Checking In at Hotel Camino Real

A new exhibition is dedicated to the Mexico City hotel that came to define the country's high design standards.

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Aerial view of the hotel in 1968. © Colecciòn Legorreta, Hotel Camino Real, Mexico City, Mexico.
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When Mexico City's Camino Real Hotel opened just in time for the 1968 Olympic Games, it was a landmark moment for Mexican architecture and design. Not only did architect Ricardo Legorreta complete the project despite some major production hiccups—mainly that the country had a ban on imports, which meant all the designs had to be produced in Mexico—but he had commissioned major artists like sculptor Alexander Calder and Bauhaus printmaker Anni Albers to collaborate on the interiors. Local Mexican artists like surrealist Pedro Friedeberg and painter and sculptor Mathias Goeritz (who was born in Germany and later settled in Mexico) also had a hand in the iconic feat. 

The hotel's dynamic exterior, photographed by Armando Salas Portugal in 1968.
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"[The Camino Real Hotel] was one of the first comprehensive design projects of this scale," says Mario Ballesteros, curator of Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura, an industrial design and architecture gallery in Mexico City. The exhibition space is inaugurating a new research-focused series called Archivo(s) with a show reconstructing the Camino Real Hotel through objects and photographs from its design heyday. The exhibition, called Hotel Camino Real, shows how Legorreta created a total work of art—from the architecture and interiors all the way down to the employee uniforms, which were designed by Julia Murdoch and Lance Wyman (who also designed the United States' Olympic gear that year). 

Graphic uniforms designed by Julia Murdoch and Lance Wyman (1968).

The exhibition, which opened on Thursday, is organized with Pablo León de la Barra, the Guggenheim's curator for Latin America, who examines the experimental project—800 rooms built and furnished over a rushed 18 months to open in time for the Olympics. With no design standard to follow, the hotel became something akin to a modern art museum, challenging any ideas about hotel construction and local architectural mores. 

Interior of the Camino Real Hotel, photographed by Armando Salas Portugal in 1968.

"The Camino Real Hotel was a true icon of Mexican modernism and a microcosm of the tastes and expectations of Mexican culture at the time," says Ballesteros. "It speaks to the permanent tension between an old, 'deep' Mexican craft and design tradition and contemporary technique or global aspiration." By offering insights into local architectural history, the Archivo(s) program also reflects Mexico City's design scene as it is today.

Hotel Camino Real will be on view through May 27. For more information, visit archivonline.org

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