Building Order: Manuel Tolsá and Late Colonial Neoclassical Civic Architecture in Mexico

  • Lynden Miller University of Victoria
Keywords: Mexico, New Spain, colonialism, neoclassical architecture, Manuel Tolsá, Academy of San Carlos, Enlightenment, Bourbon reforms, public space


Much research has been dedicated to neoclassical European architecture, but much less has been said about its dissemination in Latin America. This paper explores how Spanish architect Manuel Tolsá came to shape the experience of public space in a prominent cultural center of the Spanish empire. Through the revival of borrowed Greco-Roman forms, his vision was realized in the architecture of the colonial system’s public institutions in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This paper argues that neoclassical architecture embodies the Enlightenment ideal of rational order and reinforces the aims of the Bourbon reforms in the political context of pre-independence Mexico. By connecting the visual evidence of three buildings, the history of the contemporaneous social institutions, and the implications of architecture in public space, I critically examine a visible legacy of Mexico’s late colonial history.
Research Articles