80 Years in the Making, Diego Rivera’s City of the Arts Complex Finally Opens in Mexico City

Diego Rivera’s dream of an urban oasis of traditional Mexican art has finally been realized 80 years after its conception. Dubbed “the City of Arts,” the 13-building complex opened this weekend at the Anahuacalli Museum. With around 64,600 square feet of gardens, workshops, and performance and exhibition spaces to form the micro museum-city, it is located in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán, according to a report in the Latin American edition of the newspaper El País.

In a manifesto written between 1945 and 1950, Rivera wrote that the City of Arts would unite “the school and academy artist with the potter, with the weaver, with the basketmaker, with the stonemason, with everything that is a pure and high expression of the people of Mexico.” But the artist died in 1957 before plans for the first project, the Anahuacalli Museum, were completed.

In 1963, Rivera’s daughter, Ruth Rivera Marín, worked with architects Juan O’Gorman and Heriberto Pagelson to execute her father’s vision for a Tenochtitlan-style “temple” to house 2,000 pieces of his collection of pre-Hispanic art, now the Anahuacalli Museum. With a name meaning “house surrounded by water” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec people, Anahuacalli borrowed design elements from ancient Mesoamerican pyramids and prewar American architecture.

Rivera envisioned Anahuacalli as just one piece—a community center of sorts—in his City of the Arts, which is primarily constructed from the dark volcanic rock prevalent in the area due to the eruption of the Xitle volcano. The latest project was realized by the father-son architect duo Mauricio and Manuel Rocha, whose firm Taller de Arquitectura won the bid for the expansion of the museum. The team closely hewed to Rivera’s original design, which sought to respect the natural environment. The new complex rises and falls with the uneven terrain, giving it “a very special character and great beauty,” per Rivera’s manifesto.

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“The idea is that, as in pre-Columbian cities, buildings connect and allow the relationship between the parties,” Rocha said in an interview with El País. “What we are trying to do is recode the idea of Rivera and O’Gorman in a contemporary language. The buildings are built on volcanic stone walls that do surface, but tucked in, so that they have less impact with the stone and the landscape; we also created lattices, light atmospheres that already existed in Diego’s main building. In addition, with the new technologies we use, the buildings seem to sail in a kind of sea of lava.”

The entire project took six years and 20 million pesos ($960,000) to complete. The design includes a library, multipurpose rooms for research and art-making, a new esplanade, and storage space to hold Rivera’s complete 50,000-piece art collection of pre-Hispanic art and artifacts.

“The idea is that people see the pieces that Diego accumulated from a very young age,” Rivera’s grandson, Juan Coronel Rivera, told El País. “The central axis of the new square becomes the [collection], a kind of temple of contemplation of Diego’s thousands and thousands of pieces.”


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