LA ROMA BRICK LANE
LA ROMA BRICK LANE
By Ana Laura Herrera
IN TRO DUC TION
You may read the words ‘La Roma’ and think about Italy, and the words ‘Brick Lane’ and think about... The Wizard of Oz, perhaps? Or you might not think at all. In which case, you are a useless waste of oxygen. If you’re not, read on. In this particular case, we are talking about completely different things than the immediate word association would imply. ‘La Roma’ is a trendy and artistic area from Mexico City, which is surprisingly similar to ‘Brick Lane’, a hipster street in London. This pocket size book intends to give you an easy to digest insight on the historical differences and the current similarities between them. So prepare to digest. Have a glass of water or something. We’ll start by the beginning, and finish with the not-yet end, which I like to call: the present. *I must warn you from the start: you are going to see a reasonably large amount of hipsters throughout the pages of this book. I’m sorry.
13 19 CEN TU RY th
th A long time ago, in two countries far, far away . . . Completely different life scenarios were happening:
Mexico, in the 13th Century, was ruled by the Tolteca empire. Everything changed in the 14th Century. That’s when pyramids started popping up, people started walking around in loin clothes and eagles started eating snakes on top of cacti. Some hardcore stuff.
The name Mexico might be hard to pronounce, you’d think. Now try this one: Tenochtitlan. (Te –as TEnis– No – as... NO – Ch – as SHell – Ti – as TImber – Tlan – as in FLan but with a T).
It comes from the Nahuatl language and it means “At the Place Near Rock-cactus-Fruit”.
By 1521, fellow Spanish people conquered Tenochtitlan, and everything changed.
On the other hand, almost 9,000km away, Mr. Walter Brunus opened the new Hospital of St Mary a.k.a. Spitalfields, in rainy and gray London, somewhere around the 13th Century.
That area, by the 14th century, evolved - gaining the unique Brick Lane, which took its name from a brick manufacturing above Bethnal Green Road (how original).
17th century brought the key changes for the British area, starting with the famous Brick Lane Market. It was known for selling fruits and vegetables (before the current tradition of selling ‘whatever random useless tourist trap crap that will look nice but fall apart in a week’).
The immigrants are the essence of the reason Brick Lane is what it is today. Huguenot silk weavers from France and Belgium escaped and built houses for the textile industry (making it the beginning of the clothing industry that revolves around the area).
As time flies, 19th Century arrived with more changes:
Mexico City changed drastically due to the new European influence, keeping only the basic grids they had, which made the new neighbourhoods (called ‘Colonias’) easier to name.
The Colonia Roma,is located near Paseo de la Reforma (main historic road). Which is near the heart of the City, yet fashionably far enough from it.
In 1810, a huge event for the Mexicans happened: the Independence from the Spanish finally came, getting the liberty and rights they originally deserved. Iturbide’s Market, Historic Center of Mexico City.
“But what about Brick Lane in the 19th Century?” - You might be asking.
Well, over in London things continued their course, as the immigrants continued arriving to Brick Lane, bringing more Huguenots (members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France) with the silk importation –yes, fashion all over the East London.
Other immigrants that are key elements to that area, are the Jewish families, bringing one of the most successful business of the street with them: the Beigel Bakery.
(Be sure to try the salted beef or the salmon beigel if visiting the area, if they weren’t as good as they are they wouldn’t have survived since 1855).
Truman Brewery, Brick Lane.
20 CEN TU RY
As we can see in the picture at the right, Brick Lane kept growing and the market got to be an icon of the city, as every Sunday you will see it full with visitors, tourists, and merchants that are up to sell you almost anything that you are looking for. That’s right. Anything.
On the other side of the street, were the hipsterish part may end, we can see a clear division that brings many anglo- indian cuisine places, with names such as “Aladin”, that are the evidence that the immigrants (or their descendants) are still there, bringing their best recipes to share with the public.
The 20th Century also brought another Beigel Bakery and the opening of several known night clubs, which started calling the attention of the people as they were all full with a special vibe (such as the aptly named ‘Vibe Bar’).
There is a strong European art deco influence in the architecture of La Roma.
La Roma on the 20th Century suffered important changes that made it drastically change:
At the beginning, when the ‘Colonias’ were just made, only the aristocratic people lived in the area, as it was perfectly located next to the other zones of the city.
In 1928, President Álvaro Obregón divided Mexico City into Boroughs, being Cuauhtémoc the borough were La Roma is located (the main street of La Roma was modestly named Álvaro Obregón after the president).
In 1950 migrants from other parts of the country came to the borough, mixing the local population of the zone.
Everything was peace and tree hugging, until the borough was devastated by the 1985 earthquake, where: 258 buildings crumbled, 143 collapsed. The zone started to decline due to the lack of maintenance.
21 CEN TU RY
The 21st Century brought Brick Lane some achievements that helped improve its image: In 2006 it was one of the three streets in the UK short-listed by the Academy of Urbanism for the ‘great street’ award. In 2010 the Brick Lane farmers market opened. And in 2012, it was proudly named the Curry Capital. All of these achievements, plus the return of the hipster subculture, put Brick Lane back on the map as one of the hippest neighbourhoods to live in the world. No surprise as it is full with vintage stores, second hand clothes, coffee shops, art galleries and local bars, that perfectly fit in the lifestyle of the bohemian artist, including the market that brings a piece of cuisine from all over the world, making the visitors part of the scene. On the right we can see Brick Lane in different times of the year: some times it can be as dead as a morgue and some others it looks like they are giving away free stuff. (They never do that btw).
La Roma, with its somehow flamboyant architecture (as showed on the left) also had almost identical events: In 2003, due to the earthquake impact, the city government expropriated 64 properties thought to be in danger of sudden collapse – reason why it became a more accessible area to live in. In 2011, almost as Brick Lane, the area was designated as a ‘Barrio Mágico’ (magic neighbourhood), which gave it an extra ‘something’ which attracted more people. The Colonia Roma also has a weekend market, that goes all over Álvaro Obregón street, selling similar junk (or treasures) than they do at Brick Lane: vintage clothing, old cameras, local food, jewellery and more. La Roma wouldn’t be a proper hipster area if it didn’t have its own art galleries, local restaurants and coffee shops, and trendy nightclubs such as Rhodesia and M.N. Roy.
The street art of Brick Lane (left side; lower right side) has a colourful cartoonish style (in this case, made by Malarky), which reflects the attitude of the area with its playfulness and mixture of styles, even with internet influences.
On the other hand, the graffiti in Mexico is generally considered a vandalism act, as the street art culture has not been positively taken in Mexico as it has in London. The style generally shows its repression and problems with the government of the city. In this case (top right page) they gave a small area in a park for local artists to expose their work. Brick Lane
In the next pages, we can see how the graphic style of La Roma (text in spanish) is so similar to the one on Brick Lane (text in english), as they both share typographic, colour and vector characteristics, making them merge into one big design category.
They both have sans serif, uppercase, light and condensed type faces (such as Bebas, Helvetica Neue Light) which complements the â€˜hand madeâ€™ graphic style that they are trying to recreate (hipster enough to be made with a computer, of course).
CONCLUSION You’ve made it this far into my little book. Which probably means you have more time on your hands than you should. Go get a job.
But first, let’s marvel about how crazy the world is, so that two extremely different countries can merge into one graphic design identity thanks to the millions of graphic designers that spend half (or more) of their lives behind a computer checking what’s going to be the next best thing to come.
Watch out. (Have a bagel).
A brief and graphic explanation of the current similarities and historical differences between La Roma, Mexico and Brick Lane, London.