The Espacio Escultórico in the Pedregal de San Ángel, in Mexico City, is the dedicatee of the 2023-2024 International Carlo Scarpa Prize for Gardens, the thirty-third in the series. The Prize, conceived and administered by the Fondazione Benetton Studi Ricerche is designed to highlight and explore a place featuring exceptional natural, historical and creative values. This year it returns to the immense world of Latin America for the first time since the very first time it was awarded: in 1990, to Roberto Burle Marx’s Sítio Santo Antônio da Bica in Brazil.
The Espacio Escultórico is essentially a monumental collective work of art that emerges from the same lava surface as that which served, from the late 1940s, as a platform for new residential districts and, above all, for the construction of an entire university city for the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
A toothed ring composed of sixty-four concrete prisms set in a circular base, 120 metres across, surrounds an example of ‘intact’ lava, stressing the expressive force of this landscape but also its ever-changing and fragile condition.
The Espacio Escultórico was enthusiastically commissioned by the University and inaugurated in 1979, an exemplary expression of the value and significance of the volcanic-eruption-forged landscape of Pedregal de San Ángel, which acts as a sounding-board for the dialogue between the University City, its institutions and communities on the one hand and the Mexican cultural sphere and society in general on the other about the environmental and ecological values it represents and its evocative potency, but also about the conflicts that have accompanied the urban expansion of the megalopolis that surrounds it and in time has altered its nature and its meaning.
The outcome of an eruption of the monogenetic volcano Xitle, which in geological terms happened relatively recently – just fifteen hundred or perhaps two thousand years ago – the Pedregal (which we might translate into English as ‘stony ground’) is a sprawl of lava rock covered with vegetation and with varied morphological features that has evolved over time and is now a dynamic landscape that retains a dense tissue of reminders of its pre-Hispanic history, despite the considerable curtailing of its perimeter and its original area.
The Espacio Escultórico is an important chapter in this evolving landscape and despite (or perhaps because of) the sculptural fixedness of its appearance, it constitutes a meeting-point between past and future, a bridge linking the striking story of the construction of the University City and the evolution of an ecological conscience in its campus: a ‘landscape of resistance’ instead of a pacific and reassuring scenario of an in some ways privileged community.
Now, looking back over the decades, a striking feature is the modus operandi and the construction process chosen for the Espacio Escultórico. It involved commissioning six artists from the Escuela Nacional de Artes Plásticas – Helen Escobedo, Manuel Felguérez, Mathias Goeritz, Hersúa, Sebastián and Federico Silva – to create a collective work, specifically ensuring that it should not reflect the character of a single artist’s work, that it should focus entirely on interaction with the present landscape and its historical heritage, and that the scope of its significance should be as wide as possible, not anthropocentric but open to the ecological features that this group of artists would shortly help to emerge in the Pedregal. Once the Espacio Escultórico was completed, the next stage concentrated on the defence of what remained of the Pedregal, on protesting against its gradual destruction and on raising awareness of its importance in the scientific and student communities. In 1983, this culminated in the official creation of the Reserva Ecológica del Pedregal de San Ángel (REPSA) designated by the UNAM.