Born in Mexico City in 1919, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez is the preeminent architect of Mexico today. Being raised and educated in a country with enormous disparity in all facets of life is apparent in the architectural styling and functionality that make his work distinctly Mexican. How can architecture represent a nationality? Surely a contributing factor is that Señor Vazquez is responsible for a substantial portion of the most famous and visited contemporary buildings in Mexico City. However,it is not coincidental that he has a unique ability to combine Mexico’s distinct cultural heritage with a from of Modernism that resonates with Mexican and others around the world.
Pedro Ramirez Vazquez’s Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe is perhaps his most famous and celebrated contribution to Mexico City’s architectural heritage. Constructed between 1974 and 1976, the basilica is widely considered the most important religious building in Mexico. In addition to serving as a congregation space with a capacity of 40,000, the basilica houses the cloak that was miraculously emblazoned with the Virgin of Guadalupes image in 1531. This miracle, and subsequently many others attributed to Nuestra Senora, hugely aided in Catholicism gaining acceptance in Mexico. After eradicating an outbreak of the plague in Mexico City, Nuestra Senora was officially declared the patron saint of Mexico.
The site of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe lies within a compound of religious buildings dating back to the 16th century. Like many of the important contemporary era building in Mexico, the basilica's design has flavors of indigenous and Catholic influence. The success of the cult that grew from this miracle was seen by clergymen of the time as idolatry to a Christianized version of Aztec goddess Tonantzin, which was no doubt bolstered by fact that the basilica was built on top of a pyramid dedicated to her. The design of the basilica also pays homage to the indigenous roots of Mexico; the Basilica's roof is said to have been inspired by the draping of a traditional cloak worn by Indian peasants and housed in the reliquary.
Another of Vazquez’s notable projects was to create the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City which would house an enormous collection of antiquities from pre-Colombian times. Linking together all of Mexico’s numerous empires and civilizations in under one roof was a formidable task, but Vazquez accomplished a unifed presentation with the typically Mexican design of the hacienda. True to its historical layout, Vazquez’s hacienda had a gracious entry and an enormous courtyard protected by rooms around the perimeter. The surrounding rooms are all filled with priceless pottery, reliefs, and statues from all the major civilizations, but the focal point of the building is in the courtyard. An enormous umbrella-like structure emanates from a single pillar and metaphorically covers all the diverse past and current cultures represented in the museum.
Since the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century, Mexico has become a country torn between cultures and rife with disparity. Vazquez is cognizant of the ongoing struggle between the indigenous roots of Mexico and the imposed Spanish rule in his design of the Foreign Affairs Secretariat tower in Mexico City. Built on the site of the Aztec city of Tlatelolco, the Foreign Affairs Tower is situated in a historical site commonly known as the Plaza of Three Cultures. Tlatelolco was the site of Cuauhtemocs last stand against Cortez and the Spanish conquistadors and its remnants stand beside a 17th Century cathedral quarried from the ruins of Tlatelolco. Vazquez represents the third culture, today's civilization with an elegantly proportioned office tower that features a gracious patio that overlooks the ruins and cathedral. This dramatic setting is a wonderful tourist destination but also is a place of reverence to Mexicans. The plaza was the site of the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre of nearly 400 students and anti-authoritarian activists which permanantly discredited the government.
Yet another of Vazquez's well known works is the Museo Moderno, situated in Chapultepec Park. With an interesting permanant collection of works from Mexican artists as well as works from abroad, the Museo Moderno is a great place to get an overview of Modern Mexican art or take a pleasant stroll among the eclectic collection of sculpture on the grounds. Vazquez's design for the building utilizes primarily steel and glass on the exterior, but his pallate softens on the interior to include the use of a dome and arches to compliment the museum's radial layout.
Pedro Ramírez Vázquez today is more than 90 years old. With a portfolio including the enormous Aztec Stadium, Metro Hidalgo, and the Tijuana Cultural Center (CECUT), Senor Vazquez’s work has been the face of the nation for decades. Like Mexico’s most celebrated contributors such as Benito Juarez, Diego Rivera, and Vicente Guerrero, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez embodies both the indigenous past and mestizo (mixed indigenous and European ancestory) future of Mexico. The numerous iconic structures that he created so perfectly reflect the unique culture of Mexico that you can’t help but wonder if the culture defined the architecture or if Pedro Ramirez Vazquez has defined the culture.
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