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The Pre-Columbian Origins of Mexico’s Modernist Architecture

Pablo López Luz, "Cancun I" (2013), Quintana Roo
Pablo López Luz, “Cancun I” (2013), Quintana Roo (all photos courtesy the artist and Toluca Éditions)

In his monograph Pyramid, published by Toluca Éditions, photographer Pablo López Luz explores the pre-Columbian influence on modernist architecture in Mexico.

Cover of 'Pyramid' by Pablo López Luz
Cover of ‘Pyramid’ by Pablo López Luz

“It is difficult to draw a precise conclusion about the meaning of these shapes in contemporary Mexican architecture, particularly when citing the concept of identity,” Luz told Hyperallergic. “Mexico is a country haunted by its hybrid circumstance, so, finding these references to antique shapes or pre-Columbian motives scattered around different cities makes you wonder if that historical past still finds a place in contemporary identity, or if it surfaces only as a decorative motif. I choose to believe that it does play a role in today’s identity.”

The Mexico City-born artist previously explored unexpected collisions of influence in the built environment through his Terrazo series. Through aerial photographs, he examined the edges of the sprawling city, with its dense concrete slums, and surprising natural landscapes. Pyramid includes 65 images that highlight the details rather than the density of Mexico City, with the creative book design by the Paris-based Toluca Éditions featuring small colorful booklets in Spanish and English that precede two photography sections: “Grids” and “Pyramids.”

'Pyramid' by Pablo López Luz (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
‘Pyramid’ by Pablo López Luz (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
'Pyramid' by Pablo López Luz (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
‘Pyramid’ by Pablo López Luz (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
'Pyramid' by Pablo López Luz (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
‘Pyramid’ by Pablo López Luz (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Mexican historian, critic, and curator Alonso Morales states in his introduction that this mid-20th century design “announced Mexico’s transformation into a modern country” and “employed among its resources the reinterpretation/updating of pre-Hispanic architecture.”

“Grids” covers the geometric patterns found in neighborhoods formerly on the edge of Mexico City and that resemble those on pre-Columbian ruins, while Pyramids focuses on the step shapes reminiscent of Mesoamerican structures. A smaller insert in the book concentrates on even subtler suggestions of this history, like a bright green triangle painted on the sidewalk, or a pyramid shape emerging from a brick wall.

“I was looking for visual references to pre-Columbian shapes, be it in the shape of pyramids, staircases, or geometric patterns referencing the primary patterns of this architecture, and I was also searching for direct re-interpretations of sculptural idols —serpents, deities — or specific architectural motives,” Luz explained.

Now many of these midcentury buildings are crumbling like the pre-Columbian sites they reinterpreted, the modern ruins another layer to the narrative of identity in Mexican architecture.

Pablo López Luz, "Picacho II" (2011), Mexico City
Pablo López Luz, “Picacho II,” Mexico City
Pablo López Luz, "Teatro Independencia I" (2012), Mexico City
Pablo López Luz, “Teatro Independencia I” (2012), Mexico City
Pablo López Luz, "Bosque de las Lomas I" (2011), Mexico City
Pablo López Luz, “Bosque de las Lomas I” (2011), Mexico City
Pablo López Luz, "Camino a Teotihuacan" (2013), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, “Camino a Teotihuacan” (2013), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, "Espacio Escultórico I" (2012), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, “Espacio Escultórico I” (2012), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, "Merida VIII" (2012), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, “Merida VIII” (2012), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, "Merida X" (2012), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, “Merida X” (2012), Mexico
Pablo López Luz, "Palenque I" (2012), Chiapas
Pablo López Luz, “Palenque I” (2012), Chiapas
Pablo López Luz, "Tixpehual I" (2012), Yucatan
Pablo López Luz, “Tixpehual I” (2012), Yucatan

Pyramid by Pablo López Luz is out now from Toluca Éditions.

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