Colonizing the land: Heimat and the constructed landscapes of Mexico’s Ciudad Universitaria (1943-53)


The word is always linked to strong feeling, mostly remembrances and longing [for] something very far away, something which one cannot easily find or find again.

By the start of the Cold War in the mid-1940s this definition of the term Heimat as something lost seemed all too apt. In reality, though, the German word embodied everything that was abhorrent to the Allies: it resonated provincialism at its most intolerant and dangerous extreme. Memories of exile and the annihilation of those who had not ‘belonged’ in Nazi Germany were still raw. Even Lewis Mumford, despite his regionalist sympathies, shuddered at the word ‘Heimatsarchitektur’ in his 1946 Introduction to The South in Architecture (Mumford 1967: 114).

The English language employs a string of terms to capture the meaning of Heimat: homeland, abode, habitat, for example. They are all too compact, however, to define a concept employed in contexts ranging from the geographical and spatial – where it evokes a place of origin or lost beginnings – to the spiritual and existential, where it describes the core of the journeying inner self (Kiryakakis 1988: 5). In all of these meanings it is perceived of as a centre, but an elusive one: ‘“Heimat” is such that if one would go closer and closer to it, one would discover that at the moment of arrival it is gone, it has dissolved into nothingness. It seems to me that one has a more precise idea of “Heimat” the further one is away from it,’ said Edgar Reitz, director of a sixteen-hour film entitled Heimat (Kaes 1989: 163).

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries this word Heimat, like numerous others invented to serve political ends, was reinterpreted many times over. Its core sense, a feeling of belonging together in a place, of being at home, has varied across the spectrum in its implication of complex community inherent in Mumford’s desired coexistence of different peoples, to the exclusive racial purity of the Nazis (Mumford 1967).

Heimat’s modern presence arose from the separation of Church from State by the French colonizers of German territories at the end of the eighteenth century. The moral structure of Catholicism disintegrated and Church lands were dispersed amongst a new bourgeoisie. A fracture in the previously coherent and mutually dependent social system ensued. Towards the late nineteenth century, during the post-Napoleonic turmoil in Germany, the idea of Heimat as a way of unifying previously autonomous principalities began to take on an important role in local and national politics. From 1871, the founding year of the German Second Empire that united twenty-five German States under Emperor William I, the term Heimat described an implicit movement amongst regional institutions and councils to revive interest in local history, customs and dialects. These were drawn together at the level of State control to create a new national integrity through using, rather than denying, the provincial. The promotion of local collective life, communal integrity and public morality articulated through a conscious imaging of home subsequently became fundamental to the later Weimar Republic (1918-33). Several members of the Bauhaus movement had sympathy with the Heimat ethic (Applegate 1990: 149). Adolph Loos, on the other hand, voiced an early opposition to its use of folk craft and tradition to define local identities:

One thing nations divided into castes have in common is [a] rigid retention of folk costume […] But now a new generation has arrived, a generation that has declared war on folk costume. In their struggle they have a good ally: the threshing machine. Its arrival in any village means goodbye to all those picturesque hand-me-downs. They are sent where they belong, to the fancy dress rental store. (Loos [1898] 1989: 113)

Loos was referring to the reorganization of rural communities into more efficient and mechanized units. Heimat is striking in a contemporary context for its anti-urban associations. During its early usage it provided a utopian community-promoting antithesis to the experience of alienation inherent in modern city life (Kaes 1989: 165). This opposition between the rural and the urban was originally used to connect geographically dispersed sympathies; later Heimat would work to link the provincial reality of the rural with the national aspirations expressed in the urban. Its association with the rural derives from the sources it drew from to define the German nation – localized collective craft cultures as opposed to the high art of the individualistic urban civilizations that had colonized the world in preceding centuries. The result was the ‘cultural nation’ of Germany, the sum of its parts, rather than a singular ‘liberal state’ generated from a metropolitan centre.

