This project examines the many ways that people make room for themselves and others in the everyday life of one of the world's largest cities.  Based on fieldwork and visual data mining, the project locates active and creative practices of making room that, taken together, constitute a form of 'spatial affordance.'  Spatial affordance is the production and reshaping of urban space to suit particular needs of comfort, conviviality, safety, desire, and belief.   As urban design by other means, spatial affordance comprises routine adaptations that afford incremental improvement in life and circumstance. 

 

The project focuses on relatively simple, low-cost, informal adaptations at the scale of the street that nevertheless multiply in patterns across many precincts of the metropolis.  Such practices include erecting sidewalk shrines, marking off parking spaces with tires and buckets, using colorful canopies to assert a place for selling goods.  Each adaptive practice constitutes a specific spatial affordance, but also connects materially to other practices: using potted plants to mark off a property line, for example, connects to histories of land disputes as well as traditions of gardening and greening in the concrete landscape of Mexico City.  Sidewalk shrines connect to weighty histories of religious devotion that have also produced grand cathedrals, and reflect in their construction a suite of craft and care traditions.

 

In the end, these small, routine, and incremental practices of spatial affordance exert a cumulative, if often unnoticed, impact on the shaping and adapting of the city.  Architects, planners, urban designers, policy makers, and municipal officials have much to learn from these spatial affordances.  They constitute modes of urban problem-solving, space-claiming, and aesthetic intervention.  They materially alter the landscape, modulate human interactions with the urban fabric, mediate social relations, and channel the experience of everyday life in Mexico City.

SPATIAL AFFORDANCES

© 2016 Joseph Heathcott