Turning abandoned railroad lines into urban walkways has helped revitalize cities across North America. So why not do the same with a street that dates back to the rule of the Aztecs? The proposed Cultural Corridor Chapultepec, a landscaped, 0.8-mile pathway and urban park that would cut through busy neighborhoods would become a catalyst for activating a congested part of the city, according to architect and co-designer Fernando Romero, general director of FR-EE. In the process, this collaboration with RVDG and FRENTE would potentially create a cultural district reflecting the diversity of the Mexican capital.
"We have sacrificed public space for cars," says Romero, referencing the rapid urbanization that has altered the city's landscape, "and the Avenida Chapultepec is organized in a chaotic manner. The avenue is 80 percent cars, and we want to flip that to create a cultural center and platform for transportation."
An ancient pathway that cuts through the center of Mexican City, the Avenida Chapultepec is a road through history. Aztecs, engineers building aqueducts in the 19th century, American invaders in 1847, student demonstrators in the '60s, and countless others have walked down the boulevard. But over the last few decades, as many of the stones arches that supported the aqueducts have crumbled, the street has become one of many constricted arteries connecting travelers in the crowded metropolis.
In his ninth-floor office near the High Line in Manhattan, Romero described how the plan would revitalize the area and help reverse a longstanding trend of sacrificing public space for rapid growth. While pointing out different sites on a wall-sized map of the city, which includes icons where the new international airport he designed will break ground, he explained how the park would function. Starting at the Glorieta de los Insurgentes plaza, the main promenade will run at street level, stretching to nearly 190 feet of pedestrian space at its widest point. Lanes for cars, buses and bikers will be pushed to the edges, and an upper level will features a promenade, retail spaces, and lighting powered by solar cells. Playing off the fountain and the two dozen-or-so remaining arches from the 19th century aqueduct, the entire structure will boast a curved design meant to reference the flow of water, according to Romero. Further broken up into different cultural sections that will display local artwork, the corridor will serve as both an artistic and infrastructure upgrade for the neighborhood.
The proposed corridor's impact will be amplified by its location, says Romero. Adjacent to Zona Rosa, an entertainment district filled with historic architecture, the cultural corridor will activate development in the region, similar to how the High Line in New York, or 606 in Chicago, are serving as catalysts for new construction. Connected with a bigger master plan for the neighborhood, Romero believes the multifaceted roadway will have a similar impact.
"Architecture is a public service," he says. "A doctor needs to examine the body to find a problem. We try to solve a problem based on the context and what the area needs."