One of the reasons for the difficulty in making a precise definition of Heimat is the deliberately subtle, ambiguous and imprecise way it was employed during the early twentieth century. In order to align a set of differences as a whole while allowing them to retain their separate identities there had to be room for interpretation; there could be no prescription. Only in this way could the particular and the general exist simultaneously within Heimat’s experiential and emotional construct, one that connected the personal circumstances and memories of the individual with the abstract collective. Thus the primary function of Heimat as a cultural idea was to unify: its task was to create an interdependence between the individual, the local, the State and the nation. Its intent was explicitly transcultural: both temporally through its use of tradition and geographically in its aim to synthesize localized cultural identities.

In its promotion of the rural, the land as a tangible reality and as an abstract or symbolic concept played a central role within the prewar sense of Heimat. As one postwar commentator put it: ‘Heimat is landscape. Heimat is the landscape we have experienced.’ (Doob 1952: 196). Heimat-promoting institutions and legislation drew from a belief within German cultures that the land and intimate experience of it through physical contact were the basis of all knowledge. This was an empirical approach to the world, where all human experience was returned to the local and the familiar (Applegate 1990: 32). By 1916, when an official Heimat movement came into being, the term began to represent an expression of the nature of the land itself, with physical geography creating a sense of a national personality. The land belonged to the community, and the restrictions of private ownership were subsumed to serve the collective. In keeping with its sympathy for organic structure the Heimat movement was pro-nature. The outdoors became a very important place in the Heimat imagination as a communal and public space for the enactment of civic events. Rambling in the countryside was encouraged, and picnicking and open-air displays became popular. The day-tripper and the hiker saw the utilitarian nature of the farmer in a new way, and the rural became the romanticized province of the tourist (Applegate 1990 : 63).

Despite the seemingly inward-looking tendencies of the Heimat sympathizer, the intrinsic purpose of the concept was the creation of a whole larger than that experienced by the individual. At the beginning of the century the idea of Heimat that filtered through German public life and into the subjective world of the private individual enabled the nation as a whole to embrace its position within the world. It was not until later that the communal and nationalist ambitions towards a spiritually and materially prosperous unity inherent in the idea were manipulated and exaggerated towards quite different ends by the National Socialists. Their ‘Blood and Soil’ rhetoric manipulated all the means of engaging with the urban, the modern and the foreign in early Heimat thought that had provided an alternative to the rational and the universal (Wickham 1999: 7).

Heimat and Mexico

Unlike nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany, which was defined by its various collective relationships with the landscape, Mexico at that time was conceived of by a tiny and intensely urban social elite. In essence it aspired to be a ‘liberal state’, strictly maintained under Porfirio Diaz. From the time of conquest civilization had emanated from Mexico City, which itself was influenced by the urban centres of Europe. Spatial segregation meant that the land beyond the city limits remained more alien than Paris. Surrounding the colonial centres was a vast, uncivilized wilderness largely inhabited by disenfranchized peasants, usually of Amero-Indian descent. The apparent urban complacency of the ruling classes was already rife, however, with the ambiguities that were to fracture Mexico’s fragile post-colonial identity and force the presence of the rural into the very heart of the city.

During the nineteenth century national ownership of the land became a factor of international dissent as foreign companies began to build railroads and run lucrative mines in the deserts of the north. Separation of Church and State began to destabilize the precarious systems controlling a monstrously complex social hierarchy, and in 1910 the violent turmoil of the Mexican Revolution was unleashed. By 1920 the Mexican nation was reforming itself in opposition to the pre-Revolutionary Porfirian state, and its rational positivist philosophies of government. Like post-colonial Germany in its search for a common past and cultural unity as a reaction to the universalist, rationalist philosophy of the French Enlightenment, post-Revolutionary Mexico became aware of, if not adherent to, the Romantic perception of rural territories within which Heimat flourished (Brading 1985: 1-2).

