Paperwork Streets, Plazas, Stairs by J. Sinclair Black, FAIA
Built into a small bowl between the mountains, the topography of the small town of Taxco, Mexico is radical, and the streets are not only narrow, but also extremely steep. Only one street is paved with asphalt; it follows the flattest grade near the bottom of the bowl and serves as the main road into and out of town. All the other streets are paved with cobblestones and range in width from 10 to 15 feet, with an occasional bump-out to negotiate turns and parking. Generally, the streets are two-way, but only the width of one lane. Some of the town’s strongest visual imagery lies with the hundreds of taxis — all white Volkswagen Beetles — that ply the streets. The resulting pedestrian/taxi dance in the narrow streets can only be described as constant, chaotic, and unbelievable. It is dynamism at its best — a true ballet of the bugs. The intersections are so tight that U-turns are nonexistent, and taxis have perfected the art of the five-point turn. When two vehicles meet in these narrow one-lane canyons, one must stop and hug the wall while the other slides by. The maneuver usually takes about ten seconds, while dozens of unflinching pedestrians slip by in the 12- to 18-inch gaps left for them.
and ordered plazas, Taxco’s geography demands a different response. And while the streets still operate as the town’s primary communal space, the sheer compactness of these spaces leads to an urban exchange as in no other place. Throughout Mexico, one can witness cultural mastery at creating beautiful spaces, but Taxco just may be the most beautiful historic town I’ve found yet. J. Sinclair Black, FAIA, is principal of Black + Vernooy Architecture and Urban Design in Austin.
is located on a small shelf where the cathedral sits and dominates the city’s skyline — and its image. This square is one of the smallest zócalos in all of Mexico, and is defined by the juxtaposition between the towering facade of the Santa Prisca Cathedral and the surrounding two- and three-story buildings. Traffic streams around the central park, and the enveloping hillsides, covered with traditional homes, loom over the all-uphill views from the plaza. Further beyond, the long-distance views extend to the mountaintops that ring the city. As one moves from the plaza into the town’s periphery, the streets rapidly become steep and difficult for pedestrians, but the stairs are even steeper — usually with a rise-to-run ratio that seems impossible. Most pedestrian paseos that lace the city are narrow, separating buildings by as little as five feet. The intricacies of these paths lie in their intersections, which occur in ways that mere geometry cannot explain. It is a constantly unfolding, dramatic experience to wander these meandering pathways with no real sense of time or destination. Taxco’s beauty lives in its subtle contradictions. In a country defined by gridded streets The main plaza
Texas Architect 23