As Trump aims to build a wall, Los Angeles architecture school SCI-Arc builds bridges to Mexico

young architecture student pulls up a rendering of a triangular city block on a projector in an unassuming office space at the edge of Mexico City’s Colonia Juárez district.

“The best corner is occupied by a McDonald’s,” he says, gesturing at the schematic on the screen. “I would start by demolishing the McDonald’s.”

The statement is greeted with a laugh by the two dozen architecture students from Mexico and the United States who are part of a bi-national initiative launched last year by the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles. They’re in Colonia Juárez on this sunny Friday in early February to present ideas for how the district’s fallow structures and underused lots might be transformed into units of affordable housing.

For students who hail from the U.S. — especially Southern California — the sprawling urban context of Mexico City and its varied neighborhoods offers a familiar model to study.

Like Los Angeles, Mexico City “has a lot of infill,” says architect Francisco Pardo, who is on the faculty at SCI-Arc as well as Mexico’s Universidad Iberoamericana, and coordinates the SCI-Arc Mexico initiative. “It’s a lot of different little cities that form one big city.”

Even so, the cities are at different development stages.

“With 21 million people, [Mexico City] is much larger than Los Angeles,” says architect and SCI-Arc Vice Director John Enright. “But it has similar problems having to do with pollution, traffic, housing. At an urban level, it is the much more dense kind of city that maybe Los Angeles is starting to approach. If Mexico City is a middle aged city and L.A. is an adolescent city, there might be things that we learn.”

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