In Germany the rural had preceded the urban. In post-colonial Mexico, however, the centres of colonial control – the cities – had defined the nation. Mexico’s rural landscapes had first to be realized aesthetically, therefore, before they could become a ‘homeland’ for the modern Mexican. This conceptualization of the rural, within which Mexico’s new historical narrative could unfold, was the task of the Muralists in the 1920s and 1930s. Their vast scenes of war and strife were enacted in the ‘unhomely’ deserts and mountains of Mexico. Painting on the walls of Mexico City’s most powerful buildings, they brought visions of the wilderness into the urban imagination. Other painters and photographers, from Clausell and Dr Atl to Alvarez Bravo and Kahlo, began to make sense of Mexico’s terrible nature, so unlike its Arcadian counterpart in the domesticated United States. They drew from the example of the open-air schools of painting set up on the fringes of Mexico City, such as one at Santa Anita, from 1913. The classes at Santa Anita began to substitute direct experience of the natural landscape for the closed classrooms of the Academy, sowing the seeds of a Heimat sensibility.

An important part of the new revolutionary constitution established during the early 1920s, Clause 27, demanded the redistribution of Church land and privately owned estates into collectives managed by peasant communities and families. This meant that the extra-urban areas, their populace and their traditions could no longer be ignored by the urban elites. The social hierarchy began, symbolically at least, to disassemble itself.

Mexicans in power, notably the Minister for Education, José Vasconcelos, began to use the term ‘cosmic race’. This was an inclusive phrase that sought to redefine the modern Mexican as a synthesis of Spanish, mestizo and Amero-Indian cultures, and Mexico as a unified hybrid nation. Amero-Indian culture, perceived as both pre-Columbian and ancient, vernacular and popular, permeated post-Revolutionary artistic programmes as a way of achieving this unity.

Indian and vernacular forms became very fashionable amongst the artistic elites and they began to temper international influences with the autochthonous. The studios and paintings of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo were crammed with popular artefacts both ancient and modern, and Kahlo famously decked herself in indigenous costumes. Both were avid socialists, promoting the cause of community and equality. Eisenstein brought the connection between knowledge of the land and Indian culture into the international arena through his film Que Viva Mexico. In 1931 he visited Mexico to film fragments of rural life around the country. Brought together, these formed a montage of regional and geographical diversity that reinforced the tentative beginnings of Mexico’s constructed Heimat.

The Ciudad Universitaria

The site for the new University City was chosen in March 1943, and was located beyond the affluent villages of San Ángel and Coyoacán that defined Mexico City’s south-western edge. It consisted of four patches of cultivated ejido land belonging to several small villages, and large tracts of impassable volcanic rock. This impassable lava landscape was called El Pedregal, and it supported various local myths and superstitions. Described as a place of desolation, loneliness and silence it was perceived as a dangerous wilderness inhabited only by wild animals and desperate men, and home to all manner of Indian magic.

Since the fifteenth century the rocky cliffs of El Pedregal had provided building material for the city and surrounding villages, and the mines frequently turned up archæological remains that were among the oldest in America. The mined sites that furnished the richest archæological evidence were the canteras of Copilco at the north-eastern limits of El Pedregal, near the village of Coyoacán and the hill at Cuicuilco, an archaic pyramid constructed as early as 1000 BC. These discoveries added considerably to the importance of El Pedregal in the reinvention of Mexico’s history. It became a place that represented the rural wilderness with which urban Mexico hoped to engage, and yet was conveniently close to the city, too. It also embodied the important role that the antiquity of Mexico’s culture played in North America’s postwar perception of itself as historically and culturally independent from Europe.

