Heterotópica IEMS | Salvador Allende High school of the Instituto de Educación Media Superior del Gobierno del Distrito Federal, Mexico City | September to December, 2011.

The site/the campus

Unlike most campuses of the Mexico City Government high school system – built from scratch based on teaching-learning needs – the Salvador Allende high school, located in an area with high social marginalization was build in buildings that decades ago used to be warehouses or offices of a defunct state-owned company. In symbolic and formal senses, most of the bureaucratic spirit of the former use still continues. Both in the internal structure of the spaces and the façade. Both are in extreme monotonous and up to a certain point sad, generic and oppressive, due in part to the almost infinite modular repetition (for example, the campus has 100 study cubicles, all practically identical), which reminds of the environment at hospitals or prisons. In order to engage and adapt to this situation, the students have generated diagrams and micro-urbanisms that mutate in every moment, manifesting among others, as routes of movement, uses and unofficial spatial coding that tend to mitigate the effects mentioned before.

The deployed object

Through a study of the urbanism inside the campus we identified that the area with the highest lack of presence of school authorities, teachers and monitoring is a remnant space located between the parking lot and the sports fields in the back of the plot. This zone is close to the areas where we identify a bigger concentration of students, which shows that they refuse to stay in the interior, roofed areas. There, we build a hybrid object. Large in size and without a specific shape, with a structure made of wood and a skin of white plastic canvas. This gave it a nature between organic and monstrous. In the modality of interior space, it works as a platform for anomaly and escape or a refuge for the impunity of students since it works as a non-surveilled cave, a space that spreads out and gives room to exceptions and secrets. On the other hand it also works as a large format sculpture, like a landmark capable of enhancing group identities against the generic crudity of the surrounding built context.

The practices

The subtlest face of the project came up when the fine arts classes I teach engaged with the project. In other words, the intervention wasn’t only confined to the physical spaces but also to the topics and contents during the semester. For this we had activities to relate and explore the day-to-day contexts of the students. Part of the results was put inside the built object – like a site museum for the students– where they presented pieces built by themselves: images, objects and texts that could be seen as a joint narrative, one where students wrote a true story that happened in their neighborhoods, something they remembered or someone told them. These were print on paper as a single line of text. Then all the lines we put together from beginning to the end until we had a full circle of text with an extension of about 50 meters. This piece was put in the center of the build space, as a tangle that you could start reading at any point. For the other pieces, one can be described as individual drifts and a collection of particular objects, which the students translated into made up stories based on what the objects themselves suggested to them. The las of the pieces was painting with a stencil. The students identified images that would summarize their visions about themselves in their neighborhoods. Thus, giant sandwiches and shrimp cocktails sold outside the subway station; banners with bus routes or subway station icons were represented in highly synthesized images and then mixed randomly. After this was exhibited for a few months, the pieces were retired leaving the space free for future student interventions without institutional mediation.