El Paraíso, Unidad Independencia, Mexico City, 2018–2022, 8:28 Min.



Unidad Independencia was planned as an independent city outside the city under the guiding idea of coexistence and habitability. It was the realization of the vision of progress, welfare and housing for more than 10,000 working-class residents with something - much more - than a roof over their heads.

The inauguration took place on September 20, 1960 – as part of the 150th anniversary of Mexico's independence – therefore the name of this architectural ensemble. This period was characterised by the opening of Mexico to the world and the definition of the image of a modern, post-revolutionary nation with a strong commitment to its own history.

The social housing project was developed by the Mexican state (IMSS) by merging Le Corbusier's vision of the radiant city with pre-Columbian elements to reflect what was considered part of the national identity. The corridors have names that refer to Mexican culture, including the Nahuatl language such as Mayahuel, Izcalli, or Quetzalcóatl. The civic square, the heart of the unit, hosts sculptures that reflect the nationalism promoted by the government power in those years, and is surrounded by an aqueduct that once used to feed the Quetzalcóatl fountain. 2/3 of the total area is green space. The public space is as important as the private one and that is why, besides the residential buildings, there is a swimming pool, a theater, schools, doctors, local grocery stores and numerous playgrounds...

Since then, times and many things have changed – in the country and in Unidad Independencia. The 21st century and the individualization it promotes confront the site with all kinds of re-organization challenges. The estate became independent of the state and former landlord, and the individual housing units finally ended up on the free market. Although it was originally a complex independent to the capital city, accelerated urbanization landed the unit in the middle of an area where major urban highways converge.

Literally embraced by the megacity, it is time for a new kind of independence, beyond national representative gestures towards a true local urban history. The fundamental idea will never change: How to make a good living possible for the many, and how to live independently - in community? El Paraíso - the urban dream lives on.

Wolfgang Lehrner, 2022