The location of the Ciudad Universitaria at El Pedregal held immense symbolic power for its architects and government sponsors, amongst them the charismatic and corrupt President Alemán. Both the original and the constructed site that it was to become were seen to represent a new, modern and democratic Mexico. Carlos Lazo, Director-General of works at the Ciudad Universitaria, was especially enthusiastic about the timely discovery of this place. In a talk given on the progress of construction in August 1950, he stated that ‘En la localización de la Ciudad Universitaria parece que ha operado un determinismo historico’ [the location of the University City seems to have come about through a historical determinism] (Lazo 1952: 30 [author’s translation]). It had special qualities that made it symbolic of its time:

Bajo esa lava […] los restos de la cultura más antigua del Continente americano. Sobre ellos, en el centro de México, que es casi el centro del continente; sobre le carretera Panamericana, es una frontera como lo es México de dos razas, de dos religiones, está surgiendo en las mejores ciudades universitaries del mundo, por su espirítu y si ambición. No podía, pues, estar más lleno de sentido, de destino y de simbolismo la futura Ciudad Universitaria de México.. (Lazo 1952: 177)

Below this lava […] lie the remains of the most ancient culture of the American continent. Over these remains, in the centre of Mexico which is almost in the centre of the continent; over the Pan-American Highway, which like Mexico is a frontier between two races, two cultures, two religions, is being built one of the best university cities of the world, for its spirit and ambition. The future University City of Mexico could not be more full of meaning, destiny or symbolism. [author’s translation]

In this speech Lazo, the great road-builder, articulated a desire for unity that transcended the merely national ambitions of pre-war Mexicans such as Vasconcelos. His aspiration for the Ciudad Universitaria as the embodiment of a North American synthesis echoed an essential quality of Heimat. He was spinning ‘a myth about the possibility of a community in the face of fragmentation and alienation’ (Applegate 1990: 29). The parties he wished the Pan-American highway to reconcile were not simply Mexican. They included all of America and specifically the North. The two races, two cultures and two religions that he referred to were not merely the traditional oppositions internal to Mexico: between pre-Columbian and colonizer, Aztec and Spaniard, cosmology and Catholicism. Equally important to Lazo were the differences existing between the Anglo-Saxon and the Latin that were articulated at the desert border between the US and Mexico. As urban Mexicans began to recognize Mexico’s geographical and cultural diversity they began to realize a new position for Mexico globally, too. The Ciudad Universitaria, as a large-scale modern project of almost urban proportions, was to represent a country where the dream of modernity appeared to have become a way of life. It was a nationalist project with internationalist aspirations.

Interest in the dramatic qualities of the lava surface at the Ciudad Universitaria has tended to obscure the fact that a large part of the original site was cultivated ejidatario land, and therefore home already to a substantial number of peasant subsistence farmers. Their dwellings were free-standing in the fields: drystone walls roofed with overlapping layers of discarded corrugated iron, or tarpaulin-covered, timber-strutted structures mimicking the pitches of the haystacks among which they were situated. Hugging the ground and using the cliffs and outcrops of rock, some shelters were drawn taut on slender posts, while others were made from stone walls buttressing the slope and entered from above through roofs made from iron and timber boards. They were constructed using materials found on or near their site. Sometimes they used lava rock, but often the materials were far from ‘traditional’ and consisted of urban debris from many sources.

To build their new university the Rector and his supporters had to remove these people from the land. The ejido rights granted to four villages in the 1920s and 1930s that protected them made acquisition of the site extremely complex. After three years of negotiation a Presidential decree announced the expropriation of the land in favour of the university, and defined the terms of compensation for the dispossessed peasants. Besides a lump sum payment the University was to provide comprehensive education for eighty-three ejidatario children, give the forty-five ejidatarios of Copilco permanent jobs at the Ciudad Universitaria, construct replacement housing for sixty families and provide a primary school.

The outcome of this was a small settlement built for the ejidatarios, which were the first buildings to be constructed on the site. The location of the settlement was beyond the eastern boundary of the Ciudad Universitaria on the lava bed itself. Populating the sinuous street layout were 60 houses and a school designed and built by the architect Antonio Pastrana. The ejidatarios living in this town still inhabited the same location as they had previously, but they were removed forever from their original environment. Their ramshackle dwellings were destroyed and replaced by a modern, architect’s interpretation of Mexican vernacular housing. Heimat in a personal, geographical and spatial sense became, for them, very far away.

