With all this rain in New York today I can’t help but want to stay inside all day and never go out. I truly love hearing the raindrops hit the hard surfaces on the city, and rainy days like this one are more than perfect to sit inside reading a good book—right now Waiting for Sunshine, by William Boyd, although I still don’t know if I love it or hate it—and cuddling with the perfect cup of tea—Earl Grey with a hint of milk, in my case. But rainy days in the city are also the perfect occasion to visit one of the hundreds of museums/galleries you can find in New York, and go calmly through one of their exhibitions.
I recently visited the MoMA—which I actually hadn’t done in what seems like a very long time—to see their Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980 exhibition, currently on view until July 19. The exhibition celebrates the 60th Anniversary of the exhibition held previously at the museum, Latin American Architecture since 1945, a landmark survey of modern architecture in the region, and revisits the positions, debates, and architectural creativity in the region, from Mexico and Cuba to the Southern Cone between 1955 and the early 1980s.
According to the exhibition, the period studied was one of exploration and complex political shifts, which saw the emergence of a new Latin America in the global landscape, where the development and culture of the region were slowly starting to emerge as the “Third World.” Latin American architects had the chance of exploring new techniques and create their own sense of aesthetics, responding to the social and political movements occurring in the region, and this is reflected in the large architectural oeuvres built between 1955 and 1980.
In order to show such a shift, the exhibition showcases architectural drawings and models, vintage photographs and film clips, as well as newly commissioned models and photographs. These pieces intend to show how architects met the structural challenges they faced in the region with formal, urbanistic and programmatic innovation, and include important landmarks such as the library at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, the building complex surrounding the Plaza de Toros in Bogota, and the magnificent campus of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.
The result of this period in Latin American architecture, as the exhibition explains, are the challenging architecture and urban responses to the ongoing issues of modernisation and development in Latin America, which have adapted according to the different economic and political contexts it has faced throughout its recent history.
Although I would never dare to call Latin American architecture innovative or creative as this exhibition does—but then again I am completely clueless in that matter, so maybe my opinion is not right at all—I really enjoyed seeing it. The videos in the first part reminded me of those endless hours watching documentaries on mid-twentieth century Latin American economic history as part of my coursework in my last year of college, and trying to understand how economic development came in the region and how countries struggled to make the internal economies grow.
It also made me remember, with a sense of nostalgia, the buildings that I grew up ignoring and somehow hating, wishing we had the palaces I found in Paris or the skycrapers I saw in New York. It made me realise that Latin America, as we know it today, is a young region, and it is still in progress. We have our characteristic buildings and our own architectural history which, I could see in the exhibit, makes a lot of sense in the region. In the end, it has always been a region that has struggled to maintain political and economic stability and, although it is finally reaching that goal in recent years, it still has a long way to go.
Photography: Laura Beltran-Rubio