The Carlo Scarpa International Landscape Prize has been unanimously awarded to the Sculptural Space of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Pedregal de San Ángel Ecological Reserve (Repsa) by the Benetton Studi Ricerche Foundation, based in northern Italy. The award was given in its thirty-third edition for the period 2023-2024. Carlo Scarpa, the award’s namesake, was a renowned Italian architect and designer in the 20th century.
This prestigious award recognises places of significant natural, historical and inventive value. The accolade includes the creation of a bilingual publication in English and Italian available in bookstores, a documentary, and an exhibition held at the foundation’s headquarters in Treviso. This year’s documentary was made by Davide Gambino and the exhibition will be held from April 12 to June 30. On the opening day, a colloquium featuring UNAM teaching staff including Juan Ignacio del Cueto, Louise Noelle, Silke Cram and Pedro Camarena will take place.
The award-winning Sculptural Space is situated within the University Cultural Center. It features a toothed ring of 74 cement prisms, forming a 120-meter circumference surrounding a volcanic terrain.
Rosa Beltrán, coordinator of UNAM Cultural Diffusion, will accept the award on behalf of Rector Leonardo Lomelí Vanegas, symbolically succeeding Guillermo Soberón Acevedo who commissioned the Sculptural Space in 1979. The space was created by a group of artists specialising in sculptural geometry, including Federico Silva, Mathias Goeritz, Manuel Felguérez, Helen Escobedo, Hersúa and Sebastián.
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The Sculptural Space was chosen for the award by a scientific commission of 10 European specialists for its collective creation that resulted in a poetic and evocative place. The space emerges from a seemingly desolate volcanic stone terrain, encapsulating geological and historical strata from ancient cuicuilcos to modernist sculpture. The dynamic landscape encourages reflection and public enjoyment as it evolves with the seasons, climate and light.
The commission described the work as originating from a void and revealing a broader world, encouraging reflection on our intrinsic connection with nature. The commission also highlighted the similarities between the Sculptural Space and previous award-winning sites, such as the Maredolce-La Favara garden in Palermo and the César Manrique Cactus Garden in Lanzarote, Canary Islands, both of which transformed inhospitable terrains into generative projects.
▲ In 1979, former rector Guillermo Soberón commissioned a group of artists to create the Sculptural Space.Photo ©Andrés Cedillo/Espacios
In a conversation with The Day, Dr. Juan Ignacio del Cueto, director of the UNAM Faculty of Architecture, stated that the Carlo Scarpa International Landscape Prize is likely the most prestigious award in the field of landscape architecture. He emphasised its importance in recognising the efforts of UNAM in preserving the Pedregal de San Ángel, which was under threat of disappearance.
Dr. Del Cueto noted that the survival of the scree was a decisive factor in the selection process. The commission had visited other green spaces in May 2023, including Chapultepec, Xochimilco and Tepozteco.
La Repsa was established in 1983 in response to the artistic impact of the Sculptural Space, which sparked interest and appreciation among university students and highlighted the need to conserve the volcanic landscape. Dr. Del Cueto recalled that the site’s preservation was initiated by a group of students and professors from the Faculty of Sciences, who rallied to prevent its impending destruction.
Dr. Del Cueto further highlighted that despite the award, the scree continues to face threats, including from UNAM itself with the construction of the controversial Tower H. He also underscored the importance of keeping the Sculpture Space open on weekends for public enjoyment, stating that the award has put the Sculptural Space on the global architectural stage.