The new houses were hygienically raised above the uneven ground on rubble platforms that were bound on their upper surface by a smooth concrete cap. Their construction used traditional techniques partly disguised by the white render that coated them. Reminiscent of earlier rural buildings by the Ciudad Universitaria architect Enrique del Moral, such as the school at Cosacuarán (1944-6), load-bearing walls of adobe block supported a timber roof structure, with two unmilled timber posts holding up the porch of an external patio. The generic house on top of an abstract plinth replaced the intimate relationship with the ground surface that the ejidatarios had experienced in their dilapidated but constantly evolving huts. Their dwellings and their bodies were separated from the ground both physically and metaphorically as they were set to work building the new University campus.

Between 1947, when Mario Pani and del Moral won the University’s competition for a master plan design, and 1952, the year of the Ciudad Universitaria’s inauguration, the site’s complex ground surface was replaced by an organized system of zones and layers, paths and roads. The presence of the natural in the landscapes of the Ciudad Universitaria was deliberately and deeply compromised, in keeping with the modernizing aspirations of its planners to provide for an ideal, man-made future. The suppression of nature was at odds, however, with the desire for this future to arise from the fusion of Mexico’s diverse histories. These depended upon El Pedregal’s links with a pre-Columbian telluric Indian past. Thus the use and definition of the natural at the Ciudad Universitaria was ambiguous. Whilst the existing conditions of the site were cleverly exploited metaphorically, their physical reality was submerged. Personal knowledge of the natural landscape so important within the German sense of Heimat would become merely a memory of the ejidatarios.

After the dynamiting for construction material and levelling for buildings, roads and foundations the ground surface was carefully reconstructed. An uneven rocky ground was not deemed either suitable or beautiful, and within the bounds of the campus its presence was largely erased. Immense swathes of land were smoothed and paved using brick, polished volcanic stone, concrete slabs, neat lawns, cobbles and poured concrete. According to Pani and del Moral, the dominant idea was to harmonize natural materials taken from the site and worked by hand with those manufactured elsewhere and brought in.

In various photographs of the Ciudad Universitaria, especially of sporting events, the middle distance is populated by trees acting as a buffer between campus and rocky plain, suggestive of an Arcadian landscape – a privileged view available in contemporary Mexico City only in the golf clubs of the wealthy. Like the rural landscapes of early twentieth- century Germany, the newly picturesque grounds of the Ciudad Universitaria became a popular place for weekend picnickers from the city, as well as tourists seeking respite from the heady disorder of the urban centre. The plans for forestation of the Ciudad Universitaria campus aspired to civilize the original wilderness through the planting of imported flora. Lazo asked for government funds to buy 145,000 trees for the site. Many of them were not indigenous, and some, such as the 20,000 eucalyptus trees planted, served to destroy the fragile and complex bioclimate of the volcanic region.

The buildings of the university were carefully sited within the tightly controlled master plan and zoned according to their function: administrative, academic, recreational or residential. Each was named according to its function: School of Engineering, Central Library or Faculty of Philosophy, for example. The vast external spaces of the campus that surrounded the various towers and slab blocks had no names, however, by which to designate them. The largest were conceived of as ceremonial and not ‘functional,’ so within the Functionalist framework they were speechless. The exceptions at the Ciudad Universitaria were the generic names given to the sports fields: football pitch, tennis court, baseball field or frontón (a court for a form of pre-Columbian hand-ball still played in Mexico).

