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Laura Kaupp

Travel Stories: Mexico City Day 3.2 Libraries

Posted by on 10/3/12 at 10:30am

A group of 6 LF’ers recently ventured down to Mexico City to enjoy the food, culture and the architecture. This is the final in a four-part mini series.

Ciudad Universitaria [by Vicki Yuan]

On the south side of the city, a few of us ventured to Ciudad Universitaria, an international style ‘ideal’ city built in 1950 over a site covered in lava from a volcanic eruption dating back to 300-200 BC. After a very long walk, we reached our first destination, the Espacio Escultorico, a circular land art installation preserving the volcanic topography of the original site.  Of course when we arrived, we found out it was closed on Sundays. Thanks to the internet we can now just visit it here. Exhausted from walking, we befriended a campus driver who gave us a lift to the main campus.

The jewel of the university is the Central Library by Juan O’’Gorman; reminiscent of a ruin, every facade is covered in murals, the iconography anthropomorphic from a distance and details you could stare at for years. The library stands as a sacred monument to knowledge, strikingly iconic in its positioning overlooking a large pedestrian plaza, and while the massing of the building is extremely simple – a narrow ten-story stack tower on a broader base of program – the building is exuberantly complex through its telling of the story of Mexico handset in stone. We should feel so lucky that we have an O’’Gorman mural here in San Antonio. I find UNAM as a whole and particularly the Central Library to be a rare and beautiful place that is distinctly Mexican, in a way that helps a foreigner immediately understand the psyche of Mexico as a place alive with love for its rich heritage and yet unafraid of a bold, modern future.

The Jose Vasconcelos Library by Alberto Kalach [by Laura Kaupp]

As we entered the library, we were immediately confronted by thousands of books hovering above us, seeming to go on for miles, and like an impressionist painting, each individual colored book jacket seemed to paint this beautiful interior landscape. I think we all uttered at the same time a monosyllabic, “Cool.” I didn’t know anything about Kalach, but assumed he studied engineering* since every element on the building was clearly articulated and seemed to play a part in holding it all together. The awe continued as we grabbed a snack and discovered all the great places to sit and read, inside and outside, and people were actually using all of them! I reluctantly left the tour to find the restroom and there realized as I stuck my hand between the glass channels that this giant building was an open air structure – crazy and comfortable. Kudos to Kalach on an incredibly successful public space in his own hometown!

*Nope – at least not according to David and Wikipedia