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Modernism and Miracles: Architecture, Housing, and the State in Mexico 1930-1970


Mexico City has suffered from a housing crisis since the 1930s. This dissertation looks at efforts to solve this problem: debates about housing policy and plans to build housing for Mexico’s urban residents, especially industrial laborers and federal workers. The 1917 Constitution made large businesses responsible for housing urban workers, but this promise was not enforced until 1970. I follow the trajectory of state efforts to design and build urban housing up to this moment, from the earliest municipal projects in the 1930s to the massive federally built multifamily high-rises in the late 1940s, and a mixed approach to building urban residential complexes that emerged in the 1960s. I pay particular attention to the shifting ideas and practices of architects and planners, developing innovative projects in dialogue with international discourses of architectural modernism.

The state used housing for various purposes: to fulfill the revolutionary promise to workers, as a stimulus for industry, as an aspect of social welfare, and as a way to catalyze the growth of the urban middle class. Throughout this period building and design strategies were pursued with economic purposes in mind. Three of Mexico’s major federal agencies—the social security agency, the federal pension fund, and the urban infrastructure development bank—used housing policy to contribute to the pursuit of social welfare and economic development, the larger goals of the postrevolutionary state. I demonstrate that housing policies that were initially inspired by the ideal of radical social transformation gave way to efforts to increase the availability of credit and incorporate citizens into the financial market. But, while this ideological shift appears to confirm the prevailing wisdom about the government’s abandonment of revolutionary goals after 1940, in the arena of worker housing, the government actually did more for workers after 1960 than before. By the late 1960s, the ideals and aesthetic vigor of architectural modernism had largely been abandoned, though not the pragmatic efficiency it promoted. The most radical projects provided but a small number of homes for workers, and over the period that the radical architectural and social ideology faded, the state actually increased its investment in housing and broadened it attempt to improve urban conditions. In housing, the state was actually more interventionist after 1964.

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