Earlier this month a dozen or so Latin American architects gathered at The City College of New York (CCNY) Spitzer School of Architecture for a “Pan Americas” conference. A few colleagues from New York joined them, including CCNY professor Michael Sorkin, who gave an impassioned speech about the poorly compensated resource extractions imposed on Central and South America by “el norte,” from oil to sugar, and about how Latin American architecture is “a polymorphous tradition that continues with enormous vitality.” There were two thematic pulls in the conference: the realities of the region’s economic and political conditions, and the vital and witty Latin American architecture that manages to emerge out of them anyway. One of the first slides of the conference showed Le Corbusier’s Modulor. It was barely recognizable as it had acquired a domestic environment, and was now found reclining on sofas, in poses other than the familiar one with the outstretched arm. The presenter, Mónica Bertolino, an architect and professor in Córdoba, Argentina, was making the point that when modern architecture arrived in Latin America it had to be tempered with local materials. But this is not to say that the architecture is any less modern, albeit less known. Hans Ibelings and Mauricio Quiros rightly pointed out the lack of coverage of Latin American work in books about modern architecture. They hope to address this with their upcoming publication about Central American architecture, but they also argued that what they call a peripheral condition (relative to Europe and the United States) could be a source of creative strength and encouraged Latin American architects to revel in it. The landscape architect Maria Villalobos, who gave the most impassioned lecture of the conference, is doing just that. She studied at Versailles and Harvard before returning to Venezuela to design the Botanical Garden of Maracaibo and it was this designer, one so deeply knowledgeable on French gardens, who resisted the cliched formal garden approach and came up with something inspired by the diverse Venezuelan habitats. Two other young designers presented outstanding work, Dana Víquez Azofeifa, from Costa Rica, and Inés Guzmán from Guatemala. Víquez Azofeifa uses the native biodiversity of Costa Rica to ameliorate the urban problems of its capital city San José. She grew up in Costa Rica, went north to study and work, and then returned home to start the firm PPAR with her partner Jose Vargas Hidalgo. “El norte” may have in the past robbed its southern neighbors of their raw resources, but now these designers traveling north are bringing home professional experience and intellectual insights. Guzmán was perhaps more aware of the complexity of her geographical allegiance and called herself “a Guatemalan citizen of the world.” She presented several projects by her firm Taller KEN, which she founded in 2013 with Gregory Melitonov. Her stint abroad included working on Renzo Piano’s Whitney Museum, but it was James Wines of SITE (in the audience and also a presenter), whom she credited as her inspiration. Then, when she showed Madero Café in Guatemala City, one couldn’t help but think of SITE’s Ghost Parking Lot project from the 1970s. In that project Wines buried cars under asphalt in a shopping center in Hamden, Connecticut, while Taller KEN impaled them on a forty-five-foot-high red cube. James Wines’s own presentation was a plea for more work like this. He showed images of t-shirts with various calls for social justice written on them—is this what activism looks like today, he asked the audience? He would like to see that activism make its way into built design work, and Taller KEN’s Madero Café is an example of this. The big red box calls attention to itself among undifferentiated stretches of trafficky roads and low-rise commercial strips. Then, inside, the only daylight comes from the top, completely isolating the cafe patrons from the surrounding context. Taller KEN critically responded to the wanton deforestation of Guatemala’s rainforest by putting a piece of it, albeit symbolically, inside the box, like the precious thing that it is. If there’s one insight from this conference that is applicable to the discipline of architecture in general it is that socio-cultural concerns in architecture are not only compatible with exciting design, but can even be the motivators. The last discussion of the conference revolved around the imaging of architecture. What are the possible effects of social media on what gets designed? The best answer came from Fredy Massad, Argentinian by birth but living and working in Barcelona and writing on architecture for the Spanish newspaper ABC. His most recent book of architecture criticism is Crítica de Choque (Shock Criticism), which places recent developments in architecture in the context of major political events—the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the financial collapse of 2008, etc. Massad is critical of the lack of discourse in an image-driven culture of architecture promotion. He rebukes the uncritical production of images of architecture in a book entirely devoid of images, and we readers find respite in this sea of words. With this book, we feel like characters in a Wim Wenders film who, overwhelmed by the bombardment of images, turn to words for redemption. Massad’s lecture did include some images, and notable among them was the portrait of Chilean architect and Pritzker Prize winner Alejandro Aravena. Massad argues, and others at the conference agreed, that Aravena aestheticized low-income housing in a way that was not beneficial to those the architecture was meant to serve. Massad has termed what Aravena does a kind of “Adamismo,” as in making himself the “Adam,” the person at the beginning of all things socio-political, and in the process erasing all the efforts that came before him. The future of Latin American architecture depends on its multifariousness, not in the singularity of a star. Perhaps the best moment of the conference was when Álvaro Rojas, co-organizer of the event with Guillermo Honles, started his presentation by playing a song, Ojalá que llueva café (I hope it rains coffee) by the popular Dominican singer Juan Luis Guerra. The students around me looked up from their phones and laptops and broke into roaring laughter. Is this the “shock” that Massad argues is needed in architecture today? For about four minutes an auditorium full of people accustomed to always be doing something did absolutely nothing except listen to a song. Perhaps this is the point of this and any conference, to take time out from the daily grind and just listen.
