"For all its flaws," writes Dan Visel at With Hidden Noise, "Mexico City seems much more alive, more full of possibility, more creative, than New York does right now." I guess I must agree; despite having spent no time in New York, I now find myself scheduling a fall trip to the Distrito Federal. The project of stuffing my unconscious mind with information about Mexico City led me to discover, along with dozens upon dozens of intriguing galleries and eateries, the Condominio Insurgentes, the D.F.'s equivalent of Pyongyang's Ryugyong Hotel:
One difference between the Ryugong Hotel and the Condominio Insurgentes: people actually live in the Condominio Insurgentes. The scant information available holds that, once Mexico City's swankest building, it now hosts mostly single mothers, illegal Cuban or Colombian immigrants, squatters, and part-time brothel operators. One upper floor burnt up twenty years ago, never to be restored to livability. Totally abandoned after some disgraced politican jumped to his death out of it — or after someone killed a judge in there; I can't quite figure out which — the top floor holds nothing but dusty old furniture. Mexico City's 1985 earthquake seems to have put the final nail in the building's coffin, though it lives on, zombielike — with about as much maintenance as a zombie gets.
Given my interest in urban design, disastrous efforts thereof, and the dead buildings that result, I feel amost fated to want to know more about the Condominio Insurgentes. I only have enough Spanish to draw out the broad outlines from forum posts and Youtube comments and such, but from what I can tell, it came up as the first Latin American mixed-use complex of its scale. I've read that, aside from the occasional decades-shuttered bar with half-full beers still sitting on the tables, plenty of shops still operate on the bottom floor. (The letters spelling "CANADA" down the side once indicated the presence of a "Canadian shoe store." Your guess is as good as mine.) Stories conflict as to what goes on on the other nineteen; matters of whether and what sort of people occupy them come down to a haze of conflicting guesses.
Mexico City first came to fascinate me when I learned that Paul Verhoeven shot most of Total Recall's Earth scenes there, barely bothering to disguise the place. Much of the film's subway action actually happens at the Metro Insurgentes station, not far at all, as you'd expect, from the Condominio Insurgentes. They also burnt a lot of film in a military academy just outside the city which Verhoeven praises on the DVD commentary track for its New Brutalism. This gave me the impression that triumph-of-the-planning-committee architectural statements dominated Mexico City, but my visions of a northerly Brasília turned up false. It just doesn't seem like the kind of place where those projects can get much of a foothold; we have more examples of boldly socialistic architecture in the States.
Still, word on the street has it that the Condominia Insurgentes stays in disrepair due to what strikes me as a very Soviet-bloc reason: multiple owners and/or managers, none of whom have a specifically delineated set of responsibilities, exist in irresolvable deadlock. I suppose that, when something breaks, none of them wants to address the complaint and thus become the lightning rod for all the other complaints. And jeez, you could find a lot to complain about on the exterior alone. Sure, a fire tore through some of it, but buildings don't just fall apart like this, do they? Even though it comes after decades of neglect, this sheer dilapidation makes me think someone must've taken a very low-bidding contractor, if not Ryugyong low.
You'll find the Condominio Insurgentes in the Colonia Roma — also known as the neighborhood where Peter Greenaway film composer Michael Nyman lives — at La Avenida de los Insurgentes #300, between Queretaro and Zacatecas. I couldn't find it conventionally listed, so I had to tale a little walk on Google Maps' street view to find it. Luckily, the building pops out pretty distinctively on the local skyline: