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This article problematizes the uncritical fascination zwith modern architecture, approached here through the notion of the fetish. Uncritical fascination with modern architecture has caused many architects to disengage from the socio-political realities of Colombia in order to de buildings that look like twentieth-century European precedents.
Such an endogamous approach forecloses the possibility for architectural innovation, keeping architects in a vicious circle of repetition. The concept of coloniality is introduced as a vehicle to overcome the limitations of the modernist project, and the reproduction of colonising principles that give priority to European discourses and ideas.
The aim is to demonstrate that architectural scholarship in Colombia would benefit greatly from an engagement with southern theory, as well as from a greater emphasis on the contemporary urban condition, and the complex history that has lead us to where we are currently. The speakers were all male, white-mestizo, and educated at the three most prominent schools of architecture in the capital of Colombia: Universidad de Los Andes, Universidad Javeriana, and Universidad Nacional. Although neither the organizers, nor anyone in the audience seemed to have noticed the homogeneity of the panel, this apparently inificant detail is very relevant, considering that this issue of Dearq examines Colombian architecture from the outside.
From outside, it is clear that Colombian architecture remains dominated by white-mestizo, middle-class men who have the social and cultural capital, as well as the economic capacity, to run a practice. Moreover, important themes such as race, class and gender have certainly not been a central theme in debates about architecture in Colombia, a profession that can be safely described as elitist. Admittedly, a single academic event does not provide sufficient evidence to judge the condition of an entire profession. Yet, there is ample evidence to demonstrate how narrowly represented architecture is in Colombia — in both theory and practice — as well as the barriers that such limited representation cause for understanding the realities of Colombian history and the condition of its society today.
In a country whose constitution recognizes and vows to protect its ethnic and cultural diversity, indeed a country where In this article, I will argue strongly that these hierarchical systems are based on colonial principles that remain dominant and, ultimately, prevent architects from finding adequate solutions to the most pressing issues in architecture today.
Thus, this article starts by problematizing the uncritical fascination with modern architecture, the fetish, a phenomenon that has caused many architects to disengage from the socio-political realities of the country in order to de buildings that look like twentieth-century European precedents. Such an endogamous approach forecloses the possibility for architectural innovation, keeping architects in a vicious circle of repetition: reproducing.
In the second section, I will then introduce the concept of coloniality as a vehicle to discuss how Colombian architectural production has been historicized and is currently theorized. The aim is to demonstrate that architectural scholarship in Colombia would benefit greatly from an engagement with southern theory, as well as from a greater emphasis on the contemporary urban condition, and the complex history that has led us to where we are currently.
The building is an elegant, wellaccomplished, concrete structure that sits on a difficult site opposite the School of Law, and adjacent to the Schools of Medicine and Veterinary Science. It generates an interesting landscape at various levels, leading towards the audacious structure of large cantilevers and seemingly tilted floor plates partially elevated on pilotis.
The question that ensued was obvious: What does its merit consist of? The architect presented the building alluding to the use of references taken from Swiss architect Le Corbusier, and from the quintessential Colombian architect, Rogelio Salmona. It appears that, for Alvarez, the merit of his building lies on the fact that he can connect his own building with a tradition of architectural modernism, both internationally and in his own country.
In his presentation, there was no mention of the people: the students who will use the building, their experience of architecture, of education, or indeed no discussion of larger questions about changing conditions of education in an era of rapidly evolving pedagogical technologies. The architect himself explained that he received the commission and set out to de a building responding solely to two criteria: the given brief, and a set a pre-conceived formal characteristics.
The other two architects who presented that evening took a different approach. No doubt both are influenced by modern architectural discourse; no doubt architectural form is important for them; and no doubt both aspire to receiving national and international recognition. However, they articulated the de of their buildings as a process that also develops in connection with the people who will eventually use them. Indeed, one of them organized workshops with children in order to generate key elements of the architectural form and to determine the spatiality of the classroom.
