July 24, 2013

Photo Essay: Casa GS, Under Construction in Tijuana

Along the Camino Verde, homesteaders fled the crowded center city of Tijuana to build new homes for themselves so quickly that the city couldn't quite catch up to them. People were building makeshift houses - sometimes out of temporary, flimsy materials like cardboard - on hillsides that appear impossible to settle, before zoning or utilities ever reached them.

So, in contrast to the grid system imposed by European colonists, the Camino Verde area is characterized by chaos, a jigsaw puzzle of houses and businesses, connected by paths that appear scratched into the land by a dragging stick.

City officials eventually caught up and laid down some water and sewer lines, and built a couple of roads, but it is an unplanned, grab-what-you-can community.

And Tijuana continues to grow and expand, with new developments sprouting up where there was once nothing but open space and barren land. Thankfully, there is still some open space left.

And Jorge Gracia is building another one of his modern homes out there. While still under construction, Steve Turner Contemporary gallery in Los Angeles selected it to house their Art Baja contemporary art exhibit, the culmination of our bus trip to Tijuana.

But it was the house itself - not the art inside - that interested me.

Like the Culinary Art School, its materials are primarily locally-sourced wood, metal, and rough poured concrete wet-pressed with slats of wood (and, of course, Mexican labor). It is top-heavy, with narrow windows up top and lots of modernist open spaces down below. Though unlike some of the Lautner homes where the indoors and outdoors co-mingle in a common living area, this house is barricaded, contained.

It is Tijuana, after all.

There's something about the emptiness of a building still being built that recalls the delicious abandonment of urban exploration: it's a structure in transition, changing from one state to another. It's an object, not a location. Without residents and occupants, it is embodied by its form and not its function. It is not a domicile, yet.

It is a public sculpture with future utility.

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