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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Mythical Terrain and the Building of Mexico’s UNAM

  • Author(s): Davids, René
  • et al.

The new campus for the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), designed during Miguel Alemán’s presidency, opened in 1952 to become the visible emblem of the Mexican revolutionary ambition to provide free universal education for all. Politicians, scholars, and architects were united in supporting the notion that Modern architecture was a powerful force—a way for México to take her rightful place among the world’s progressive, modern nations. Supporters of the Modern Movement rejected the Colonial in favor of an International style while simultaneously claiming to create a link to the pre-Columbian past

It was believed that El Pedregal, the site chosen for the new university buildings, would endow the new campus with a sense of historical continuity. Indeed, with its landscape of volcanic lava, its peculiar vegetation and fauna, and the legends linked to it, the site itself seemed to symbolize death and regeneration. Architects and critics claimed that while the UNAM’s architecture adhered mostly to the principles of the Modern Movement, it also featured strong pre-Columbian influences manifested through the treatment of the ground, the general composition, and the historical narratives on the buildings’ murals. However, politicians and scholars determined to prove the purity of the UNAM’s Mexican (Pre-Columbian) roots, have overlooked the university’s Colonial influences, giving little to no attention to the Ciudad Universitaria’s public space, perhaps the UNAM’s most important accomplishment.

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