Latin America is usually regarded as a place that imports architectural ideas — be it the colonial styles of European conquerors or the wave of Modernism that swept the continent throughout the 20th century. But an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art offers a different view, one that depicts the continent as a hotbed of ideas and experimentation, a place where design often fuses the foreign and the local to produce something new. In other words: a real mestizaje (the Spanish word for cultural blending).
"Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-80" looks at a quarter-century of Modernist architecture on the continent, from experimental housing projects on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, to the epic undertaking that was the design and construction of Brasilia, which emerged from the savanna like a Modernist sci-fi mirage. There are thought experiments (poetic architecture, anyone?), historic models, park design, affordable housing developments, vintage construction photos and schematics for buildings that are all about color.
Needless to say, there is a lot to see. Which is why rather than tackling this on my own, I invited architecture critic Alexandra Lange to chat with me about the show. Lange writes for the New Yorker and the New York Times and recently joined Curbed, where she is doing some awesome stuff. Better yet, she recently reviewed "Latin America in Construction" for Architect magazine.
She joins me here to discuss (via email) the objects that caught our attention, the things we think may have been overlooked and the ways in which we think this show is so important:
Of course Barragán's drawings have great color: he was one of architecture's great colorists! But they didn't give us a gorgeous photo of his famous house in Mexico City.
I just spent a couple of weeks looking at architecture in Chile and the catalog nonetheless reminded me that there’s so much I haven’t seen, such as Emilio Duhart’s Edificio Cepal, from 1966, which evokes Le Corbusier’s Legislative Assembly Building in Chandigarh, India, with its curling entry portico. How could I have missed it?