Since the election of President Evo Morales Ayma in 2006, Bolivia has seen a tremendous resurgence of national and indigenous pride – and one of the shining examples of that pride is reflected in a new architectural style dotting the growing city of El Alto. Called the New Andean Architecture, it stands out from neighboring buildings due its height, curvy and geometric lines, and the striking use of color.
Situated on the Andean altiplano, EL Alto looms over the capital city of La Paz, which is located in the valley below. Proudly Aymara, the city is home to over a million inhabitants – indeed, it is larger than La Paz now – and the architecture that shows the pride is bold and dynamic. The main architect behind this new movement, Freddy Mamani Silvestre, is a young self-taught architect who doesn’t use a computer or even have an office where he draws up plans. Instead, he uses pen and paper on-site and shows the next steps to his workers as they are building.
There are other names used to describe this style – ‘cohetillo’, which means spaceship, ‘cholets’, a mix of chalet and cholo – but Mamani Silvestre finds them disparaging. The typical New Andean building is owned by a single family and is five or more stories high. The first floor is rented out for commercial shops, the second floor is usually a two story-high events salon available for weddings or baptisms, and then a floor or two for rented apartments or for the owner’s children. Topping the building is almost always an small independent house, with gabled roofs and large windows, often complete with patio, doghouse and resident dog even, for the owners themselves.
Decorating the outside of the building, and the events salon inside, are simple bold designs that echo the pre-Incan civilization of Tiwanaku that many in the Aymara culture strongly identify with. In the introduction to her book on Mamani Silvestre’s architecture, published earlier this year, Elisabetta Andreoli writes, “…to gradually reduce figurative elements to their essential geometric forms was traditional in pre-Colombian cultures from the Altiplano, as was the use of juxtapositions, repetitions, diagonals, duplicity and negative as formal approaches.” On top of those designs however are strikingly bright colors, completed with reflective glass in the windows and bright LED lights and heavy chandeliers in the interior events salons. Andreoli writes, “The Andean custom of using bright colors in weaving to counterbalance the monochromatic tones of the Andean altiplano is well known…Colors and decorations have maintained their relevance in the urban setting. This can be seen in the rich range of colors and motifs displayed on the fabric of the pollera skirs worn in the cities.”
‘A Colorful Bolivian Bastion, Floating Above It All’ http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/14/world/americas/a-colorful-bolivian-bastion-floating-above-it-all.html
‘Mamani pide por respeto no llamar ‘cholets’ a la arquitectura andina’ http://www.erbol.com.bo/galeria/mamani_pide_por_respeto_no_llamar_cholets_la_arquitectura_andina
‘Con la nueva burguesía aymara nace en Bolivia la arquitectura “neoandina’ http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimas/2014/05/23/crean-indigenas-aymara-arquitectura-201cneoandina201d-en-bolivia-476.html
‘Mamani Silvestre, Freddy’ http://www.nuevacronica.com/pinacoteca/mamani-silvestre-freddy/
[La Arquitectura de Freddy Mamani Silvestre] by Elisabetta Andreoli and Ligi D’Andrea. 2014.
Note: All pictures are from the book and were taken by Alfredo Zeballos.