"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:
Carolina Miranda: This is a dense show, with more than 500 objects, including models, drawings, renderings, photographs, video and more. As you point out in your Architect magazine review, it is "a remarkable collection of everything you could call Modernism — diagrid skyscrapers, abstract landscapes, megastructures, cities of slabs.” But as in any show, no matter how cluttered, there are always going to be pieces that pop.
It's so interesting that you were drawn to the Brasilia model. The idea of the hand, evident in the Barragán drawings, too, is so lost in architecture today, and I think the curators were trying their best here to make us look at buildings the old way, and to value the originals like artworks. Sometimes it works, but sometimes I felt like they were denying me pleasure.
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.
Miranda: That’s so true! It’s really strange that it wasn’t included in a significant way since it’s one of the more iconic Modern dwellings in Latin America.
Which brings me to what you think the show may have overlooked. Your review in Architect mentions the spectacular model for the 1968 Mexican pavilion in Milan by Eduardo Terrazas, which created a structure out of the Mexico logo for that year’s Olympics. It’s a pretty stunning piece — but the installation avoids any reference to the violence that came with the staging of the ’68 games. (Namely, the Tlatelolco Massacre in Mexico City, in which the government killed an untold number of student activists who were protesting the amount of money the government had invested in the games.)
This brings to mind the review that the Guardian’s Jason Farago wrote of the show. In it, he says, “'Latin America in Construction' is a little too quiet about the dictatorships that arose, usually with American backing, from Chile to Panama, and about how architects and firms that seemed committed to democratic works were more than happy to make their peace with tyrants.”
I’m not entirely in agreement with Farago’s review. (In Chile, for example, it is post-modernism, not Modernism, that is more closely associated with the dictatorship there.)