It’s a place built for a singular moment in time, for elite international competition. Inaugurated on September 13, 1968 by Mexican president Gustavo Diaz Ordaz the Alberca Olimpica Francisco Marquez and Gimnasio Olimpico Juan de la Barrera were designed by architects Manuel Rossen Morrison, Antonio Recamier Montes and Edmundo Bringas to house the swimming, water polo, diving, modern pentathlon, gymnastics and volley ball events. Seen from a distance on the Division del Norte thoroughfare the almost 50 year old façade reveals its age in a straightforward and honest tone. It cannot pretend to be anything more than the sum of the historical context clues of its architecture. However, once inside and walking amongst the working actors of this village of sport, the eye is instantly drawn to a different kind of architecture, to abstract glimpses of a yet to be defined Mexican sporting future. Soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis, joggers, women athletes, child athletes, grown men in jerseys with the last names of millionaire soccer child stars on their backs, old people, vendors, loiterers and speculating spectators.
The 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City were the first to be held in Latin America. For many cities hosting the Olympics is an arrival of sorts, an annunciation of having crossed the Rubicon that divides the haves and have nots of 20th century capitalistic kitsch. A great deal has changed in Mexico since the late 60’s when it seemed, it appeared, to be so close to the first world that its citizens could almost caress it.
Every four years prior to the start of the games there’s no shortage of ambitious bickering between believers and nonbelievers. The spectating spectators ruminate on the finer virtues of sport as a tool for social edification. The nonbelievers remind us of the economic and social costs brought about by the intrusions of the edifices that house the barbaric vulgarity of senseless corporate sponsored competition.
Permanent structures for impermanent events always seem to decay in a shame inducing manner. It has become fashionable to be reminded of that every four years right before the torch is lit. Hosting the Olympics leaves cities wrought with indignation “how could we have allowed this?” But, as soon as the last sport spectating spectator tourist has gone from one Olympic town, the next sport faring megalopolis waits for them with open arms at the way station of quadrennial promise, of cosmopolitan arrival, hoping to feel that expendable caress.
In the evening when all is alive and salient you get the sense that some higher order or thought was put into this, almost as if the architects were thinking not of arriviste logic, but rather were transfixed by the possibilities of the future. In this light the 48 year old structure looks less like a relic and more like a place built solely for the eternal citizens of Mexico City and not for a single use moment. A few washed out symbols remain, codes meant to appease the desires of the corporate marauders that beckon their wits and credentials with passport stamps from stolid boutique countries of museums and monarchies. At night everything in the City is alive, still occupied, the well-worn patina of the City’s edges gleams brighter than the despairing light of early morning, night time in Mexico is hopeful.
In a land that doesn’t always see it necessarily so to wipe clean the slate of the old in order to begin anew, in a place not so used to throwing things away, ruins survive not out of overt preservation but because of something more convoluted and not easy to explain to those who see everything as beginning and as ending. The patrons of this theatre lean hard on the façades of past enlightenment, softening the ruins so that they become mere afterthoughts to the performers.