Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Review: Modern Architecture in Latin America

Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia by Luis E. Carranza and Fernando Luiz Lara
University of Texas Press, 2015
Paperback, 406 pages

Like many people in the northern hemisphere, I have a big hole in my architectural education when it comes to Latin America. From recollection, history classes in undergraduate architecture school focused on the work of European architects, such as Le Corbusier, developing plans for the South American continent and Brasilia, which was presented as a playground of architectural forms but an urban planning nightmare. Grad school a decade later changed things for me, since I spent two semesters with my classmates on a project located in Ecuador, with a one-week trip that was my first to visit to the continent. Since then I've tried to fill this void as much as possible, something that isn't so hard given websites like ArchDaily promoting South American contemporary architecture, and shows like MoMA's Latin America in Construction earlier this year that echo a newfound interest in the area's modern architecture.

Modern Architecture in Latin America is a highly recommended book for anybody looking to fill any similar gaps in their knowledge. The hefty, well-illustrated book is structured as a timeline of 100 years of Latin American architecture and urbanism, from 1903 to 2002. Each entry is tagged with the appropriate area from the book's subtitle (A=Art, T=Technology, U=Utopia) as well as a two-letter designation for the country (many entries applies to more than one country). Gray pages are devoted to individual buildings, unbuilt projects and urban schemes, but the bulk of the book – the white pages – are given over to a variety of events, ideas, writings, considerations, and other relevant materials. A couple examples include: 1939 - "The European diaspora brings architectural talents to Latin America on an unprecedented scale"; and 1980 - "The Pritzker Architecture Prize is awarded to Luis Barragán, and photograph is at the center of the myth."

Although most entries are less than five pages, overall the book is very thorough in terms of what is presented and how buildings and developments are explained. Think of a notable building or project from Latin America and most likely it is in the book in one form or another. Modern Architecture in Latin America helped me greatly in a book I recently completed, one that featured a number of buildings in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. While the book could not be a standalone resource for these buildings, the writers helpfully provided lists of books for further reading, making the book a great resource as well as a jumping off point for those interested in the continents impressive architecture.

One of those buildings included in my book (to be published Fall 2016) is Amancio Williams's Casa Sobre el Arroyo (aka Casa del Puente or "Bridge House") in Mar del Plata, Argentina. Therefore I'd like to make a special mention of a book authored by Daniel Merro Johnston and published by 1:100, La Casa Sobre el Arroyo. Although solely in Spanish, so I can't give it a full review (my seven-year-old daughter's Spanish is miles beyond mine), I can say it is a very thorough case study with lots of illustrations and archival materials on one of the greatest modern houses on any continent.

Unfortunately, the house has seen better days. Although open as a house-museum for at least a few years now, the house is in need of much repair, most of it stemming from a 2004 fire that gutted the building. New windows were installed to keep out the rain, but the interior is a ruin that requires lots of money and work to make it whole again. I'm hoping that the publication of this 1:100 book brings more attention to the house, particularly to the Getty Foundation's "Keeping It Modern" architectural conservation grants; this house seems to be what those grants were made for.