13 April 2021 

Dividing and Representing Land:
The Grid in Pre-Hispanic and Colonial Mexico

Architectural Association, London

Respondent: Nitin Bathla (ETH Zurich)

The origins of the vecindad in Mexico evolved from the imposition of Spanish methods of urban planning - implemented to aid their appropriation of conquered land - and from pre-existing indigenous methods of social organisation. As an investigation of proximity and property relations, this chapter examines the intrinsic relevance of the grid as a device to designate spatial land rights and living arrangements. The analysis proposes a confrontation of graphical representations embodied in the traces of two different grid forms: the pre-existing Aztec, and the colonial which was imposed upon it. We are able to understand this development through the historical mapping of the city in Mexico. The documents of urban representation investigated in this chapter – indigenous codices and maps of European tradition - expose land use and urban organisation over time, and show how they become devices to measure, quantify and order land and life through an orchestrating grid form. While pre-Hispanic codices reveal limited measurements of physical distance, their graphics are loaded with juridical meaning. These would dictate land use, ownership, spatial relations with neighbours, and social hierarchies. A continuous process of deciphering codices has revealed the fundamental role of these in a complex negotiation of land use, distribution and ownership between the Spanish colonialists and the subjugated indigenous people. In contrast, the representations produced with European colonial conventions of cartography and census followed a prioritisation of abstraction through physical and numerical measurement of the city, its buildings and its subjects. This form of representation allowed a quantifiable record of relationships intended to inform, shape and project the colonial rule of governance. With time, legislation would dictate subdivision, re-distribution and re-appropriation of land resulting in a protracted ownership arguably lasting until the present day.


The Freelancer: Centralization and Individuation of Artistic Work in Paris, 1608 - 1805

Architectural Association, London

Respondents: Taylor Van Doorne (UC Santa Barbara), Angela Gigliotti (DIS Copenhagen)

The figure of the artist is often understood as a kind of curious prototype, whereby the sites of living and working are extended beyond the fixed site of the house to the studio, the street, the cafe, and the landscape beyond. Since their lives are rarely organised around conventional task divisions or family structures, they presage contemporary society’s embrace of the nomadic freelancer, who is supposedly no longer bound by the nuclear family or permanent fixed employment. The presentation studies how this informality of arrangement is in many ways a mischaracterisation and belies the role the state has in making such conditions. The study focuses on the 200 year period in which artists were resident at the Louvre in Paris, tracing Henri IV’s project to accommodate their life and work in 1608, to their eventual eviction from the building in 1805 by Napoleon. This case foreshadows the ways in which the state would lay the foundations for a new subject to emerge: the artist as a freelancer. This newly conceived condition, not simply allowed by but indeed manufactured by the state, would come to constrict the life and work of the artist to a new kind of space: the artist’s studio. By identifying the inherent relationship between centralised power, the artist and their ‘informal’ living arrangements, the study traces the development of the studio and its total permeation into contemporary living as one of design, not accident.

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