May 6–26, 2024

The Fourth Transformation promised by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his administration has generated both ideological and material products in the five years since he took office. Led by the Secretariat of Agrarian, Territorial, and Urban Development (SEDATU) and the Urban Improvement Program (PMU), a massive building campaign is currently underway throughout Mexico, the likes of which have not been seen since the mid-twentieth century. The stated goal of the PMU is the construction of social infrastructure projects that allow for local communities to gather, facilitate exchange, and appropriate space based on their individual needs. To date, the Mexican federal government, through the PMU, has carried out approximately 1,000 works in 153 municipalities over 27 states, with a total investment of over 2 billion US dollars. Programs include municipal markets, schools, health centers, libraries, auditoriums, exhibition spaces, parks, sports complexes, fire stations, and community centers. The amount of public construction initiated in Mexico since 2018 cannot be overstated.

Designing for Contemporary Publics: Mexico’s Urban Improvement Program is a three-week for-credit course that focuses on this ambitious federal program. Travel to Mexico and on-site study will provide students the unique opportunity to (a) understand the contemporary urban and political context in which the PMU projects are situated; (b) visit with and speak to local practitioners and government officials who have been involved in the design, planning, and supervision of related architecture and urban works; and (c) tour, study, and document a selection of recent buildings in person. Friedman’s office, Departamento del Distrito, will provide access to a range of PMU sites and collaborators through the office’s first-hand experience working with SEDATU on five public projects in the municipality of Tultitlán de Mariano Escobedo. These projects were commissioned at the beginning of 2021 and are now opening or nearing completion.

This Rice Architecture Global Workshop pushes students to grapple with the complexities, potentials, and limits of what it means to design pubic space in Mexico, linking to broader themes of investment, infrastructure, constructability, design agency, and politics in the Global South.

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