Posts tagged with "Latin America":
The University of Virginia School of Architecture has appointed Felipe Correa as the Vincent and Eleanor Shea Professor and new chair of architecture. Correa is currently an Associate Professor and Director of the Master of Architecture in Urban Design program at the Graduate School of Design of Harvard University. He will start the new position on July 25. Felipe Correa is a renowned architect, urbanist, author and professor. He founded and manages Somatic Collaborative, a research-based architecture, landscape and urbanism studio based in New York and Quito, Ecuador. Correa has been teaching at Harvard since 2008. Since 2009, he has served as director of the MAUD program of the GSD. His research, design and writing have been distributed widely. At Harvard, Correa was the co-founder and Principal Investigator of the South America Project, a trans-disciplinary platform that studies design issues of the South American continent. Correa is also releasing a new book in October titled the São Paulo: A Graphic Biography, which interrogates the Brazilian city’s fast-paced growth and socio-economic divide between the city’s financial center and its periphery in the post-industrial context. “As one of the leading scholars on architecture and urban design in Latin America, Felipe brings a wealth of knowledge, creativity and experience to UVA,” said Ila Berman, Dean of the School of Architecture, in a press release. “He will be a tremendous addition to the leadership team of the Architecture School and we’re extremely excited to welcome him to the community.” Correa succeeds Bill Sherman, Lawrence Lewis, Jr. Eminent Scholar Professor and current chair of architecture.
Starting March 21, the Americas Society will host the exhibition The Metropolis in Latin America, 1830-1930. The exhibition is a leading feature of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an exploration of Latino and Latin American art across 70 cultural institutions in Southern California. Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA is an initiative led by the Getty Research Institute, where The Metropolis in Latin America was previously on display. The exhibition presents a century-long narrative of six Latin American capitals: Buenos Aires, Havana, Lima, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Santiago de Chile. Within this arc of time, these cities transformed from provincial seats of power in the Spanish empire to full-fledged republican capitals. This shift from Iberian urban regulations to independent national authority was expressed through a diverse set of novel and imported models of architectural design and urban planning. The cities of Latin America maintained most of their colonial structures until the mid-nineteenth century. The gradual adoption of modern architectural repertoires, coupled with massive rural migration to the cities, encouraged the removal of colonial-era vestiges in favor of new civic buildings, burgeoning residential quarters and centers of industrial production. Cocurated by Maristella Casciato and Idurre Alonso, The Metropolis in Latin America will display the dramatic transformation of these six Latin American capitals in a number of mediums, including maps, plans, prints and photographs. The historical scope of featured pieces range from Hernan Cortes’ Map of Tenochtitlan (1524) to the modernist utopia depicted in Le Corbusier’s drawings of the City of Buenos Aires (1929).
In its upcoming event, Latin American Circle Presents: An Evening of Performance, the Guggenheim Museum in New York will host three Latin American performance artists whose work ranges from dancing architecture to musical kitchen tools. Guatemalan artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa’s piece, A Brief History of Architecture in Guatemala, “examine[s] the tendency of architecture to memorialize regimes of power and exploitation” through the art of dance. Each dancers’ costumes will represent some of the more iconic and historic building types of Mesoamerica, including a Mayan pyramid, colonial church, and modernist block. Rio de Janeiro–based collective OPAVIVARÁ! will turn kitchen tools into instruments to explore the parallels of celebration and protest, and Argentinian artist Amalia Pica will use two dozen participants to present some of the issues with democratic communication. The event is part of the Guggenheim’s recent initiatives to diversify its collection and programming and feature more contemporary Latin American art. The event will take place in the Guggenheim’s Frank Lloyd Wright rotunda on May 5 from 7 to 9 pm. For more information on the event or to purchase tickets, please visit the Guggenheim website here.
