In a city like New York, and in a country like the United States, it is very important to delineate property. This land is my land, that land is your land. What started as a tenet of capitalism and the new world order in the Enlightenment has now evolved into a hardline method of real estate development that comes to a head in dense cities, where every private landowner abuts the next. In these situations, the clearest device for communicating a building’s contents is the facade. With so much emphasis on the outside layer, much Western architecture has used the lessons of modernism and the curtain wall to simply treat a building’s skin as a single solid layer of material which should be able to do everything: transmit light, retain heat, express strength, etc.
In CDMX, this paradigm breaks down. The warm desert-like climate take pressure off the building envelope to insulate, instructing it instead to ventilate and provide shade– that is, be open. This shift towards openness, but still with the need for privacy and security, results in building facades that are multilayered. Looking at a typical building front in Roma Norte, I can count up to 5 layers that lead from the sidewalk to the space of dwelling. 1) Hedge, 2) Gate, 3) Concrete Wall, 4) Stair, 5) Parapet, 6) Vine, 7) Window, 8) Curtain. The multitude of layers is dramatic and random and unsettling. Even on tree-lined streets in Brooklyn, the brownstones, no matter how many details they boast on their cornices and windows, retain a comfortable degree of repetition.
Furthermore, in a climate like this, the use of concrete and stucco is rampant. Not bricks nor glass can achieve as consistently blank a surface as can stucco. On such a surface, shadows, sombras, become the primary actors, even when the drama of layers is missing. And what limber, brave, independent, humorous sombras they are.