In 1955, the Museum of Modern Art presented an exhibition entitled Latin American Architecture Since 1945, spotlighting a decade of the exuberant forms which emerged on that continent during its mid-century growth spurt. With Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980, the museum picks up where it left off, chronicling an often tumultuous period of rapid urbanization and modernization. The quarter-century of development surveyed includes works by architects including Lucio Costa, Lina Bo Bardi and Oscar Niemeyer, spanning 11 countries from Mexico to Argentina.
Forgoing the functionalist aesthetic often exhibited in modernist buildings, these architects worked to develop a new language of design that would speak to the values of Latin American culture – breaking down the distinction between architecture and landscape, interior and exterior, public and private. Clorindo Testa’s masterful Bank of London in Buenos Aires, for example, proposes a kinder, gentler Brutalism, where perforated concrete masses recall a cathedral’s flying buttresses more than a bunker’s hulking walls.
Many of the included projects embody the idealism of the post-war boom, including the vaguely utopian enthusiasm for new universities – the exhibit features buildings from schools in Concepción, Chile; Tucámen, Argentina; and Bogota, Colombia, among others. This enthusiasm extended even to the creation of entirely new cities: Oscar Meyer’s master plan for Brasília, designed from the ground up as a new capital for a half-million residents, is joined in the exhibit by alternative visions from architects Villanova Artigas and Rino Levi.
In more than 500 archival photos, sketches and models, the exhibit portrays the emergence of the era’s unique and often under-appreciated modes of building in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico during the period. Several teams of researchers spent five years searching for the archival films included in the exhibit, some of which have never been placed on public view. Alongside these artifacts, newly commissioned models – including full-scale replicas of significant structural elements – give visitors a chance to view and interact with otherwise inaccessible architecture up close.
Latin America in Construction runs March 29th to July 19th at the Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St., New York, NY.