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Tlatelolco Collective Housing Complex

The Nonoalco Tlatelolco Collective Housing Complex, located in the northern part of Mexico City, is one of Mexico’s most notable urban developments of the 20th Century. Designed by architect Mario Pani, the complex was inaugurated in 1964 by the President Adolfo López Mateos. The ensemble is harmoniously integrated into the pre-Columbian Tlatelolco archaeological zone. The design was a result of Pani’s meticulous study of Le Corbusier “superblock” housing which respond to the necessities of the modern life: a built urban space which contains city services, resources, entertainment, education, public squares, gardens, etc allowing inhabitants to carry out all their daily activities. Typically, the superblock is based on a 90-degree scheme, contained by avenues and traffic patterns that frame this housing settlements. Tlatelolco Complex was one of the pioneer developments that experimented with this new administration model of service provision.

Tlatelolco - Nonoalco, 1965.
Tlatelolco - Nonoalco, 1965.

The grounds where the complex was to be built were originally occupied by the city’s shantytown and were host to makeshift homes, informal commerce and illicit services. The idea of regulating the area for prosperity and development was the ideal excuse to carry out this large urban project. Despite the positive marketing surrounding the redevelopment of this area, the Tlatelolco Complex project involved the displacement of citizens living in extreme poverty and received vehement criticism from the Mexican public who accused it of social cleansing.

The Complex, a set of horizontal and vertical housing units built with the typical materials of modern architecture that included reinforced concrete, glass and steel, was divided into three sections surrounded by three main avenues: Av. Insurgentes, Eje Central and Paseo de la Reforma. Tlatelolco was intended to be the harbinger of future cities—a living organism and an administrator of activities that would control all services in order to provide its inhabitants with the adequate infrastructure to fulfill their needs. In addition to living space, it would furnish communities with primary and middle schools, shops, social clubs, a medical center, nurseries, a cinema and a nearby subway station.

When the construction was completed, Mario Pani sent a series of photographs taken by Guillermo Zamora through the Compañía Mexicana de Aerofoto e Imágenes (Mexican Company of Aerofoto and Images) to the French magazine “L'architecture d'aujourd'hui”, with the aim of publishing the project. The editor respectfully declined arguing that “the magazine did not publish photographs of models, only built projects”; an anecdote which speaks of the incredible manufacture of the construction, scale, aesthetic and planning for projects of this scale. In total there were 25 different apartment typologies, as well as diverse services for their users.

In 1985, the year’s most infamous earthquake collapsed a substantial section of the housing development, turning the media’s attention to Pani as the responsible party and revealing the enormous difficulty that these large housing units have, not only in design terms but also in their complex administration.

Currently, life in Tlatelolco flows naturally and services continue to operate—some have modified their use and others have expanded them. The public plazas, gardens and playgrounds retain their spirit of service. Even though the tragic events of 1968 and 1985 (the Tlatelolco student massacre and the catastrophic earthquake) remain present in the collective memory of the inhabitants, modern-day Tlatelolco stands as a vibrant and thriving community.

Project name Tlatelolco Collective Housing Complex
Period 1964
Contributor Mario Pani
Location Eje 2 Norte, Manuel González, avenida Ricardo Flores Magón, Avenida de los Insurgentes y Paseo de la Reforma