A Visit to Mexico City: Color and Design
On a recent trip to Mexico City, I was struck by the vibrant colors of the buildings, fabrics, pottery, and murals throughout the city. I visited Freda Kahlo’s Blue House, where I saw how the artist wove color and nature into the rooms and gardens of her home with the same appreciation of color and natural life that illuminates her paintings. In the impressive Mexico City Opera House, I was surprised to see hints of Radio City in the Art Deco architectural details, integrated with Aztec motifs and the rich colors of Diego Rivera’s murals. The handmade dolls sold by a local woman on a nearby street corner, the embroidered clothing in market stalls, and the array sauces and ingredients of the Mexican cuisine all contributed to my family’s lively experience of this unique city.
This use of color reflects Mexico City’s history. When the Spanish discovered the Aztec civilization, they were amazed by how the flat roofs of houses were decorated with garlands of flowers. They reported that the Aztecs wore floral adornments since due to the mild climate, there was little need for much clothing. The emperor Montezuma’s headdress, now in the Museum of Anthropology, attracts special notice as it is a huge crown of intensely green feathers with colored accents. The Aztecs traveled great distances to exchange their valuable obsidian with the Mayans, who provided their green quetzal feathers for adornment.
Traveling to the Toltec pyramids, second in size only to the pyramids of Egypt, I was intrigued by the colorful palette of the houses on the hills. Steen Eiler Rasmussen, who taught at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, wrote: “In architecture color is used to emphasize the character of a building, to accentuate its form and material, and to elucidate its divisions.” It is interesting to see color now appearing on Manhattan buildings, where neutral tones have long been the style.