muegano [mueh·gah·nuh]

* (n.) A traditional Mexican candy formed with fried wheat pieces, stuck together with caramel and shaped like a rock. Hard to chew on and break apart, just like a Mexican household.

Unlike the western ideology of making your own path and “leaving the nest” at 18 or 21 years old, in Mexico and parts of Latin America, a majority of residential homes accommodate several generations of a family in a single living space. Over time, these spaces change in response to the growing number of family members. As they maximize their space by adapting, modifying, and growing their preexisting house, each generation forges its own identity, but one that is still part of a whole and singular history. While in some circumstances a strong shared identity might threaten to traumatically erase individuality, muegano households resist such erasure. Each generation leaves a unique mark on the house itself, and these stratifications of architecture give us a way to study how structures are able to express individual identity.

The process of this muegano architecture happens over a long period of time and in an organic way. It starts with the first generation acquiring land to build a unit large enough for a couple and a few offspring. As the second generation grows-up and marries, they remain in the first unit, sharing it with the first generation. But they soon realize that they need their independence. This leads them to build a second unit adjacent to the first. Generation after generation repeats the same step, first exhausting the horizontal space and then growing upwards. This process forms something that, from the outside, might look like one house, but at its core is several mini-houses, stuck together not with caramel but with love (and lots of concrete).


Two case studies of the muegano architecture in Mexico City. Image courtesy of Alejandra Avalos and Alan Ríos