Anya Sirota – Something In Common

Something in Common explores the concept of “urban commons” as a political framework and analytical design methodology. Sited at the Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco Tlatelolco, a storied 1960’s Mexico City housing complex realized by architect Mario Pani, the context-cum-prompt asks students to counter Modernism’s conventional paradigms by probing contemporary affinities for participatory and resistant forms of place-based design. Eliciting critical alternatives to the dichotomy between private and public space making, the pedagogical approach frames collective ownership as the situational backdrop for speculative spatial investigations. 

With ongoing battles raging over neoliberal development and its impact on cities, the course learns from a growing cadre of architects, activists, and urban designers are championing the emancipatory potentials of “commoning” as a paradigm for greater social inclusivity.  Building on the theoretical work of Silke Helfrich, David Bollier, Gibson-Graham, David Harvey, Elinor Ostrom, and Stavros Sravrides, and others, the approach asks designers to consider the commons not only as a resource and management strategy, but as a rule set capable of producing novel spatial outcomes.  In this scenario, the designer occupies the role of negotiator and tactician, carving out accessibility and scenarios of inclusion in cities with increasing enclosures and endless zones of enterprise

Developed in collaboration with CENTRO University in Mexico City, Something in Common is an interdisciplinary, seven-week studio experiment. Due to pandemic travel constraints, a portion of the studio relied on secondary sources in lieu of fieldwork and place-based workshops.  Graciela Kasep, coordinator of the Research Center for Creative Economy (CIEC), Paulina Cornejo, head of the Social Design HUB, Karla Paniagua, Coordinator of Future Studies and in coordination with CENTRO’s Maestria en Ciudad, and Miquel Adrià, director of Arquine and dean of architecture at CENTRO University, served as project partners, offering support to the project throughout.

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Student Work



In the Mexican imaginary, Mario Pani’s Tlatelolco housing project is associated with a number of political and natural calamities, in particular the Massacre of 1968 and the earthquake of 1985. Both events caused the death of numerous citizens, scaring the site with a specter of loss now compounded by the architecture’s more commonplace degradation. As a consequence, the population of Tlatelolco is declining, unlike any other barrio in Mexico City. Appropriately, this proposal reimagines Tlatelolco by strategically retrofitting its building for seismic tolerance, while positioning de-densification as an enhancement rather than lament over modernism’s instinsic failures.

Through sober calculations, the project explores feasible solutions that can occur through adding and transforming instead of complete erasure or demolition. It begins by investigating into original plans by Mario Pani, to analyze the post-seismic retrofitting transformation. The vacant units are identified and extracted from the building. The void” the dead space “gives a new life to the remaining units by creating new social conditions. For instance, the double-height space provides a public space for the residents to participate in how their building will transform. Or, voids create new spatial organization within each unit, separating the public from private while clustering the kid’s bedroom around a playground for adjacent units.

The extracted units provide new common spaces while allowing a secondary megastructure to grow over the existing building gradually. As Tlatelolco deteriorating, the number of vacant units is increasing. The porous building creates more voids for the intrusion of the megastructure and the extrusion of the new units over the megastructure. The megastructure would gradually grow over the buildings and eventually becomes the architecture, while the absence of the existing building becomes a new public space for the new architecture.

Madison Rogers, Torri Smith

In Mexico City FAROs – Factories for Arts and Crafts – have emerged as an experimental cultural typology capable of catalyzing collective urban imaginaries. FAROs, typically staged at the margins of the megalopolis, are informal institutions that cultivate self-expression and build upon community strengths, placing artistic production at the center of equitable redevelopment. Through deliberate phasing and careful integration with existing cultural heritage, the proposed FARO para Cultura Digital in Tlatelolco focuses on digital arts and media production, through its programming and facilities, while modeling strategies of radical porosity towards a broader urban plan.

To catalyze and sustain engagement in the neighborhood-scaled effort, Diseño Unificado is a logical first step: a community-based design collective run by both local designers and residents, its mission is to empower residents by promoting spatial agency.  Transforming a former cinema into a welcoming hub, the collective acts as a conduit for community participation through the facilitation of neighborhood design prototypes and interventions. As such, DU generates program by identifying unmet community needs, providing design aid to residents and business owners, activating public space, and uncovering contextual priorities. The effort re-evaluates existing architecture and cultural resources, redefining the basic building blocks of urban design.

As corollary and interrelated projects, the FARO and DU are never finished. Their architecture and programming are in perpetual evolution and flux. Throughout their lifespans, the projects continue to find meaning in the re-appropriation of public space, in their capacity to sponsor activity, and through their commitment to improving the quality of public life. Embedded in the very fabric of Tlatelolco, both interventions act as cultural anchors and instruments of urban transformation.

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