Despite this denial of the important and deliberately constructed external spaces of the campus, it was the great variety of axially located squares, courts, gardens, lawns, loggias, underpasses and forecourts that gave the campus its extraordinary character. Their size, their emptiness and relentlessness, their spatial relationships with each other and their separateness from the unusual landscape that they replaced was unprecedented; they were real echoes of the urban dreams of Hilberseimer and Corbusier. Three spatial fields at the Ciudad Universitaria are particularly noteworthy. All of them are plinth structures that separate the environment of the campus from the surrounding Pedregal landscape. These artificial ground planes isolate the buildings upon them from the original site and transform them into modernist (sculptural) objects, or monuments. The buildings consequently suffer a deliberate ‘sitelessness […], an absolute loss of place’ (Krauss 1994: 280).

The first man-made field to be constructed was the subtly layered sports ground that corralled any irregularity in the surface into a neatly contained compound. Early photographs show it bare from end to end, in stark contrast to the lava beds stretching from its edges, which were visually chaotic in comparison to the abstract composition of the sports field plan. Carefully arranged over this new flat ground made of large precast concrete slabs or in situ concrete articulated by low walls of lava rock that occasionally framed smooth lawns, were the structures defining the frontónes, the football fields and the baseball court. These were constructed before the plinth, early in 1951, and the ‘pyramid-like’ frontónes emerged first as ruins from the trampled ground before achieving their pristine edges.

These self-consciously regionalist structures, plus the volcano-like Olympic stadium, were the only architectural elements that made a formal concession to the pre-Columbian legacy of the Ciudad Universitaria site, thus forging a symbolic connection with the ground. The frontónes and stadium were immensely popular with foreign tourists visiting the Ciudad Universitaria drawn by the formal references to Mexico’s, and by association America’s, pre-colonial past.

The second important space at the Ciudad Universitaria was the plinth for the Rectory Tower. Located at the edge of a plaza intermittently populated by trees, it overlooked a huge lawn to the East: ‘As befits its importance, the building is located at the highest point of the campus in immediate proximity to the main road leading to the city’ (Cetto 1961: 68). This and the other huge open spaces of the Ciudad Universitaria had a grand scale that characterized many already existing Mexican urban spaces. This space, defined by the Rectory building and the central Library on its northern edge, and the Museum and Faculty of Architecture to the south, was comparable to the vast central square at the centre of Mexico City. Called the Zócalo, a Spanish word whose English translation is plinth, this is bounded by two of the city’s most important buildings: the Cathedral and the National Palace. The Zócalo originally covered part of the main temple complex of the Aztec lake city of Tenochtitlán. The destruction of the temple signified the conquering of the Aztecs by rendering their gods homeless; the making of the Ciudad Universitaria plinth symbolized the subordination of Mexico’s difficult physical environment and the banishment of natural disaster. The plinth covered the lava bed that, as the product of a massive volcanic explosion, was a reminder of the destructive potential of Mexico City’s site: a drained lake surrounded by live and extinct volcanoes in an earthquake zone.

The grand Rectory square at the Ciudad Universitaria was second in size only to the third major space within the campus: the Great Lawn beyond. This was a huge void at the centre of the campus, inhabited only by picturesque clumps of trees. It was compelling evidence of the level of transformation that the original site had undergone; a subtle sign of affluence and domination of the natural world – a lush green lawn – created on a ridiculous scale, beyond functionality. Various murals on the walls of prominent buildings used the external spaces as if they were domestic rooms. The murals narrated the official mythologies, interpreted to highlight their relevance to the new university.

Projecting from the sixth and seventh floors of the Rectory tower, and effectively hung in an outdoor room 500 metres long, a mural depicting the symbolic shield of the University imposed itself visually throughout the ‘Zona Escolar’ to the West. Siqueiros made a didactic high-relief panel for the spectator in motion that faced south and on to Avenida Insurgentes. This represents scientists and technicians in the making, a message for the traveller about the University’s role in creating the future of Mexico through its democratic education. Other murals told stories of discoveries that made connections between different places and times. These located the Ciudad Universitaria within Mexican history at a moment between the subservient colonial or imperialist past and the free modern future. Juan O’Gorman, for example, tattooed the body of the central library with a complex, erudite iconography that promoted the idea of a national community united by a common hybrid mythology.

