Two Lines Drawn in the Ground
'Teopanzolco Cultural Center: Isaac Broid + Productora', Arquine, Mexico City, 2019
Architects call a horizontal line drawn on elevations and sections a “ground line.” This is a common term used in the world of architectural education and practice. However, the horizontal line is not the ground itself but a single outline of the earth; in other words, it is actually just a boundary where the ground meets the sky. Nevertheless, long ago we had conventionally decided to call this the “ground line” and the roof outline the “skyline.” So, we can say that buildings have divided one horizontal line into two lines—the ground line and the skyline. These two lines have always been separated by large scale buildings that came about in the last century, and the two lines continue to grow further apart. However, it is mostly the skyline that is transformed by buildings. Civil engineering is changing the ground line through constructions, but the relationship between the building and the ground remains always very simple. Buildings derive their stability by adhering to the ground, and somehow, they stay balanced by making a small hook on the surface of this round planet. We have several methods such as making the foundation deeper or heavier depending on soil mechanics (especially in earthquake zones such as Mexico and Japan), but in any case, the connection between buildings and the ground is basically simple and remained much the same over time. By contrast, since the advent of a capitalist society buildings have been eager to occupy the sky and especially in recent decades the skylines have been redrawn in many cities around the world. Our skyline is pushed ever further, far above the ground line.
We still build all kinds of buildings on the ground, but the relationship of humankind and the ground has become rarified, and it has become more difficult in our daily life to feel the presence of the Earth. One reason could be the arrival of the aforesaid sky-scrapers, but even in small houses we can lose this former sense of clinging to the ground. I think a more fundamental reason is that we have treated the ground line and the skyline as external aspects of construction, since buildings divide one horizontal line into two lines: the ground and the sky. Without realizing it, we have seen those two lines just as separate building tools, and we have forgotten that they were originally one single horizontal line in the earth.
This was what I was reflecting upon as I sat on the passenger seat of Victor’s car, driving back to Mexico City after visiting Teopanzolco Cultural Center. More than anything, I was amazed by the sense of this building’s existence, almost as if it was a renovation of the earth’s surface. I saw both the ground line and skyline of the building behaving as a part of the Earth. It did not seem so important for me to check the contents of this project—context, planning, diagram of program, materials, details, and so on—which is my usual concern when I’m visiting a building. Of course, the project was well resolved as a response to the archeological site. But rather than solving issues—which is far too often architecture’s task nowadays— this is more a project pointed at raising questions. A project aimed at returning to the fundamentals. This building brings us back and shows the moment where the single outline of this earth splits into two separate lines.