Vecindades: Mexico City's Answer to 'Missing Middle Housing'

An iconic multifamily housing form repurposes the former homes of Mexico's elite into communal housing for urban workers.

January 25, 2022, 10:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

In an article series exploring iconic home designs around the world, Natalie Delgadillo describes an urban Mexican housing type known as a "vecindad." Although the word technically means "neighborhood," it has come to define a specific design: "a kind of tenement where individual apartments encircle a central patio, and residents often share facilities such as bathrooms and kitchens."

The vecindad, Delgadillo writes, is an appropriate symbol of the country's colonial past, having started life as an imposing home for aristocratic Spanish families before being subdivided into dwellings for the working class. "The history of these structures in Mexico City is rich and deep; they tell a story about the city’s development into a megalopolis, not to mention the country’s myriad — and sometimes seismic — economic and political shifts from the 17th century onward."

As rural Mexicans migrated to cities in search of work in the 19th century and the wealthy moved to the suburban periphery, the buildings were repurposed as multifamily rental units. They at first lacked private amenities like bathrooms or kitchens, though some have been added more recently. The central patio linked the residents for essential tasks, creating a "deeply communal way of life."

Delgadillo describes the complex and nuanced social relations created by the intimate nature of the vecindades and the intricate hierarchies developed among their inhabitants. According to the article, the vecindad gained a cultural cache that has left a powerful imprint on the Mexican imagination. But today's vecindades have fallen into disrepair, writes Delgadillo, damaged by earthquakes and decades of neglect from policymakers and planners who prioritized newer housing types. Now, despite some restoration efforts, the future of vecindades as a source of housing for low-income families is threatened as the buildings get converted to other uses or more expensive housing.

Monday, January 10, 2022 in Bloomberg CityLab

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