For Daniel Bonilla and Ricardo La Rotta, educational briefs require careful investigation because pedagogical theories, teaching methods and technologies are changing rapidly. For these architects, deing an educational facility implies analysing the processes by which students of different ages learn. As a result, it is also necessary to explore the changing relationship between teachers and students, which in turn le to questioning concepts such as classroom, workshop, or laboratory. This kind of critical approach to architectural de does not prevent formal exploration. The buildings produced by these three architects share multiple characteristics and are all adventurous and sophisticated in multiple and different ways — I am certainly not arguing that any of these architects is better than the other two.
The point is that a possibility exists for locating architectural merit in the relation between buildings and people rather than between buildings and buildings, or between architects and architects. While the former approach would enable architects to address directly specific aspects of Colombian society attempting to find adequate solutions, the endogamy of the latter approach has the opposite effect: It isolates architects from the complex realities of our society, focusing only on the form of buildings.
Let us explore Colombian architectural discourse in the s and s in order to understand the source of this fascination with modern architecture and its genealogy. Colombian architects and historians in those two decades were busy trying to develop arguments to validate their practices so they could insert themselves in the history of modern architecture, assumed as a singular, univocal narrative.
However, they failed to notice — and still have not — the way in which the Europeans had already inscribed the architectures we produced into their own history, and, in their , Latin American architectures were seen as transgressions of an original. In other words, the Europeans found failure precisely where Colombian architects and historians found success. Inadvertently, the architects and historians of the s and s reconstructed a colonial narrative that allowed Western architectural discourse to remain superior.
Figure 1. School of Nursing at Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Figure 2. Architect Daniel Bonilla. Figure 3. Art School at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. Architect Ricardo La Rotta. My emphasis on the fact that the Europeans had already claimed modern architecture to be their own is based on written evidence.
A clear example of this ambivalence is found in the way William Curtis claims ownership of modern architecture. In her own words:. In her effort to identify an architecture capable of attaining international recognition, Arango is at pains to underline every possible connection between Colombian architects and their European counterparts. For example, she points out that there was a first period of modern architecture influenced primarily by Le Corbusier through the uncritical appropriation of building techniques — such as reinforced concrete — and the implementation of CIAM urbanism to build infrastructure and satisfy housing demands.
Arango feels the need to establish these connections in order to validate the work of Colombian modernist architects. The main argument does not focus on the way these architects developed solutions to the socio-economic problems of the time — the impact of poverty, social inequality, racial segregation and urban fragmentation on the quality of life of people, or the very fabric of cities — but to the way they embraced the principles of modern architecture and tried to implement them in Colombia.
As a result, she can only present a thorough formal analysis of buildings through the abstraction of the image and the opinion of deers, in complete isolation from the socio-cultural and political context in which buildings exists. While she concedes that Latin American territory cannot be assumed to be homogeneous, the closest she gets to discussing differences across the continent is in reference to climate — the way in which architects often validate formal and material choices distancing themselves from the preferences of the people.
Thirty years later, the aim still is to find a place in modern architecture as if it were the only discursive route to value the remarkable work of mid twentieth-century Latin American architects. As such, both architects and historians remain enmeshed in a western epistemological system that undermines their contribution. In other words, we would never be able to study the reality of Latin American cities, which, on the whole, have not been deed by architects and do not respond to singular and clearly traceable genealogies to use her own words , but to a convoluted and often antagonistic processes that do not fit her methods of historicization.
Please note that I concentrate on the work of Silvia Arango not in order to diminish her contribution to academic discourse in Latin America, but, rather the opposite, because, as the author of two of the most important publications on the subject, her work becomes both a reference and a platform to develop newer, and more nuanced, approaches to study both Colombian and Latin American architectures. Publishing statistics are telling. For example, Ediciones Uniandes has published four books on Le Corbusier over the past ten years three by the same author and two more about the work of Colombian Modernist architects who worked for him: Rogelio Salmona and German Samper.
