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The '68 Mexico City Olympics

On the 16th of October of 1963, the International Olympic Committee conferred the organization of the 1968 XIX Olympic Games to Mexico City, who had won the candidature over Buenos Aires, Lyon and Detroit. It was the first time that a Latin-American country with a Spanish-speaking population was chosen to host the Games.

The ‘68 Olympics was a moment to showcase the capacities of an emerging nation that sought to prove itself as both a thriving economy and a modern society in an international spotlight. The event would require, as it had of all its previous host cities, a thoughtful organization of State Departments and an effective coordination of organizing bodies. The task required an important understanding of systems-design and an optimization of resources to fully take advantage of this new opportunity for growth. At the time, Mexico did not have the economic wherewithal of previous host nations and thus decided to strategize a plan for future use of its new infrastructure. A good example of this planned design strategy was the building of the Hotel Villas that would come to house the athletes. Rather than build hotels that would become ineffectual white elephants, the Villas were built as apartment complexes that could later go on to serve the growing housing needs of the city.

The Olympic Committee insisted that Mexican Culture be portrayed with the same value and acknowledgment as the Games themselves and therefore created the Cultural Olympiad, a series of cultural activities, exhibitions and encounters that would bring together art and sports in the same fashion as the original Olympics had. To complete the project, architect and president of the organizing committee, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, named Mathias Goeritz as its cultural curator and coordinator. To this day, Mexico’s model of cultural and artistic inclusion in the Olympics has been mimicked in future iterations of the event.

National media outlets involved in the broadcasting of the Games were crucial to developing a new image for modern Mexico; the international broadcasting had to reflect the City’s modernity and progress in order to combat stereotypes of an undeveloped nation. Graphic design and ornamentation would prove to be a powerful resource and a group of multidisciplinary visionaries led by Lance Wyman recognized this. This design unit, headed by Wyman and Eduardo Terrazas, developed a visual graphic system that would come to be replicated for years to come: logos, posters, postage stamps, signs, maps, typography, sculptures, clothing and souvenirs were all joined under a single aesthetic theme that would provide a consistent image of both the Games and of Mexico City. The image of the Olympic games would stand out through flexible branding and through a visual impact rather than through megaprojects and infrastructure spending. It was also the first time the games would be broadcast in color, which only furthered this imperative for visual fervour. Two fundamental concepts were employed for this visual strategy: the use of the Traditional Huichol Art and the inclusion of Contemporary Op Art.

This is the first time that color is used not only aesthetically, but also as an identity. The geometric element of the logo allowed the formats of each product to be very clear. Thus, all members of the design team could participate and propose.1

The typography known as "Mexico 68" was the graphic landmark that is still today part of the collective memory of the Games. This typography and the other pictographs used came about in response to a need for an easily understandable visual grammar that would later be inspired by Mexico’s pre-Columbian heritage. At the centre of this visual grammar was its use of glyphs and abstract images that would represent the nature of the Olympic activity as well as the historical significance of its location. These rounded edges were derived from the outline of the number 68, which in turn was geometrically integrated with the Olympic symbol of the five rings. The official logo featured an extension of parallel lines and the name “Mexico” at the center of a radial pattern in the typical Op Art style.

Iconography of the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico.
Iconography of the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico.

The International Olympic Committee required that all texts on posters and publications appear in English, French and Spanish, so we designed graphic images to communicate without text wherever possible.2

Despite its importance in the cultural unison of the Mexican Nation, the Olympics ‘68 were tainted by the events of the Tlatelolco Massacre that succeeded it. The student movement and affiliated causes later came to appropriate the aesthetic of the ‘68 Games and did so to expose the crimes and corruption of its government. With the open support of Wyman himself, these activists continued to spread their campaign using the official logo and forever tethered the Mexico Olympics to themes of social justice and human rights abuse.

Iconography of the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico.
Iconography of the XIX Olympic Games in Mexico.

Cabe señalar que el entorno en que se llevaron a cabo los Juegos Olímpicos involucró tensión política y social resultado de las acciones emprendidas por el movimiento estudiantil, así como otros que mantenían una postura ideológica contraria a la represión y los sistemas impopulares que estaba implementando el gobierno, una situación que se presentaba en paralelo en diferentes partes del mundo en ese momento.

Project name The '68 Mexico City Olympics
Period 1968
Contributor Lance Wyman, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Eduardo Terrazas, Beatrice Trueblood, Manuel Villazón, Abel Quezada, Alfonso Soto Soria, Jesús Virchez Alanís, Julia Johson–Marshall, Michael Groos and Bob Pellegrini
Location Mexico City
  1. Various authors, Diseñando México 68: una identidad olímpica, (México, Museo de Arte Moderno México, Landucci), 47.
  2. Wyman, Lance, MÉXICO (México, MUAC, RM), 52