¡Una Casa por Mes!: Architecture, Consumerism, and the Construction of Middle-class Identity in the Valley of Mexico, 1877-1968




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This dissertation explores the modernization of the built environment in the Valley of Mexico from 1877 to 1968 and its role in creating a modern middle-class Mexican identity. This dissertation argues that government officials, architects, urban planners, and advertisers manipulated the built environment to produce a modern, middle-class identity predicated on order and economic progress during the Porfiriato (1877-1911) and consumer capitalism and protectionist economic policies during the Mexican Miracle, (1946-1970). I demonstrate that architects and planners designed spaces to encourage middle-class citizens to imagine themselves as consumers through the construction of new colonias (neighborhoods) and home interiors designed to accommodate new domestic technologies. Advertisers of new homes appealed to the middle-class desires for status and preyed on their anxieties around social changes in the city. Outdoor advertising contributed to the consumer imaginary where the built environment became a canvas for dreams of capitalist consumption. Print advertising contributed to the consumer imaginary by fusing traditional middle-class values to a capitalist consumer economy. The introduction of new modes of retail, such as US-style supermarkets and shopping centers aimed at the middle-class, fortified the notion of a modern consumer class. The necessary conditions for modernization are rooted in the introduction of liberal reforms in the nineteenth which restructured the built environment of Mexico City through the freeing of Church lands and dissolution of large land-holdings, encouraging the expansion of the city to the west. The modernization project began in earnest during the Porfiriato with the introduction of technologies, such as streetcars and electricity. These new technologies introduced new ways for citizens to interact with their environment, producing behavior that often clashed with Porfirian notions of order. After 1920, the modernization project became enmeshed with postrevolutionary goals of nation-building when government officials introduced urban planning, hoping to solve the problems wrought by social change and inbound migration. These efforts met with varying degrees of success as the built environment was envisioned by planning officials as a conduit for commerce. One architect, Mario Pani, believed the solution for the growing problems of the city was to abandon it altogether. His Ciudad Satélite concept, a self-contained “city outside the city,” located in Naucalpan 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, promoted itself as the pinnacle of modern life for middle-class Mexicans, who embraced it as the basis for a new identity built on traditional tenets of life as gente decente. The benefits of modernization were uneven and not everyone benefited from the introduction of these technologies. From the Porfiriato to the end of the Mexican Miracle, changes in Mexico City’s infrastructure exacerbated material inequalities and class divisions. Government officials’ insistence on regulating the built environment was met with opposition and resistance. Planning schemes often privileged economic development and disregarded the needs of citizens across the region. The benefits of the protectionist economic policies were also uneven, and while some middle-class Mexicans (such as the residents of Ciudad Satélite) enjoyed the benefits of the Mexican Miracle, the problems wrought by modernization spread throughout the Valley of Mexico. This dissertation demonstrates the often contradictory nature of both modernization and the middle-class Mexican identity that arose from it.



History, Latin American, Architecture, History, Modern