UNAM’s Sculptural Space
The Sculptural Space (Espacio Escultórico) is a land space sculpture near the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, UNAM, within the university town (known as “Ciudad Universitaria”); built between 1952-1954, to replace its old historical buildings at downtown Mexico City; to celebrate the great expansion of public education in Mexico in the country’s most important university. The Ciudad Universitaria complex represents a micro cosmos and was recognized on its architecture spaces as a cultural heritage site by UNESCO in 2007.
To better appreciate the UNAM Sculptural Space we will start our visit in the University Cultural Center, CCU, and walk down the sculptors’ promenade.
University Cultural Center
The CCU at the south of the university campus where the main library, schools and faculties are located, as well as the research centers in sciences and humanities and the main offices of the rector of the UNAM. The CCU is an architectural complex built in the 80s after the original campus, and it welcomes us with the big “Prometheus” sculpture in front of the University Museum of Contemporary Art MUAC.
The complex includes modern constructions like the Netzahualcoyotl concert hall, the Juan Ruiz de Alarcón Theater, the Sor Juana Inés de La Cruz Theater, the Dance School, the National Newspapers Archives and the Center for Bibliographic Research. Here you’ll get a taste of the university life as well as parts of the story surrounding this spaces which now make up a beautiful complex in harmony with its surroundings.
In the main square of the University Cultural Center we find the entrance to the University Museum of Contemporary Art MUAC. This is where we’ll start our journey towards the Sculpture Space, by simply follow the signs that will lead us through this marvelous stroll where you can gaze the individual works of the six sculptors who collectively created the Sculptural Space.
The first one we’ll find is “Tlaloc” by Sebastián, followed by “Corona del Pedregal” by Mathias Goeritz and then we’ll reach a small square where we will find “Ocho Conejo” by Federico Silva.
This monumental sculpture is almost a gateway to the Sculptural Space. But wait a second, before you go on, look to the side of this sculpture: you’ll find a path leading to the great sculptures “Coatl” by Helen Escobedo, “Colotl” and “La Llave de Kepler” by Sebastián, and “Ave dos” by Hersúa among the big petrified lava rocks formed after the eruption of the Xitle volcano in the period BC 245-315.
After walking through this path surrounded by lava and vegetation, we go back and continue towards the Sculptural Space.
Created in 1979 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the University’s autonomy, the UNAM’s Sculptural Space is one of the most important Land Art sites around the globe. It was planned as a space to gaze, read, think, meditate, invent, create, sing or enjoy, where nature and sculptures are perfectly integrated. It was the felicitous concurrence of six artists who managed to combine their individual talents and efforts: Helen Escobedo, Manuel Felguérez, Mathias Goeritz, Hersúa, Sebastián and Federico Silva, with the help of Roberto Acuña.
It is a circular structure with an outer diameter of 126 meters and an inner diameter of 98 meters, which comprises 64, 4 meters high concrete modules or pyramids with a rectangular base measuring 9 meters. The separation between them is 2.72 meters in the outer edge and 2 meters in the inner edge.
It is a place within Mexico City where you can turn around 360 degrees and gaze upon the lava black volcanic rock landscape as it was two thousand years ago, with nothing getting in the way. The painter Diego Rivera referred to it as an “Architecturized crater” where you can see the Ajusco to the South East, the Popocatépetl and Ixltlasihuatl volcanoes to the South West, the UNAM campus to the South, and the great Mexico City far North.
The Sculpture Space built on the lava mantle left by the eruption of the Xitle volcano, which left a black lava mantle at the center. It is what remains from the great eruption of the Xitle volcano that once covered a big part of what is now the campus and where, before the eruption, the ceremonial center of Copilco and the important city of Cuicuilco, of the Mesoamerican cultures, were located.
The sculptors’ idea was to offer the visitors a structure featuring pre-Hispanic elements while keeping this space integrated with the surrounding ecosystem which would bring peace and calm. In this space both the starting and ending point are the same. During your visit you’ll notice that it isn’t necessary to get started anywhere in particular. You are the one who will find where it begins and ends.
Controversy on the Sculptural Space’s boundarie
The UNAM recently built a white 8 story building, the H building, which breaks the panoramic 360 degrees’ view that was originally there. Academics, intellectuals, artists, celebrities and students are promoting a project to cut the building to 4 stories to keep the project’s original conception of a clear view from this harmonic site.
The University’s Campus Sustainability Committee is assessing these proposals that include among them the complete demolition of the H building, because it distorts the emblematic beauty of this place and the privileged view that it used to offer its visitors.
There is a petition on the site Change.org, signed by many academics, artists, writers, and other interested people including architects Teodoro González de León, Alberto Kalach and Tatiana Bilbao; Christian Rattemeyer, curator of the MoMA; artists such as Gabriel Orozco, Carlos Amorales, Francis Alÿs, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Graciela Iturbide and the Japanese Yoko Ono, researchers Ana María Cetto and Luz Emilia Aguilar Zinzer, the filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu and recently the contemporary art world known British sculptor Anish Kapoor intended to give back a panoramic view to this place, in accordance with its purpose when it was originally built: being a collective singular art space in the middle of a big city in which no buildings would be allowed within the determined ecological reserve.
The Sculptural Space within the University Complex is open from Mondays through Fridays, 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Admission is free. Do not miss the chance to visit this magical place which is a reference of the contemporary Mexican.
Another way to get to the Sculptural Space directly from the University Complex is to following Insurgentes Sur avenue and taking the detour to Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva. The Sculpture Space is located a couple meters to the left, past the street leading to the Universum Museum.