In 1988 I set out to rediscover my community. With a camera in hand I drove around Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, visiting familiar places, family, and friends, trying to figure out what made this place special. This is when and where I begin my investigation of the Latino built environment, which continues to this day.

The Enacted Environment

I developed the term Enacted Environment to describe the way Latinos retrofit public/private spaces as part of my MIT thesis The Enacted Environment: The Creation of Place by Mexicans and Mexican Americas in East Los Angeles. Through the lens of sociology, anthropology, architecture and urban planning, I investigated the cultural, social, and economic behavior patterns that shape this community’s physical form. For example, a fence becomes a place of social interaction, a store sign becomes a work of art, and a front yard becomes a plaza.

The enacted environment is the exterior space between buildings that provides a place for people to manipulate as they please and to act in, much like a movie setting. To understand the enacted environment one must examine people as users and creators of a place through their behavior patterns, which are affected by culture, space and time.

Latino Urbanism

Many Latinos come from the places of Mexico or Latin America where social, cultural — and to some extent economic — life revolves around the zocalo or plaza. The plaza becomes an extension of residents’ home life. The dialogue between home and plaza/public and private —which is very apparent in the physical structures of Latin American settlements — manifests itself in the way Latinos redesign their single-family homes and communities in the U.S.

The Latino enacted environment synthesizes cultural styles that are neither “Spanish” (as the general public views it) nor Anglo American. The beauty of this process cannot be measured by any architectural standard but rather by life’s experiences, expressions, and adaptations. This represents Latinos’ adaptation to their environment.

Urban Patterns

Through my lifelong examination of Latino Urbanism and the Enacted Environment, I have uncovered a pattern language of how residents use, imagine and construct space. An analysis of these patterns formed the core of my award winning master's thesis at MIT. Since then, I have expanded this research through numerous articles, workshops and gallery exhibitions.

The Enacted Environment website is an extension of my original research as it applies to the evolving Latino landscapes in the US.