Noir Urbanisms: Dystopic Images of the Modern City

By Gyan Prakash | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Tlatelolco:
Mexico City’s Urban Dystopia

RUBÉN GALLO

A few years ago, in a catalogue for an exhibition on utopias, critic Frédéric Rouvillois mused on the relationship between utopias and totalitarianism in the twentieth century. Why is it, he wondered, that so many projects for a complete overhaul of society—from the Russian Revolution to German National Socialism—that began as utopian dreams ended up producing history’s worst nightmares? It appears, he writes, “as if utopia were nothing more than the premonition of totalitarianism and totalitarianism the tragic execution of the utopian dream.”1 As recent history demonstrates, there does seem to be a close link between utopias, dystopias, and totalitarian governments.

In Mexico, the Revolution of 1910–20 was followed by a bright era of optimism and utopian dreams. In a case that has many parallels to the early history of the Soviet Union, the new “revolutionary” government attempted to overhaul all aspects of Mexican society: from education to architecture, and from farming to urban planning. Many of these ambitious projects resulted in disastrous nightmares that continue to haunt the country like the specters of a distant era.

One of the most poignant case studies is the housing complex of Nonoalco-Tlatelolco, a monumental project designed to introduce the most modern—and utopian—urban planning concepts into Mexico City. Tlatelolco was the brainchild of architect Mario Pani and the Mexican president at the time, Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, who would go down in history as a man with a totalitarian governing style whose administration was marred by unprecedented police brutality, violence, and repression. The utopian dream of Tlatelolco soon degenerated into one of the worst dystopic nightmares in Mexico City’s urban fabric. Could this unraveling be explained by Rouvillois’s theory about the connection between utopias and totalitarianism?

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