Ancient Origins of the Mexican Plaza

Ancient Origins of the Mexican Plaza: From Primordial Sea to Public Space

LOGAN WAGNER
HAL BOX
SUSAN KLINE MOREHEAD
Copyright Date: 2013
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/719163
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  • Book Info
    Ancient Origins of the Mexican Plaza
    Book Description:

    The plaza has been a defining feature of Mexican urban architecture and culture for at least 4,000 years. Ancient Mesoamericans conducted most of their communal life in outdoor public spaces, and today the plaza is still the public living room in every Mexican neighborhood, town, and city-the place where friends meet, news is shared, and personal and communal rituals and celebrations happen. The site of a community's most important architecture-church, government buildings, and marketplace-the plaza is both sacred and secular space and thus the very heart of the community.

    This extensively illustrated book traces the evolution of the Mexican plaza from Mesoamerican sacred space to modern public gathering place. The authors led teams of volunteers who measured and documented nearly one hundred traditional Mexican town centers. The resulting plans reveal the layers of Mesoamerican and European history that underlie the contemporary plaza. The authors describe how Mesoamericans designed their ceremonial centers as embodiments of creation myths-the plaza as the primordial sea from which the earth emerged. They discuss how Europeans, even though they sought to eradicate native culture, actually preserved it as they overlaid the Mesoamerican sacred plaza with the Renaissance urban concept of an orthogonal grid with a central open space. The authors also show how the plaza's historic, architectural, social, and economic qualities can contribute to mainstream urban design and architecture today.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-72148-7
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. AUTHORS’ NOTE
    (pp. IX-XI)
  4. [Maps]
    (pp. XII-XIV)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. XV-XVIII)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-2)

    The Mexican plaza is the most complete expression of Mexico’s rich four-thousand-year-old multifaceted heritage. It is the open-air heart of every Mexican neighborhood, town, and city—its communal living room. The plaza is part of an ensemble of secular and sacred communal open spaces that include the cloister; the sacred patio, oratrio, of the church; and sometimes a civic or market plaza. The evolution and comparison of these dynamic spaces shaped by the architecture around them and activated by the life of the community are the objects of our study and presentation.

    Communal open spaces fascinate us because they...

  7. CHAPTER ONE THE PRIMORDIAL SEA FORMING OPEN SPACE IN MESOAMERICA
    (pp. 3-32)

    The concept of theplazamight have been created when hunter-gatherers selected a stopping place in their wilderness world and marked it, perhaps by laying three stones, to identify it as a place known to them, a place to which they could return, a place that could center their group for the task of finding food. That three-stone place, or some other place marked by a natural feature in the landscape, would become their axis mundi. In the thousands of years that hunter-gatherers on all the earth’s continents searched for food, they centered their short stays at places that had...

  8. CHAPTER TWO FORMING SPANISH TOWNS IN MESOAMERICAN CULTURE
    (pp. 33-60)

    As Mesoamerica flourished during the fifteenth century, with cities as large as those in Europe,¹ the cultures of the two continents had no idea that the other existed or that they would make dramatic contact. Two distinct peoples with completely different and proud backgrounds meeting in the Americas would create a third culture.

    To aid in understanding the mind-set of the sixteenth-century Europeans who would come to Mesoamerica, let us consider some of the people and ideas active in Europe in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, just before the two civilizations met.

    Filippo Brunelleschi (1377–1446) studied the...

  9. CHAPTER THREE SIXTEENTH-CENTURY COMMUNAL OPEN SPACES (FIVE HUNDRED YEARS LATER)
    (pp. 61-194)

    With the scholarship and field observations of earlier generations in hand, such as work done by Manuel Toussaint, George Kubler, John McAndrew, Elizabeth Wilder Weisman, and others, we organized our teams to examine sixteenth-century towns formed by the fusion of Mesoamerican and Spanish planning concepts. It seemed appropriate to expand the previous scholarship by considering the interior of the church and the public plaza as two extensions of the sacred open space, the primordial sea. We did so by making measured architectural drawings and taking photographs, while absorbing the experience of being in those special places and understanding the history...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION
    (pp. 195-196)

    The discovery and subsequent colonization of the continent of America by Europeans, two conceptually different cultures, began a process of acculturation that transformed both. The dialogue that ensued was initiated within the Mesoamerican open urban space, space that would be transformed by the overlay of the conquering culture’s own ideas of urban design and the incorporation of plazas. As the two cultures began to integrate, both were changed and a new culture emerged. As that happened, new volumes of open space began to emerge in the urban fabric of the sixteenth-century New World.

    On one hand, the building of Mesoamerican...

  11. EPILOGUE PLAZAS IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY
    (pp. 197-202)

    An important part of our study considers how plazas create the central meeting place or “living room” for a neighborhood, town, or city. We wanted to find out how these spaces actually work as social centers and what particular ingredients and relationships are necessary to give plazas the vitality we still see in them today. There is a possibility that the plaza could be used advantageously in new and restored neighborhoods in the United States as we adjust to new energy restraints and changing social dynamics. To explore these objectives, we first describe the way the Mexican plaza works in...

  12. APPENDIX MEASURED DRAWINGS: PLANS OF TOWNS
    (pp. 203-218)
  13. NOTES
    (pp. 219-228)
  14. GLOSSARY
    (pp. 229-232)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 233-244)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 245-254)