Erecting a monument to casualties of crime is never straightforward, and can be controversial. Mexico City's Memorial to Victims of Violence in Mexico, a tribute to the many lives lost in the country's drug wars, incited its share of debate concerning its location next to a military base and ambiguity over exactly who and how many it would be honoring. Local firm Gaeta Springall Arquitectos responded to these issues by creating “not a monument, but a living experience,” says partner Luby Springall.
“Light is very important here because light is the opposite of dark,” says Springall. “Light is hope, light is life. It is the most positive thing.” The architects partnered with lighting designer Gustavo Avilés of Lighteam during the competition phase, and then continued to collaborate closely with him during what was, at times, an unusual construction process.
Full-scale mock-ups of the design were brought to the site early on to see how light could work as an architectural element and give the project, which is accessible to the public 24 hours a day, meaning for visitors from the outset. But the main feature of the memorial—70 towering steel walls measuring 8 feet by 39 feet, positioned both vertically and horizontally amid a sometimes dense area of trees—had already been put in place before the final luminaires were chosen. Several lighting manufacturers, all Mexican, were subsequently brought to the site to test their fixtures on the actual installation. “It was a very democratic process, if not an easy one,” recalls Avilés. “But it was good, because it was a real exercise.”
Fighting glare was the biggest challenge, according to Avilés, who worked with the selected manufacturers on adjusting their products to most effectively eliminate it by hiding lamps, adding accessories, and painting the insides of fixtures black. “Glare would destroy the peaceful nature of the project,” he says. “We wanted soft shadows.”
The designers chose LEDs for all lighting components. Recessed linear fixtures were placed in the ground to suggest a promenade, guiding visitors and serving as a safety measure for spatial orientation. At the base of each of the weathering steel walls, narrow LED strips were recessed in the ground so that subtle silhouettes were created while the light source was concealed. Tubes of cool 6,000-Kelvin LEDs were used underwater in reflecting pools to keep the water looking “fresh,” says Avilés.
Overhead, two kinds of fixtures on poles were employed. Downlights illuminate walkways, while uplights project onto trees. The lighting designers wanted to create a balance of color temperatures in the trees, using cooler lights to make them appear greener at the extremes of the memorial, and warmer ones for a more intimate feel at the center.
The memorial does not include names, because, as Springall explains, “We didn't know who the victims were.” Instead, approximately 40 different quotes related to violence, memory, love, absence, and pain—from figures such as Cicero, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes—are carved out of the panels and illuminated by LED strips housed within light boxes in the steel walls.
Opened last year, it invites a steady stream of visitors to add names and express their own experiences by writing or drawing on the walls.
“It is very beautiful during the day to see people interface with the memorial,” says Avilés. Illuminated, in the evening, the sense of absence it creates becomes stronger.
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Paseo del R'o 66, col. Chimalistac
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit: Project Design: Julio Gaeta and Luby Springall
Design Team: Jesica Amescua, Brenda Ceja, Liliana Ram'rez, Guillermo Ram'rez, Edgar Mart'nez, Christian Ortega, Carlos Verón, Aldo Urban, Daniela Dávila, Miguel Márquez, José Luis Mart'nez, Jorge Torres, Paolo González, Juan Verón.
Advisers: Ricardo López, Hugo Sánchez , Jorge Cadena, Luis Enrique López Cardiel
161,000 square feet
Approximately $2.5 million
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