Building the Post-World War II State: Modernist Housing and Social Security in Mexico

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:50 AM
Forum Room (Omni Shoreham)
Sarah Selvidge, University of California, Berkeley
This paper traces the history of the housing program under Mexico’s Social Security Agency (the IMSS) from 1952 to 1964. The massive modernist housing complexes built by the IMSS in Mexico City during this period were promoted as a means to integrate social, medical, educational, and employment services for the families of the growing number of salaried workers in the capital, both as a response to urbanized industrialization and a means to further the economic and social transformations associated with it. While several have been the subject of architectural historians, these projects have yet to be studied in the context of the changing relationship between citizens and the state. Based on research at the archives and libraries of the IMSS, the paper traces both the transnational and specifically Mexican intellectual origins of the IMSS housing program, from the CIAM and the international discourse of economic development to the colonial-era urban planning of the Friar Vasco de Quiroga, which was distributed to the employees of the IMSS housing program. I follow planners and politicians through the completion of the projects and their initial occupancy by residents.

These “cities within the city” represented a new mode of governance as the state promoted a program of social change through the built environment within an expanding social welfare agenda. As a PRI Congressman put it at the inaugurations of one of the complexes, the IMSS housing projects did more than just house workers; they “symbolized and at the same time explained the regime.” I argue that the housing program was a fundamental part of the PRI’s mid-century attempt to reconcile industrialization, economic growth and its “revolutionary promise,” while for citizens it represented an opportunity for modern housing and modern citizenship.