
There are coincidences in both projects, even though their differences in terms of built area and the architectural programme, they managed to proposed a tall building (around 70 metres high) following the urban pattern of the area. In terms of the urban treatment of this site, two questions should be considered:
1. Up to what extent the nature-function of the building decides the morphology of the construction?
My opinion is that in this particular example, even though one building is a parliamentary institution and the other is a public architecture museum, the site chosen was an opportunity to include the public and civic space in the programme of the building, regardless the essence or the typology required.
2. What is the relationship between any given building and the citizens who dwell on any given city (or human settlement)?
Besides cultural approaches towards “living in a city”, it is vital to point out the efficiency or the disdain of architecture when “talking” to citizens and their cities.
The contrast between both projects demonstrates that the site (scenario) might be the same, but the dialog (the play) could be completely different.