Mario G. Schjetnan - 10.19.19 LAEP and Homecoming Lecture
Mexican landscape architect Mario G. Schjetnan (MLA ’70), founder and director of Grupo de Diseño Urbano, has been named the 2018 recipient of the Elise and Walter A. Haas International Award. Established in 1964, the award honors a UC Berkeley alumnus/a who is a native, citizen, and resident of another country and who has a distinguished record of service to that country in the arts, science and engineering, education, business, environmental protection, government, or any other field.
As part of the generation of late-20th century architects, landscape architects, and urban planners, Mario Schjetnan designed projects with a new awareness of the environmental and social consequences of urban development. Schjetnan’s work embraces an ethical and aesthetic relationship with nature, with ecological sensitivity as its through line.
Schjetnan’s award-winning projects include Malinalco House, which won the 2007 ASLA Professional Awards Residential Design Honor Award; Xochimilco Ecological Park, honored with the Prince of Wales/Green Prize in Urban Design; Parque El Cedazo, awarded the ASLA President's Award for Excellence; and Culhuacan Historical Park, which received a Gold Medal from the Mexican Biennale of Architecture, among numerous other projects. In 1984, he was awarded Harvard University’s Loeb Scholarship to carry out advanced environmental studies, and in 2015, received the Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe Prize, the highest honor awarded by the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), for his “realization of many important projects, but also as an academic, sharing his knowledge and passion for the profession with others.” He received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Environmental Design in 2004.
For all his many accolades, Schjetnan particularly values the significance of the Haas Award: “First that this prestigious award comes from my own University. Second, that [to be among] the world class of former recipients is indeed an incredible recognition. Third, that it gives me great pleasure and pride to be the first landscape architect to be recognized with the Award, in particular with the environmental and urban issues we are addressing today. And finally, that the Award is given to a Mexican architect and landscape architect will have a positive influence in Mexico.”
Born in Mexico City in 1945, from an early age Mario Schjetnan expressed a great interest in architecture—specifically, Mexican Modern Architecture led by Luis Barragán, Max Cetto, and Mario Pani. Schjetnan graduated from National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), and earned a Masters in Landscape Architecture from UC Berkeley in 1970. The political and social turbulence of the era evident at UC Berkeley and abroad — most notably, Mexico City’s Tlatelolco massacre in 1968 where the government used its forces to suppress political opposition — motivated him to design for social needs.
MALINALCO HOUSE | PHOTO CREDIT: HECTOR VELASCO
“Coming to Berkeley and the College of Environmental Design from 1968 to 1970 was extremely stimulating and exciting,” said Schjetnan. “…from the political activism prevalent on the campus to the new awareness of a global and USA environmental crisis (air and water pollution, deforestation, suburbanization, cars, etc.), not unlike the present climate change crisis we are experimenting with today.”
“At CED these issues were addressed by a group of great teachers such as Garrett Eckbo, Donald Appleyard, Sim Van der Ryn, Allan Jacobs, Claire Cooper, Robert Twiss and many others, which expanded my mind and prepared me for ‘a new way to think’ to address issues, projects, and actions.”
Following design work with Mexico's federal institute for worker housing, INFONAVIT, Schjetnan established Grupo de Diseño Urbano/GDU with José Luis Pérez. For over forty years, GDU has created innovative built environments in Mexico, as well as in the United States, Chile, Argentina, China, Lebanon, and elsewhere. His practice is known for working with low budgets, basic materials, and modest details while delivering built projects that link public spaces, individual memory, and public history together—a reflection of his interests in 20th century modern architecture, pre-Columbian myth, and colonial history.