The Rising City: Building Ciudad Universitaria, 194554

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:20 AM
Salon 1 (Palmer House Hilton)
Jessica Mack, Princeton University
In June of 1950, the first stone was placed on a construction site several miles south of Mexico City’s center. Building had officially begun on a long-imagined campus for the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM): Ciudad Universitaria, or University City. This paper draws upon the archives of architects, university actors, politicians and local residents to trace the rapid campus construction, a project that embodied a new, urbanized vision of modern Mexico and, simultaneously, the uneven benefits of such a vision. In the years following the Mexican Revolution (c. 1910-20), the university occupied a contested role in Mexico’s sociopolitical landscape. By the 1940s, however, a university-state alliance made it possible to undertake a monumental campus project, an emblem of the post-revolutionary state’s commitment to the urban middle class. Officials referred to the campus as “la ciudad que surge” (the rising city), evoking a modern, lettered city that would emerge from beneath a landscape of volcanic rock. Even before students and faculty arrived, University City was cast as the next chapter in a national history that stretched back to the founding of Tenochtitlan: rooted in a shared national past, higher education would forge Mexico’s future. But the inequities of that model were present at the project’s very foundations; the campus was built upon territory from expropriated ejidos, land that had been re-distributed during the post-revolutionary agrarian reform. This research explores the strategies of this university-state project and shows how, just as the campus displaced the ejidos, a new, urbanized vision for Mexico’s future supplanted earlier national projects that had been debated since the Mexican Revolution.