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THE WORLD | COLUMN ONE

A 'City' by Celebrity Architects

A Mexican magnate has given his international design teams free rein in shaping a $400-million community of business, art and entertainment near Guadalajara.

July 10, 2001|NICOLAI OUROUSSOFF | TIMES ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

There is little doubt that Vergara stands to make a hefty profit for his efforts. To spur development, the Mexican government will grant substantial tax write-offs to help absorb infrastructure costs, including roads, sewers and power lines. Once the main structures are in place, the value of Vergara's land will increase substantially. "It will go up 10 times," he says.

But to dismiss Vergara as a conventional cutthroat developer is too facile. Since he is the principal investor, the risks he is taking are real, if only because he has opted to reject the regular formulas used by most developers. What he is marketing, in effect, is creative talent--a commodity that has become increasingly fashionable among the world's cultural and business elites.

The results of that flexibility can already be gleaned in a few of the early, schematic designs. The light, ephemeral forms of Nouvel's project for Omnilife's headquarters, for example, evoke earlier desert experiments, such as the great 20th century tradition of California Modernism. Offices--long, container-like buildings that range from one to three stories in height--are scattered across a lush green landscape. An enormous, grid-like canopy covers the entire complex, with light spilling through from above.

As a planning strategy, meanwhile, JVC merits comparison to other major urban schemes of the past decades. Like the Grand Travaux of Francois Mitterrand's Paris in the 1980s, which created I.M. Pei's glass pyramid at the Louvre and the opera house at the Bastille, the Guadalajara project attempts to spawn urban growth by linking it to a series of new cultural monuments. But Mitterrand's plan also had grand social ambitions: It used culture to stoke the growth of existing working-class neighborhoods.

JVC, an edge city far from Guadalajara's urban core, is an attempt to replicate the genuine social and aesthetic complexity of a real city from scratch. If the plan succeeds, it will offer a compelling alternative to Guadalajara's existing arts and sports facilities, as well as to the deadening homogeneity of other large-scale developments.

"It is not like composing a symphony," Libeskind notes. "Architecture exists in that gray area [between abstraction and reality]. You must get your hands dirty. And that is what makes it so beautiful."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

New Center's Layout

The 750-acre JVC Center brings together a variety of projects, each by a world-renowned architect, that are designed to create an instant cultural landmark.

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