Mind & Matter


Modernism’s Acceptance in the Most Venerable of Institutions

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Basilica de Guadalupe by Pedro Ramírez Vásquez, Mexico City, 1976. Photo by Blaine Brownell.


During a recent trip to Mexico, I had the opportunity to visit several important works of architecture. One of my biggest surprises was the extent to which modernist sensibilities are firmly established in landmarks of crucial historical and cultural importance to Mexican people.

The new Basilica de Guadalupe, designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez and completed in 1976, is part of the greatest religious center of Mexico, and the third most visited religious site in the world. According to legend, Santa Maria de Guadalupe—the patron saint of Mexicans—first appeared at this site and requested that a chapel be built there. Since that time, several churches have been built to honor Lady Guadalupe, the latest of which is Vásquez’s distinctly modern chapel of concrete, steel, and wood. Suprisingly, it is here and not in the older buildings that the original relic that bears Lady Guadalupe’s image is displayed, mounted asymmetrically to a wood wall bearing an abstract mosaic pattern and illuminated by an elliptical skylight above.

I was both alarmed and inspired to see the most important religious artifact in Mexico featured proudly in an aggressively modern church, an arrangement that would be shocking in the U.S. despite the fact that Mexico has a longer and more colorful history than ours. It is perhaps because of this deep legacy that Mexicans are comfortable with architecture that is emblematic of the current time as well architecture from times past—an example we would do well to emulate.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.