Also, since its creation, Dearq has dedicated three issues to Le Corbusier issues 2, 14, and 5 and two issues to modern architecture in Colombia and Latin America issues 3 and 12 respectively. Admittedly, several other issues of this journal address pressing questions in Colombian architecture, embracing an ampler agendas, including gender women in architecture , social disparities informal architecture and urbanism , as well as conflict: architecture for peace. That is why I believe that Dearq is the most appropriate academic publication to introduce a decolonizing agenda.
At this point, I would like to invoke a strong current in Latin American scholarship that has developed since the mids, generating a range of methodological approaches to question the authority of Western knowledge. Such questioning enables the inclusion of a multitude of epistemological traditions that had been excluded since the colonial era and, therefore, remain peripheral in contemporary academic debates.
Quijano often links the term coloniality to power, la colonialidad del poder, referring to the persistence of colonial principles and structures in contemporary society. These principles and structures are often imperceptible precisely because they are prevalent, embedded in the racial, political and social hierarchies imposed by the European during colonialism. A clear example is the fact that ethno-racial minorities, particularly Afro-descendant and Indigenous groups continue to be discriminated against, currently representing the majority of the poor, under-educated, and unemployed population of the country who live in deprived conditions, either on the peripheries of cities or rurally.
Let us stress here that no Afro-descendant or Indigenous architect has ever won the Colombian National Award for Architecture since its creation in and that these two ethno-racial groups remain under-represented in schools of architecture, judging panels, and professional bodies throughout the country. Power is central because every aspect that we explore — economic disparities, political representation, the parameters of architectural judgment, etc.
That is why I maintain that it is a mistake to represent the history of Colombian architecture — and the contemporary practice of architecture in the country — according to narratives and analytical methods which developed at a particular moment in global history when colonialism was still at its height. It is possible to understand why Curtis makes such a great effort to undermine non-Western contributions to the development of modern architecture, after all, claiming its ownership on behalf of Western Europe, the United States and the Soviet Union, is an attempt to retain their authority.
This is precisely the aim of a Latin American critique that has gained strength since the s, yet a kind of critique that has found little echo amongst architects in Colombia, who still continue doing what Castro so sternly warns us against: to try to articulate our voice through a discourse of domination in order to find a place within it. In other words, decolonizing knowledge is not rejecting Western epistemic contributions to the world. On the contrary, it implies appropriating its contributions in order to then de-chain [them] from their imperial des.
More importantly, delinking our architectures from dominant Euro-American narratives — especially those which focus mainly on generating form — would allow Colombian architects to respond to the challenges that our cities pose, and to find solutions to many of its problems. I do not intend to question the valuable contribution of our extraordinary modernist architects to the development of architectural discourse and practice in Colombia. Nor do I intend the undermine the architectural validity of their buildings, which are elegant, functional, very well built and many have withstood the test of time graciously — to set the record straight: I strongly disagree with Curtis.
However, as contemporary scholars, our responsibility is to scrutinize their contribution rigorously and fairly, just as it is also our scholarly responsibility to review the way in which their contribution has been historicized.
It is important to note that recent work in cities like Medellin, where the innovative transport systems, and some of the libraries and public spaces that have been created throughout the city, along with the Unidades de Vida Articulada UVA , demonstrated that Colombian architects are, indeed, developing de methodologies to respond more accurately to the urban realities of contemporary Colombian cities.
There are also more modest architectural projects in distant and deprived communities — many devastated by rural violence — which are evidence of changing attitudes towards minorities on the peripheries. Most of these architects, however, are male, white-mestizo, and educated at prestigious universities in Colombia and abroad. Therefore — and please read carefully — the point is not to question, or diminish, the value of the outstanding work produced by practitioners in Colombia, but to reveal the narrow frame within which these practices exist and the even narrower terms within which they are theorized by academics.Keep your fetish away from me
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Keep your fetish away from me - Sonic