The Twentieth Century Society

Review: Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories

ed Patricio del Real and Helen Gyger (Routledge, 320pp, £34.99)

Reviewed by Teresa Pinto

This initially intimidating collection of essays quickly shows itself to be highly accessible, even for those without much knowledge of Latin American modernism. Emerging from a 2009 symposium at Columbia University, it shows a new generation of scholars seeking to address the pre-existing literature, much of which is simplistic or nationalistic in tone.

There are three groups of essays: the first puts key individuals into context, the second looks at large modernising processes and the third at territory and policy. The editors’ introduction looks at the origin of the construct ‘Latin American Architecture’ itself, and analyses the historiography of the region. Taking two classic accounts, by the American historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock and the Argentinian Francisco Bullrich, they locate their own interpretation of the term between the two, in what they term a ‘transnational comparative approach’. This acknowledgement of continuous cultural appropriation and exchange exposes the complexity of influences at play in the global development of C20 modernism.

This approach becomes the framework for all the essays that follow, and so, despite the diversity of content and background, they have exceptional coherence.  Viviamo d’Auria’s contribution on the 1950s Caracas ‘superbloques’ uses the framework to great effect, examining the combination of technological advance and socio-political change to trace varying perceptions of the bloques, from both an international perspective and the point of view of the residents. Cristina López Uribe’s ‘Reflections of the “Colonial”’ emphasises the ambiguity of the term ‘Latin American architecture’ by focusing on the transfer of ideas and identity between Mexico and California in the first half of the C20. The collection as a whole is remarkable in its scope, and paves the way for further critical work on the subject.

Published May 2013