|USIA Fulbright Scholar in Mexico|
The purpose of my Fulbright to Mexico was to two-fold: Teach landscape architecture to graduate architecture students at two prominent Mexican universities (Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon, Monterrey and Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara); and investigate--through field research--the gardens designed by the Mexican architect Luis Barrag_n and their relation between their architecture and regional context. The following provides an overview of my Fulbright sponsored teaching and research activities in Mexico as well as share some personal experiences during 1998.
Mexico City , June 9, 1998:
Sitting at a desk by a second story, 1930-something art-deco window I am looking out onto Calle Montes de Oca in Mexico City. The desk is in the office of a classmate from Berkeley who practices landscape architecture and architecture in Mexico. It is late in the day, almost 7:00 PM. Dark clouds are forming in the sky overhead. The sudden darkness signals rain within an hour, probably a little drizzle at first followed by a downpour measured in buckets. This the routine on most spring and summer days in Mexico City. Rain is badly needed for it has been unseasonably dry in Central Mexico this year. The lush, green countryside that I remember on previous trips when traveling south to Cuernavaca or east toward the Gulf Coast and Veracruz is now all shades of brown and yellow. In other regions, the mountains look as if they were devastated by fire. Actually, many thousands of acres of forest have fallen recently to fire with thousands of more acres devastated earlier in the year in the southern state of Chiapas. Some hillsides are still smoldering while winds send great clouds of smoke to overlay the cities to the North.
Baton Rouge, LA , February, 1999:
Mexico City was my base during the last months of my Fulbright. I had an extraordinary time. Each day was filled visiting new and familiar sites while experiencing the rich culture that flourishes in this, one of the most populous cities in the world. Each day I visited several residential or urban landscape projects.
Some days I would spend the entire time wandering around a single neighborhood
such as San Angel. San Angel is an historic district in the southern portion
of Mexico City.
For example, one day I had appointments to visit two projects by the architect Luis Barrag_n. The first was a convent he designed in the late 1950's for the order of "Las Capuchinas". This order of nuns originated in Italy and is associated with the Franciscan monks, followers of Saint Francis of Assisi. By that association they--both the nuns and monks--have an interest in nature and ecology. "Las Capuchinas" is a small convent, or at least the part I was allowed to visit. The small patio designed by Barrag_n is one of the most moving, spiritual spaces I have ever experienced. The patio is an exquisite outdoor space surrounded by tall walls painted white. On one side of the patio was a simple fountain--something like a farm water trough. In its still waters I found a great many gardenias floating on the surface. The fragrance together with the splashes of sunlight from above and the song of several birds perched in the flowering bougainvillea vines enhanced what would have been already a spectacular experience.
Not only the works of Barrag_n occupied my time in Mexico City. I also visited works of other prominent Mexican architects and landscape architects as well as areas of the city I had not seen before--for which there are an endless number.
It would require at least another year to see all the things that interested me in Mexico City and in other regions of the country. There were nearly five notebooks in my suitcase, filled with descriptions and sketches documenting what I had seen and thought about since arriving in Monterrey early January, 1998.
The opportunity to teach and conduct field research in Mexico was valuable both professionally and personally. I experienced and learned a great deal at a time in my life when I wanted to get back into a learning mode. With the support of the Fulbright, I had the chance of seeing and photographing some of the most exciting urban and landscape design projects one could imagine existing any where in the world. The Mexican architects, artists, cooks, and even bus drivers operate at an exceptionally high level of inventiveness.
I have personally experienced, on several occasions some very creative--if not brilliant--maneuvering of public buses that would be an extreme challenge to re-create in words. My command of Spanish improved. I became more proficient and at ease with the words and grammar I had acquired over the years traveling to Mexico, Costa Rica, and Latin America. I only spoke Spanish, including to the several Mexican friends I knew previously in the States. They and I were more comfortable with this arrangement although at times it required an incredible discipline on my part to carry on our conversations and not slip back into the easier mode--for me--of speaking English.
|The rich and varied culture of Mexico has its rewards to the persistent
and open-minded traveler. I had the opportunity to live and establish a
routine in three very different regions of Mexico.
In each I met and became close friends of professionals, students, and everyday people--such as shop keepers or the circle of people that were a part of my daily routine. There are several invitations to return both to teach classes and to just visit. I hope to be able to do both some time soon.
I was fortunate to be selected for a Fulbright Fellowship. The fellowship not only made it possible to introduce two groups of graduate architectural students to the landscape architecture discipline. I developed a graduate landscape architectural curriculum for both universities I taught at during my stay. There will be opportunities for long-term involvement as these programs become a reality. The Fulbright also made it possible for me to gain privileged access to several important built works of the Mexican architect Luis Barrag_n. Access permission came through the assistance of the United States Embassy and U.S. Information Services field office in Mexico City.
During my time in Mexico I was able to meet directors of two important Mexican foundations with interests in maintaining the works of architect Barrag_n. Through these contacts I intend to continue my research on the gardens designed by Barrag_n with the intent of preparing design guidelines for the restoration of two important works of his. I hope to accomplish these goals through personal initiatives as well as through support by one or more targeted foundations. I have recently submitted a proposal for a Guggenheim Fellowship and am in the process of completing a proposal for submission to the Mexico-USA Cultural Foundation to support the continuation of research of architect Barrag_n. It is my intent to publish one or more articles as well as a book on the gardens of Luis Barrag_n as a capstone of planned field work and archival investigations.
Since returning to Baton Rouge and teaching at Louisiana State University I have had two public lectures summarizing my research on Luis Barrag_n begun during my Fulbright stay in Mexico last year. I have also produced a show of my photography displayed in the LSU Foster Gallery. The show consisted of one hundred and fifty color images selected from over two thousand slide photographs taken during my stay. A paper I submitted to the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture has been accepted for the annual meeting of that organization for this September in Boston, MA at the same time as the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Color slides of a greater part of my two thousand photographs are being digitized and will be donated to the LSU College of Design Visual Resources Library with plans to make many available via an LSU, College of Design web page.
(Dr. Sharky -- LAsharky@aol.com)