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July 2006 - The Divide

How two adjacent cities can be worlds apart, and what we can learn from the contrast

“A tranquil city of good laws, fine architecture, and clean streets is like a classroom of obedient dullards, or a field of gelded bulls – whereas a city of anarchy is a city of promise”
– Mark Helprin

San Diego and Tijuana: they are neighbors – yet they couldn’t be more dissimilar in nature. They are worlds apart in appearance, culture, lifestyle… Moreover they speak two totally different languages, esp. when it comes to urbanism and architecture.

Our July session will start with a fascinating short documentary by Phillip Rodriguez called: “Mixed Feelings” (see ) in which architects from the U.S. and Mexico analyze the built environment in these two cities on two sides of the border. Comparison of the two cities bring up many of the archetypal (and often clichéd) divides like: planned vs. spontaneous, rich vs. poor, order vs. chaos, dullness vs. vibrancy and so on. It also raises some very fundamental questions, such as: What is real? What works? What is ideal?

Whether it be the industrial aesthetic of early modernists, or the post-modern “pop” sensibilities of Venturi and co., or more recently, the consumerist “junk space” of Koolhaas and his clones; during the last 100 years every major movement in most arts (esp. architecture) has come from the assimilation into the mainstream, of the aesthetics of what has till then been considered to be on the “wrong side of the tracks”. At a time when salsa sells more than ketchup in the US, could the next big thing be a product of the distinct sensibilities from the “wrong side of the border”?
Also at a time when the “American Way” of development and growth – that typically results in endless sprawl, wastage of energy and resources, and the destruction of traditional urban fabric – is increasingly being questioned, what can we learn from the poorer-yet-richer neighbors in terms of city life and urban culture?

The forces that create cities are often far beyond the control of individuals, however creative or influential they are. That being the case, what is, and should be the role of designers in shaping the environments we live in?
Let’s talk about all that, and more!

What: The Divide – Discussion led by Pedro Alvarado and Dánica Coto

When: 6:00pm, July 17th 2006, Monday

Where: The Charlotte Museum of History

Pedro Alvarado is a Mexico-born architect currently practicing in Charlotte. Dánica Coto is a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, she’s currently working on a year-long immigration project that has taken her on multiple trips to towns on both sides of the US-Mexico border. (see: here )

Related link:

A fascinating ongoing BBC series on urban growth.

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