The promenade of disasters

The year is 1938 and, all along this tree-cladded street, small giants emerge slowly but with steady pace. Paseo de la Reforma was a new way of city-making in Mexico, with its pedestrian corridors and roundabouts, featuring statues and cups, providing the quickest route from the Chapultepec Castle to downtown. Mexico is made of monuments that remember people, battles and what-not, which nobody cares about unless a politician places flowers in front of them or else as pinpoints to cities without planning. At the Glorieta de Bolívar, a monument to the libertador marks the entrance to the Polanco neighbourhood, and it will not endure its location for too long. Here, a building by Augusto Álvarez and Juan Sordo Madaleno will be erected a few years from now, then abandoned, and lastly demolished and substituted by a mediocre tower by Fernando Romero.

Eastwards, the gate to Chapultepec Park is still preserved. In the past years, the Secretaría de Salubridad was the only building around, but in the future the gate is dwarfed by the giants nearby. These will become a set nearly 80 years from now with the controversial estela of the Bicentennial of the Independence: a slender structure erected, though not on purpose, as proof of the corruption’s prevail.

Across the street, in Lieja, there is Mario Pani’s white-modern house. It will be vanished soon as a Landa brothers’ building will be on top, a Juan Sordo’s building will be built nearby, and will then be replaced by a gargantuan tower by RHSP and Legorreta+Legorreta. Pani provided Reforma of architectural icons, signed by the architects of the time, and investment for a “miraculously” emerging country. Pani will also raze hundreds of informal settlements and houses to extend Reforma to his massive Tlatelolco project, built on top of old railroads and Aztec ruins. In the future we will even relocate buildings to “preserve” them in order to construct egos, and erect collages and pastiches.

Near the crossing of Manchester street lies a small house. This odd work is a 4-storey building with vivid colors and steel railings: a commission of the American editor Frances Toor to the famed architect Juan O’Gorman before he quit the profession. Toor’s building was finished in 1936, and it stands out more because of its look than because of its iconic nature. Its appearance will be altered considerably in the coming years; there will be new neighbours, the street will be closed to make it “safer”. The building will, eventually, be demolished in the late 2000s, when the “flaming” development R432 by Rojkind Arquitectos and Grupo Ellipse, razes the site along with the houses nearby; that project will be abandoned for financial issues and handed over to other architects and developers. Icons of “modernity” and architectural stardom that never were and never will need to make space from old and today’s buildings without even looking back, aided by corruption and architectural illiteracy. Right now, it is very quiet in Frances Toor’s house; perhaps she is editing her Mexican Popular Arts book, perhaps she is not at home anymore.

Icons and whatnot at the promenade of disasters.
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