The Mexican sense of Heimat, sometimes referred to as Mexicanidad in postwar texts, was a deeply compromised version of the German meaning. As the Ciudad Universitaria illustrates, ambitions fundamental to Heimat – the construction of an imagined community linking the individual to the whole, the importance of local and craft cultures, and the embodying of the national psyche in the land, for example – were symbolic State gestures rather than quotidian structures. Although on the surface the Mexican establishment had sought ethnic, social and cultural unity as a way to define modern Mexico, its means of engagement served to maintain the divisions created during colonization. The idea of community that had been inherent in the post-Revolutionary constitution found itself dissolving even further into individualism under President Alemán. One time Minister for Tourism, astute land speculator and visitor to Hollywood, he articulated his idea of equality as an ambition for each Mexican to ‘have a Cadillac, a cigar and a ticket to the bullfights’ (Krauze 1997: 543). He had little concern for Mexicans such as the dispossessed peasant living in the new ejidatario town. Even rehoused in his new, hygienic white box the ex-ejidatario’s relationship with a unified whole was defined not by a shared sense of ‘homeland’, but by his position within a hierarchical social and economic system.

Folk cultures were not celebrated as the continuing traditions that formed the basis of a national identity, as they had been in early twentieth-century Germany. Aestheticized and sanitized by an urban elite, they did not actively contribute to the present. They were symbolic representations of either Mexico’s dead and ancient past or its exotic otherness. At the Ciudad Universitaria connections with the land were made by way of pre-Columbian references to indigenous, regional cultures in the stylized frontónes, the Olympic stadium and the murals, and in the abstract interpretations of the vernacular in the ejidatario dwellings. These architectural forms and their visual and spatial narratives did not articulate a private local language, or even a national tongue. They sent out universal messages to an international audience proclaiming Mexico’s global relevance and equivalence.

Making Mexican nature safe and homely was an impossible feat. The eradication and reconstruction of the useful aspects of the Pedregal site enacted at the Ciudad Universitaria represented, perhaps, one of the few ways of sublimating the terrible aspects of Mexico City’s unpredictable natural environment that El Pedregal embodied. In organizing and controlling its inhabitants, smoothing the ground, planting vast lawns and thousands of trees, the Ciudad Universitaria was an attempt to make a new, man-made, archetypal home for the citizens of modern Mexico. Many years later Carlos Fuentes would describe this new ‘homeland’ as an upper-middle-class prison, a place where one of his characters was brought ‘by Mercedes to a new house surrounded by walls in the Pedregal district, a house for forgetting, she told herself, because she recognized nothing there, wanted nothing there, and everything she touched she forgot’ (Fuentes 1990: 30).


