We no speak Americano? Urbanism in Chihuahua

The city of Chihuahua oddly enough has 6, yes 6, architecture schools in a city of no more than 850,000.

Downtown Chihuahua – a city with modest Spanish mission roots, sits paralyzed despite such an intellectual resource. Its core is vibrant and alive…till dusk. At night it breaths quietly – exhausted.

At dawn, citizens and guests share unpredictable sidewalks and congested streets. Their cities relationship with the automobile seems stressed and  make anything but walking difficult.  At the same moment, colorful street venders and food carts riddle the city’s corridors and edges full. They manipulate the grid as a staple “urban marketplace” – in every sense of the word. Their lively presence is a rhythmic tone and visible opportunity.  Students Jesus Cano and Muaro Eli selected the most visible example of this type of public space – Calle Libertad. Their work captured a romance between public space, consumerism, retail, and culture. Their 3 part film on Calle Libertad framed its spirit and eventual future.

Throughout downtown Chihuahua, 100 year old bars such as (Antingua Paz) and hidden drinking holes (La Roca) reveal a character and history that teases out Chihuahua’s artists, young lawyers, hipsters, and professionals. I was introduced to many young individuals who I imagine represent a vanguard for its future.  Student’s Juan Ledezma and brother-in-law Oscar Di Maria Castresana are both undergraduates at Isthmus University.  Their glimpse into the future of Chihuahua re-imagined streetscapes and pedestrian mobility. It suggested a motivation for a new downtown that currently isn’t at play, or at least not yet. Practitioners such  as Rodrigo Seáñez, Mario Echanoxe, and Isthmus Dean Luis Carlos are just a few of Chihuahua’s van guard designers and architects fixed on turning things around.

Student’s Juan Ledezma and brother-in-law Oscar Di Maria Castresana

The space between most buildings in Chihuahua often leads you to new conversations about Chihuahua.  Musician Bleh Amable (sr. amable, or mr. kind in english), is a regional hipster  and savant for independent music in Chihuahua and the region. His blog could be considered a linchpin and soundboard for a community of independent music artists. Its voice and content represent a growing futurist culture of sound and creative pop.  You can find Amable’s talent throughout several compilations at Club Fonograma.  A site that carries a dynamic musical selection   and entire albums that mixes Ibero, American, and Latin rhythms.

Although our studio is an architecture studio, its focus will be on the non-building experience. While buildings are active characters in their proposals, students  were encouraged to use diagramming and video to begin telling a story about the potential of their city or its hidden opportunities.  For all my students this was their first time documenting urban space under these conditions. They filmed and explored along retail corridors, informal markets, under highways, and on top of buildings. Our two week workshop intended to qualify transitional or leftover non-spaces as new broad minded public experiences. We interrogated these spaces to determine their trans-formative nature and meaning, while reinforcing the awareness and identity of the city its users, and future.

I said good-bye to Chihuahua just before Christmas. I left more intrigued than expected. I was left with  Yolunda Be Cool’s hit stuck in my mind– We No Speak Americano.

What an appropriate way to end a trip.

Before - Student Jimmy Madrigal Rios



After - Student Jimmy Madrigal Rios