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Design in the Search for Meaning

This chapter, titled 'Design in the Search for Meaning', portrays how the representations and efforts of design—from the most empiric efforts to the most institutionalized strategies—are perceived by its creators by what’s really important to their ethos: tradition, religion, needs or context. Mexican design transforms meaning into essence and essence into forms and figures. Design has become a cultural manifestation alive in every corner of the city which is difficult to describe and demarcate into one specific expression. We refer to a phenomenon strongly influenced by what cannot be palpable yet it is clearly felt. A distinctive example of this symbiotic design principle is the design of UNAM - Mexico’s National University. Built in 1950 the University Campus is an ensemble of buildings and open spaces reminiscent of the pre-Hispanic architecture of Monte Albán in the state of Oaxaca. The complex echoes myths, divinities, and history through its plastic integration in the form of buildings, murals and sculptures and is a unique example of 20th-century Mexican Modernism that signifies an icon and searches for meaning through design.

Design in Constant Transformation

As an ever-expanding megalopolis, Mexico City’s design must be made adaptable to its continuous growth. Mexico City’s population has increased from about 3 million inhabitants to nearly 10 million in the last 50 years, making it difficult to keep track of the changes and arduous to maintain its cultural identity. Throughout its history, Mexico City has seen three different cultures lay roots on its grounds, making it an urban palimpsest of sorts. Tenochtitlán, the sumptuous Pre-Columbian capital, was violently absorbed into a Spanish colony, creating a peculiar symbiotic design ethos that would come to influence the urban mixity of antiquity and European modernity. 'Design in Constant Transformation' catalogues Mexico City’s iconic designs and transformations throughout the years and describes the evolution of responsive designs reacting to rapid changes in the megalopolis. Theses design pieces require intuition and imagination in order to be understood as they define the peculiarities and ingenuities of Mexico's way of life.

Agency through Design

The morning of September 19th, 1985, Mexico City woke up to the frightening effects of a 8.1 Richter Scale earthquake. In minutes, most of the City’s central neighbourhoods were in pieces, causing more than 10,000 deaths; it was the largest natural disaster the country had ever survived. Exactly 32 years later, at midday on September 19th 2017, another deadly earthquake struck. Buildings collapsed and several were killed or injured as the city relived the consequences of its seismic-prone location. Earthquakes will continue to happen in Mexico City as the territory’s unstable geological foundation continues to affect its built areas. The scarring from disastrous events has given the denizens of the Mexican valley a unique strength and has empowered them to face numerous challenges throughout its history. 'Agency Through Design' explores the resiliency of Mexico City's citizens and reflects the solidarity shown by those who refuse to do nothing in the face of danger. Mexico City might be condemned to a constant state of imperfection, but its trauma has only driven its inhabitants to become more creative and resilient.

Design through Collective Action

Collaborative design can be found in various contexts of Mexico City, be it in a gallery, a bazaar, a tianguis (the traditional outdoor market), or even in the moving companies known as ambulantaje. Given that there are few government programs for economic collaboration and no unions for creatives, independents and informal entrepreneurs have had to rely on traditional networking and social interdependency methods. The process of designing cannot be isolated from the socio-economic context in which it is produced. It is for this reason that we must consider the cooperative nature of the Mexican economy when evaluating its capacity for design and creativity. This section is titled 'Design through Collective Action' in honour of the entrepreneurs that have found strength in cooperation, adapting to dire conditions and lack of resources by banding together against the odds of a disparate class structure.

The Possibilities and Impossibilities of Design

Mexico City is complex, emerging out of a syncretism of pre-Columbian heritage and Hispanic conquest that now forms its modern identity as a city. The clash of both cultures has greatly influenced the city’s designs and has developed into an important tool for social change in that there is a great amount of resilience and adaptability needed to deal with such a muddled cultural background. The designs that permeate the city’s built environment today represent the creation of an inclusive and collaborative society where designers, governments, academics, and private sector agents have seemingly blurred the distinction between ‘The Possibilities and Impossibilities of Design'. Mexico City’s collective search for an identity has opened new forms of dialogue that have directed its government and its designers towards new and innovative strategies for creative development.