Less than an hour north of Mexico City, the city of Teotihuacán has become synonymous with pre-Colombian Mesoamerican spiritual and cosmologically oriented architecture. Built between the 1st and 7th centuries AD, the city was at its peak around 450 AD. With a population of over 125,000, Teotihuacán was the largest city in the continent and the sixth largest in the world. Characterized by the vast scale of its monuments, it comprised a mix of civic and spiritual centers, work areas and residential sectors. These latter included large upper class compounds and multi-story dwellings to support the city’s growing population. At the heart of the city lies Teotihuacán’s most famous architectural structure, the Pyramid of the Sun - the third largest pyramid in the world.
Teotihuacan’s main north-south artery, the “Avenue of the Dead,” is lined with the city’s largest structures and sacred monuments: the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, and the Great Compound with the Temple of Quetzalcóatl. Alongside the Avenue of the Dead are many smaller structures: the city’s characteristic talud-tablero platforms, with inward sloping walls topped with a flat slab that served as a basis for temples, made mostly of wood.
The geographical layout of Teotihuacán is a prime example of Mesoamerican urban planning, harking back to this people’s view of the universe and cosmic harmony. The plan integrates various elements from its natural surroundings. The city is oriented towards the tallest mountain in the area, and the San Juan River was rerouted to cross the Avenue of the Dead. In addition to aligning with the site’s physical characteristics, Teotihuacán’s plan also responds to its cosmological circumstances.
The urban grid aligns precisely 15.5 degrees north-east, the point at which the sun rises on August 12 each year, the first day of the new era according to this civilization’s belief system. The alignment to the sun could have been used as a marker of time - a natural calendar indicating the proper time to plant crops, and perform rituals. The siting of the Pyramid of the Sun was calculated on the position of the sun at its zenith, its spatial organization determined according to astronomical logic. The Avenue of the Dead lies perpendicular to the temple’s main axis. The Pyramid of the Moon, the Great Compound, or Citadel, and the Temple of Quetzalcóatl each help outline the borders of the 40 meter wide, 2 km long Avenue.
Today, Teotihuacán and its civic monuments are synonymous with the history of Mexican architecture, pre-Hispanic culture and spiritual mysticism since the urban complex was already abandoned when the Aztecs settled in what is today Mexico City. As a counterpoint to this now widely popular archeological tourist site - and just under 26 km from Teotihuacan - the new Mexico City International Airport, designed by Fernando Romero EnterprisE and Foster + Partners, will be a symbol of the future, a new model for transportation, and Mexico’s prosperity. The new airport aims to revolutionize airport design and the travel experience. The largest infrastructure development in Latin America, it will not only operate for the duration of the 21st Century, but also serve as an icon for Mexico. Designed to be the world’s most sustainable airport, it has a single terminal, thereby minimizing costs and maximizing experience. Unlike a cluster of buildings, the single terminal airport model eliminates airport tunnels and complicated exterior railway and interior transport networks, and minimizes walking distances. As a result, the building is one continuous, streamlined membrane allowing visitors to move quickly and efficiently throughout the terminal. The structure, in locally sourced, low-environmental impact lightweight materials, is scheduled for completion in 4 years. Developed by a combination of global design talent and local innovation, the locally manufactured prefabricated system will allow for soaring heights and spans three times that of a typical airport.
As a new airport model, the design prioritizes efficiency and operational flexibility, meaning it will be able to accommodate new demands and future changes in air travel. Above all, however, it aims to provide an uplifting and memorable experience for global travelers. Over time, it will not only attract more visitors and users but also serve as a catalyst for local and national development and regeneration, driving the local economy and landscape. While an overarching model of the future, the airport is at the same time grounded in its historical and geographical site, much like the nearby pyramids of Teotihuacán. Overlaying the new airport’s site plan and the plan of the spiritual center of Teotihuacán - aligning the center of the airport’s single terminal with the Pyramid of the Sun - reveals several connections. The width of the pinched center of the new terminal corresponds closely to the measurements of the solar temple while the branched gates to the west line up with the Avenue of the Dead. In addition, the length between the terminal’s farthest points is the same as the distance from the peak of the Pyramid of the Moon to the Avenue of the Dead complex. And the path of the San Juan River, as it crosses the Avenue of the Dead in Teotihuacán, is in line with the railway line into the airport terminal.
The “Airport of the Future” is designed taking inspiration from the past. The shape, symbolism, and sheer monumentality of the building are all drawn from Mexican art and architecture. Despite the wildly different programmatic requirements of the airport and Teotihuacán, their almost identical orientations and geometries stem from a similar consideration of context. Perhaps it is exactly these unique cosmological characteristics of the site that inherently demand - and give rise to - the contextually driven design response - whether 2000 years ago, or today with this new complex built for the future.
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