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Architectural Organization Brings International Students to México to Get a Deeper View


By Steven and Cathi House

The 2019 Center for Architecture Sustainability and Art (CASA)’s México Study Abroad Program recently concluded, and we would like to share some photographs of the extraordinary journey we took with a diverse group of seven engaging Virginia Tech architecture students from Qatar, Ethiopia, India, Dubai, and three cities in the US: Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia.

CASA always begins by exploring México City—visiting the work of amazing architects like Luis Barragan, Ricardo Legorreta, Enrique Norten, and Theodore Gonzalez de León. We then wander through the city’s ancient streets, churches, markets, and plazas. We see paintings by Rivera, Kahlo, Siqueiros, Orozco, Botero, and Tamayo and the beautiful spaces they inhabit. We visit Frida Kahlo’s Blue Home, and Anahuacalli, the black stone pyramid gallery and studio of Diego Rivera. In these two sites, we see Kahlo and Rivera’s extensive collections of pre-Columbian art and paintings—some their own and some created by their contemporaries.

In the National Museum of Anthropology, we travel through eons of Mexican history. In Gonzalez de Leon’s new Museum of Contemporary Art, we see works by some of México’s aspiring young artists. At the National Center for the Arts, we explore a campus filled with iconic structures, and in Luis Barragan’s home, we feel the serenity of this master’s private retreat. At this last site, our students also experience Barragan’s extraordinary Chapel of the Capuchinas, the church of San Josemaria Escriva, the Fenix Fire Station, and the Vasconcelos Library. We climb the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan and marvel at the basilica displaying the Virgin of Guadalupe, México’s patron saint.

We eat delicious meals, whose recipes are descended from the Aztecs, shop for folk art from the artists creating it, and awake each morning to the resonant sounds of church bells.

Our time in San Miguel de Allende is equally full as our students explore and sketch, wander, and photograph. We tailor unique assignments for each of them to test their skills. There are lively debates and intense critiques, lessons, and thoughtful examinations. They work on one project through the various phases of development, interspersed with quick charettes—a participatory planning process involving intense cooperative work—on smaller projects.

The students visit numerous homes we have designed and have the opportunity to meet and talk with many of our clients. Their Spanish-language skills, photography, and sketching techniques improve greatly, as does their ability to communicate their ideas in poetic verbal and written expression. They have the opportunity to get their hands into clay in CASA’s ceramics studio, and see what they can make from beads and baubles, producing some beautiful jewelry. They explore every corner of San Miguel, finding their own quiet spots and favorite restaurants. We also visit nearby towns and historic sites including Guanajuato, one of the most unique, extraordinarily beautiful cities in the world.

The session concludes with a huge CASA celebration party, where over 100 of our friends—artists, writers, sculptors, and visionary individuals—challenge each of the students to deeply understand their journey.

This has been an exciting opportunity to share all that we have learned as architects working and studying around the world, and the opportunity, through CASA, to introduce another generation of creative individuals to the magic of México.

We hope you enjoy these images.


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