Grey Room

Fifty Cents a Foot, 14,500 Buckets: Concrete Numbers and the Illusory Shells of Mexican Economy

María González Pendás


Workers were disassembling the wooden scaffolding and formwork that supported the concrete shell of the Open Palmira Church (Capilla Abierta en Palmira) in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City—a crucial process in the construction of structures of this type also known as decentering. At some point it became clear that the process was not going well, and workers stayed clear of the structure as they watched part of it collapse—folding in like wet cloth. Alarmed, they swiftly contacted their boss, Félix Candela, structural designer and director of Cubiertas Ala (Wing Roofs), the construction company charged with the concrete work on the site. They reported no major injuries. Candela arrived a few hours later and nonchalantly declared the company was perfectly prepared for such an incident, to the extent that Cubiertas Ala “charged double for the shells because sometimes, they fall.” With that, he began to instruct the workers on how to proceed with reconstruction.