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Muro de Calaveras, Mexico


Last updated on Mar 18, 2020

Material Cultures: Mexico City, Oaxaca, & Beyond

Faculty: Lisa Findley
With guest professors from UNAM: Diego Ricalde & Elena Tudela

On-campus research charrette: May 18-20
May 26-June 15, 2020

Housing check-in: Tuesday, May 26
Housing checkout: Monday, June 15

two floor-to-ceiling hangings made by CCA and UNAM students out of folded and slotted colorful Mexican loteria cards

Designed primarily for architecture students, but open to students from other majors, this summer abroad travel studio is primarily based in Mexico City and its environs, with a weekend excursion to the city of Oaxaca. The studio weaves together cultural research, material exploration, and design innovation to explore resonance between traditional craft practices and contemporary techniques of architectural design and production. The itinerary includes a number of workshops, onsite tours, office visits, and guest talks by local architects and designers.

Mexico City, one of the world’s largest metropolitan areas and the 2018 “World Design Capital,” is the largest city in the Americas. Founded by the Aztecs in the 1300s as Tenochtitlan and subsequently destroyed and rebuilt by the Spanish in the 1500s, the city has grown to become one of the most important cultural centers in the world. Its rich heritage of art and architecture includes landmarks from Mesoamerican, Spanish colonial, Baroque, modernist, and contemporary eras. From the ancient city of Teotihuacán to the city’s rich collection of Spanish Baroque to the groundbreaking concrete structures of modernist architect Félix Candela to the provocative work of emerging practitioners like Tatiana Bilbao, Frida Escobedo, and Michel Rojkind — Mexico City is one of the most diverse and rich global centers of design culture.

View of the National Autonomous University of Mexico Library, its outer surfaces covered in a mural by Mexican artist, Juan O'Gormon.

This traveling studio looks to this rich history as a way to develop a critical understanding of how traditional material practices can dovetail with contemporary techniques of design and fabrication. The studio has two distinct parts. The first half consists of travel to important ancient and modern architectural sites throughout Mexico City and the surrounding region, including the ancient Mesoamerican cities of Teotihuacán, Mitla, and Monte Alban, as well as a long weekend excursion to Oaxaca where we visit Oax-i-Fornia, a design collective project in Oaxaca.

In the second half of the studio, students build upon their research and documentation to develop a short design project in collaboration with local architecture students from Mexico City. The intent is to learn from Mexico’s rich material cultures and speculate how these practices can inform new ways of designing and making.

View of Teotihuacan in Mexico

The course addresses the following thematic issues and questions:

  • How can we learn from Mesoamerican legacy of ornament, pattern, and spatiality? This includes study of sites such as Teotihuacán, Mitla, and Monte Alban, as well as the significant and encyclopedic resources at the National Museum of Anthropology.
  • How can traditional craft and material practices be reinterpreted in the context of contemporary design and fabrication technologies?
  • How can we develop a postcolonial material critique of the architectural styles that dominate colonial Mexico?

Lisa Findley has been exploring Mexico for three decades. There she has found a wealth of history, a rich array of diverse cultures, delicious regional cuisines, and astonishing contemporary design and architecture. Her travels have taken her from the exhilarating chaos of Mexico City to the peaceful shores of Lake Patzcuaro, and from the jungles of the Yucatan to the cultural heartland of Oaxaca. This engagement with Mexico extends to Lisa's work as an architectural journalist in her reviews of buildings, essays about architectural practices, and research into the spatial politics and architectural expression of the various cultures there.

Learn more about Lisa Findley »

Mexican church interior


  • Architecture Undergraduate Students: completion of Architecture Studio 4 and instructor approval
  • Undergraduate Students from other majors: completion of junior year and instructor approval
  • For Diversity Studies Studio credit: Drawing 1, 2D, 3D, 4D, Writing 1, Foundations in Critical Studies, Intro to the Arts and Intro to the Modern Arts. Junior standing
  • Graduate Students: completion of Architecture Studio 2 and instructor approval
  • MAAD Students with professional degree background: instructor approval

In addition all students must be in good academic, conduct, and financial standing for the 2019-20 academic year. Students who are on probation in fall 2019 are not eligible to enroll in a 2020 summer study-abroad program.

Course Satisfies

  • Architecture Undergraduate Students: this course satisfies 3 credits of Advanced Architecture Studio, an Architecture Elective, or a Diversity Studies Studio.
  • Undergraduate Students from other majors: this course may satisfy a Diversity Studies Studio (pending approval) or Studio Elective.
  • Graduate Students: this course satisfies 3 credits of Architecture Elective.
Tour boats, Xochimilco, Mexico

Program Fee
$5,400 + $50 summer registration fee

Included in program fee

  • 3 credits, housing, some meals, local transportation including airfare to Oaxaca, guest artists, field trips, entrance fees, and travel/health insurance

Not included in program fee

  • Airfare to and from Mexico City, ground transportation to and from airport, most meals

Please read the Summer Study Abroad Registration & Related Information in its entirety.

Please see Frequently Asked Questions.

All CCA summer study-abroad courses (including Exhibition Brooklyn and New Orleans) are coordinated by the Office of Special Programs.

Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Irwin Student Center

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs