Architecture of Self-Segregation

Professorship
Architectural History and Curatorial Studies
research paper

Gated communities will continue to proliferate in our cities for decades to come. Nevertheless, it is also true that, at least historically, no wall can stand forever. Curiously, their very existence also reveals a certain vulnerability. This self-contradictory instability behind the fortified walls of gated communities cannot be easily ignored; what happens when they fall? Can we socially afford gated enclaves in the long-term? In the case of Mexico, it is because of this unavoidable ticking time-bomb, that it becomes imperative to expose and rethink the intrinsic relation between gated communities and Mexican cities.

Beyond urban optimism, this thesis tries to find practical answers to the following research questions: Which architecture remedy could transform gated communities into more socially sustainable models?

All cities segregate, but some segregate more than others. In this regard, the architectural concept behind gated communities serves as a concrete example of the intrinsic relation between social segregation and the built environment. After all, gated communities represent the residential phenomenon of a community contained and guarded by a perimeter wall. In this case, specific architectural elements in these closed enclaves determine the socio-spatial compromises involved in the conflicts among diverse population groups in the city.
Since the introduction of gated communities more than 50 years ago as privately-owned residential models, not only have these gated enclaves spread worldwide, but also established themselves as autonomous market innovations in response to certain deficiencies in urban daily life. In countries like the United States already millions of persons reside in them. In other countries like Mexico, gated communities serve as major contributors of residential production—reaching critical dimensions and operating like entire cities on their own.
As the phenomenon of gated communities grows in complexity and size, so do the social implications on individuals within and beyond their walls. The benefits for those inside the closed enclaves are promising, yet there are also significant—often overlooked—social drawbacks for those outside: urban fragmentation and segregation. Unsurprisingly, these two outcomes lead in time to more social inequality; a vicious socio-spatial cycle?
Regardless of the fragile dependency on the city hosting them, gated communities continue to expand without consideration to their adjacent context. It is through this lack of consideration, that the architecture of segregation behind these gated communities becomes political, begging the question: Which architectural approach or solution could transform gated communities into more socially sustainable residential models?

Based on the research of a case study in Mexico, this thesis envisions urgently needed interpretations towards more sustainable architecture strategies—which paradoxically may keep the walls—but use the socio-economic needs and interests of all participating actors to formulate inclusionary solutions.

Architecture of Self-Segregation
Book
Architecture of Self-Segregation
Case Study
Architecture of Self-Segregation
Context
Architecture of Self-Segregation
Analysis
Architecture of Self-Segregation
Analysis