Mexico City

Designed with three-dimensional design students in mind, but open to students from other majors, this CCA Build Lab studio is 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, on-site tours, office visits, and guest talks by local architects and designers.

Material Cultures in Mexico

Instructors: Adam Marcus and Sandra Vivanco
SF campus: Wednesday, May 16, & Friday, May 18
Mexico: May 20-June 9, 2018

Check-in: Sunday, May 20
Check out: Saturday June 9

Interested students should contact Adam Marcus ( and Sandra Vivanco ( to start the approval process for registration.

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.

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 will consist 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.

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? These include the Churrigueresque, Mudejar, and Mozarabic — elaborate Spanish Baroque architectural elements that often appear in religious buildings such as cathedrals, convents and seminaries.

About the Instructors

Adam Marcus and Sandra Vivanco both direct independent architectural practices that include specialized work in custom fabrication and public artwork. This focus also extends to their teaching work. Sandra is bilingual and bicultural, and she has intimate professional and personal knowledge of Latin America. She has led six traveling design studios to Latin America, and for the last 30+ years, has traveled extensively in most every region of Mexico. As part of her ongoing research on the work of designer Clara Porset, Sandra is planning to spend time in summer 2018 at the primary source archives at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) in Mexico City. Adam has traveled extensively in Mexico City, and is part of the leadership of the Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture (ACADIA), which will be holding their annual conference at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City in November 2018.

Learn more about Adam Marcus »

Learn more about Sandra Vivanco »


Architecture Undergraduate Students: completion of Architecture Studio 4 and instructor approval
Interior Design Students: successful completion of 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 2017-18 academic year. Students who are on probation in fall 2017 are not eligible to enroll in a 2018 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.
Interior Design Students: this course satisfies an Advanced Interdisciplinary or Diversity Studies Studio.
Undergraduate Students from other majors: this course satisfies a Diversity Studies Studio or Studio Elective.
Graduate Students: this course satisfies 3 credits of Architecture Elective.

Program Fee

$5,400 + $50 summer registration fee

Included in program fee:
3 credits, housing, some meals, local transportation including airfare to Oaxaca workshop, guest artists, field trips, entrance fees, and travel/health insurance

Not included in program fee:
Airfare to and from Mexico, most meals

Extending Your Travel Experience

Students enrolling in this Mexico City program may be interested in also registering in the Oaxaca program, immediately following, for a truly in-depth Mexico experience, earning a total of 6 credits. Students would be responsible for the one night of housing between programs: Saturday, June 9.

Related Topics
(Please read in entirety)

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

Questions? Please see Frequently Asked Questions.

Office of Special Programs
Oakland campus, Ralls 201

Nina Sadek
Dean of Special Programs

Carol Pitts
Operations Manager, Special Programs