With Art Basel underway, not-quite-yet-starchitect Fernando Romero has unveiled new plans for what could become Miami's next architectural icon: the Latin American Art Museum (LAAM). That's right, this 90,000 square foot, cantilevering structure could overshadow the nearby works of his higher-profile peers like Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, and Lord Norman Foster. And Jeanne Gang and Herzog & de Meuron. And also Bjarke Ingels and Enrique Norten, because Romero's—sorry, and Richard Meier and Rem Koolhaas. Okay, that has to be everyone. All starchitects have been accounted for. Where were we? Right, the Latin American Art Museum. Romero's firm, Fernando Romero EnterprisE (FR-EE) has created an arresting structure defined by generous, crisscrossing terraces that provide circulation and open-air gallery space called "sculptural gardens." Together, the rotated squares evoke a deck of cards being shuffled or an uneven stack of plates. “The different levels of the building define LAAM’S program,” FR-EE said in a statement. “The first floor will be reserved to young and emergent artists; the second one will be for temporal exhibitions; the third floor will house a selection of 600 pieces belonging to the permanent collection; finally, a restaurant will crown the top of the building.” In October, the Miami Herald reported that the museum is being funded by local art collector Gary Nader, and that it will heavily draw from his own collection. Right, kind of like George Lucas and his contested museum of narrative art in Chicago. Nader will reportedly build a residential tower on the same piece of property in Downtown Miami to help pay for the museum, which is expected to open in 2016.
Colombia: Transformed/Architecture=Politics Center for Architecture 536 Laguardia Place New York, NY Through October 26 Colombia: Transformed/Architecture=Politics, on view at the Center for Architecture through October 26, examines 11 recently built, socially-mindful developments designed by six leaders in contemporary Colombian architecture: Daniel Bonilla and Giancarlo Mazzanti from Bogotá, and Felipe Mesa, Juan Manuel Pelaez, Felipe Uribe and Orlando Garcia from Medellín. The projects in the show embody the change occurring in Latin America today and reveal themes of social inclusion in addition to inventive architectural forms and spaces. They include daycare centers, schools, a sport complex, and library, among others. Through photographs, slides, drawings, models, and film footage, the works commemorate how the public uses these projects and how lifestyles have been improved and uplifted as a result. The exhibition was curated by Vladimir Belogolovsky, founder of the New York City–based Intercontinental Curatorial Project, and Fernando Villa, associate principal of Magnusson Architecture & Planning.
Frank Gehry should be plenty busy with ambitious plans to revitalize downtown Toronto and to expand Facebook’s offices on the boards. Now, Gehry has been commissioned by the National YoungArts Foundation (NYAF) to update one of Miami’s most elegant and historically significant urban spaces: The Bacardi Complex on Biscayne Boulevard. Purchased below market for $10 million by the NYAF—a nonprofit arts organization that helps aspiring high school artists—Gehry will convert the former 3.5 acre corporate campus into a new arts complex. “By acquiring the Bacardi campus we are able to honor and preserve an important part of Miami’s cultural history,” Paul T. Lehr, executive director of YoungArts, said in a statement. Known for his curvaceous object-buildings, Gehry has already addressed obvious concerns from local community members and historic preservationists. “It’s not going to be a building that’s architecturally published in any way,” he told The New York Times, suggesting that his renovations won't include his typical flourishes on the campus' exterior. “But it’s a place I want to go.” A jewel of Miami Modernism (MiMo), the complex houses the beautifully-proportioned, 8-story Bacardi Headquarters Building (1963), a structure that elegantly fuses European, Latin American, and Caribbean Modern influences. Arguably one of Cuban architect Enrique Gutierrez’s best projects (designed in collaboration with Mies van der Rohe), Bacardi quickly became a symbol of hope and nostalgia to Miami’s newly immigrated Cuban community, a burst of intense formal beauty on an otherwise banal Miami streetscape. Its solid north-south facades showcase tropical murals designed by Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand, who used 28,000 6" by 6" hand-painted blue and white ceramic tiles to produce a warm, exotic contrast to the cool, gridded glass facade floating above the street. Behind the tower, a smaller, 2-story annex building nicknamed “The Jewel Box on a Pedestal” (1975) hovers 47-feet above the street. Designed by local Coral Gables architect Ignacio Carrera-Justiz , the Jewel Box also fuses architecture, culture, and art. Its exuberant one-inch thick glass mosaic walls, produced by French stained glass artists Gabriel and Jacques Loire, were designed by German artist Johannes Dietz to reference the rich and complex rum-making process. Miami's Preservation Board designated the complex, including its buildings, “historic” in October 2009, prohibiting demolition and protecting its heritage from insensitive alterations. Gehry, who has long been friends with NYAF's founders, will make interior alterations to accommodate new educational programs, design a new public park, and build a new performing arts center to replace an existing—non-landmarked—office building. “I have been a mentor to some of the YoungArts students and know what a tremendous impact this organization has on them,” Gehry said in a statement. “It’s a privilege to help make a new home for YoungArts, so it can do even more for these wonderful young people.”