A Timeless Way of Building

El Sitio: A Timeless Way of Building
El Sitio
An Introduction to Christopher Alexander (1936-2022)

El Sitio: A Timeless Way of Building

The title of this first chapter, “A Timeless Way of Building,” is based on the book of the same name by renowned architect Christopher Alexander, who was invited by the government of Mexicali, Baja California in 1975–76 to work with colleagues and the community to develop an experimental social housing complex on the outskirts of the city, now the Unicom Health Center, under the auspices of the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California (UABC). The builders’ yard of the project, known as El Sitio, is still in use and was the first home for Mexicali-based artist Pastizal Zamudio. Interested in returning to their former home after two decades and exploring Alexander’s theories in depth, the artist was commissioned to develop the project Before the Last Rubble, in the Face of Dawn (2038), a permanent artwork consisting of more than one hundred individual pieces of handmade clay tile made from local soil, that, together with native plants form a restorative garden installed in the central courtyard of El Sitio.

In addition to the presentation of Zamudio’s work, this chapter included El Sitio: A Timeless Way of Building, a three-day event in May 2023 in which architects, philosophers, and urbanists from the region and beyond engaged in Conversations—in light of Alexander’s theories—about housing production, communal living, architectural philosophy, and urgent urbanism in border cities. The Conversations took place in a temporary pavilion commissioned to local architecture firms Veintedoce and Localista. This event was developed in collaboration with seven faculties of UABC, including the engagement of students in architecture, art, design, translation, and health. Participants in the conversations were: Rudy Argote (Tijuana); Gina Cebey (based in Mexicali); Estudio Teddy Cruz + Fonna Forman (San Diego-Tijuana); CRO Studio: Adriana Cuellar and Marcel Sánchez (San Diego-Tijuana); Alejandro D’Acosta (Ensenada); Howard Davis (Oregon); AJ Kim (based in Long Beach); Michael Mehaffy (Oregon); Felipe Orensanz (based in Mexico City); Alejandro Peimbert (Mexicali); and Lorenia Urbalejo (based in Mexicali).

In addition to participating in the Conversations, the group spent three days exploring the city’s history and current challenges with housing, immigration, and the environment through curated visits designed by the director of UABC’s Faculty of Architecture Alejandro Peimbert and architect Carolina Díaz.

A second stage of this chapter will be developed during 2023–24 in San Diego County and Tijuana.