1 Edgar Reitz, director of the sixteen-hour film called Heimat, which was screened in eleven episodes on German television in 1984 (cited in Kaes 1989: 163).
2 What Mumford meant by ‘Heimatsarchitektur’ is not clear. The official ‘style’ of the Third Reich was the monumental neo-classicism of Speer. The work of conservative architects reproducing the rural vernacular with no reflective relationship with the urban modernism of the protagonists of Neue Sachlichkeit in Frankfurt, Berlin or Stuttgart most clearly fits his narrative. It is unlikely that he was referring to the work of Neues Bauenarchitects such as Scharoun and Häring. Miller Lane (1991: 325-8) argues that ‘heimatlich’ architecture: that with rustic siting and reference to regional traditions, was one of a number of styles – including functional Modernism, native regionalism and monumental classicism – that continued simultaneously, even overlapping, throughout the 1930s and 1940s in Germany.
3 Wickham (1999: 5 and ch. 1) describes the fourteen different semantic configurations of Heimat, beginning with its original meaning of farmstead, or farmhouse, going on to expand its basic anti-urban significance. This is evident in the antonym to Heimat – Fremde, which encompasses words often associated with the modern urban condition: foreign, different, alien, unknown – the experience of otherness is a prerequisite of modernity.
4 Wickham (1999: 25) describes an early use of Heimat as referring to the territory of a community or an individual. The pre-war use of the term usually engages with this territorial aspect, and is concerned with geographical origin, parental location, and the symbolic relationship between a particular place and an individual.
5 In this discussion the geographical import of Heimat is balanced against the spiritual journey toward an ideal state, or perfection, as explored in Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf where the context is timeless – beyond space and time, one particularly apt in relation to Cold War Abstract Expressionism. Related to this is the internalized intellectual journey of the individual. Wickham (1999: 46) investigates the relationship of Geist or spirit to Heimat as an internalized rootedness in a place.
6 The difference between the cultural nation (Germany) and the liberal state (Britain) has its roots within the different approaches to Romantic thought in Germany and England. While the former draws on the collective to define a national cultural identity, the latter defines itself via the products of an individualistic urban artistic elite. This is discussed in detail in Kaiser (1999) who expands on the differences between culture and civilization.
7 Kaes (1989: 168) discusses the complex postwar meanings of Heimat as an experience of loss (of home and family) and as a vacuum filled with nostalgic memories.
8 See Brading (1985: 1-2) for a detailed discussion of the Mexican reaction to Porfirian rationalism.
9 The most famous were Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Gabriel Orozco. There were other significant contributors to the Mural programme, including Jean Charlot and the architect Juan O’Gorman.
10 Vasconcelos, Education Minister from 1920 to 1904, was the principal patron of the Muralists.
11 Ejido is the term used for a plot of land reclaimed by the State under Clause 27 and cultivated either by a single family or as communal village land. The villages would own the rights to lease the land from the State, but they would not own it outright. Thus strict controls over the use of land were maintained.
12 For a prewar description of El Pedregal, see Fernández de Castillo (1913).
13 Evidence of this is the interest paid to the pre-Columbian Mexican artefacts by such as Barnett Newman and Willem de Kooning after 1943.
14 Lazo’s life work was the construction of the highways linking Mexico City with developing beauty spots, enabling President Alemán’s tourist Mexico to flourish. He was responsible for the thoroughfare from Mexico City to Acapulco, and promoter of the ‘Interoceanico’ between Veracruz and Acapulco; his routes were followed by the city’s most affluent citizens.
15 The dates for the original expropriation of the lands are as follows: Tlalpan 1929, some handed to Copilco in 1938, San Jerónimo Aculco 1923, Padierna 1938.
16 For details of the distribution of land see Pani and del Moral (1989: 233-9), which describes the distribution of land rights and their value, and lists the names of all residents and ejidatarios on the site.
17 This figure is compounded from contract documents related to the construction of the Unidad Urbana de Ejidatarios supervised by Lazo in the Archivo General de la Nación (AGN) Carlos Lazo Archive box 79.
18 This used the timber beam and post motif in conjunction with load-bearing walls constructed from various traditional materials. See Pinoncelly (1983: 33).
Soon after the construction of the ex-ejidatario settlement at the CU, Pani designed a settlement for rural workers in the Yucatan. The individual house units drew heavily on vernacular construction techniques and materials. See Iannini (1999: 46-51) for detailed drawings, diagrams and photographs of the project.
19 Ramírez Montagut (1995: 68) details the subjects of the shield, which was given to the University by Vasconcelos in 1921, as a Mexican eagle and an Andean condor. Siqueiros shows them facing each other and holding on to a ring – unified for all eternity, perhaps, while the original has them twisted away from each other and divided by an image of Latin America above the silhouette of the volcanoes overshadowing the valley and with cacti twisting round them.
20 For example Eppens’s The Conquest of Energy and The Return of Quetzalcoatl on the School of Science.
22 This statement appears to presume the Mexican to have one gender, for one can hardly imagine even the most glamorous Mexican woman with a cigar at the bullfights.

Works cited
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