Latin America’s Architectural Imagination, On Display at MoMA

Lead Photo: Cristo Obrero Church, Eladio Dieste. Estación Atlántida, Uruguay 1960
Cristo Obrero Church, Eladio Dieste. Estación Atlántida, Uruguay 1960
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The relationship between architecture and development around the world is crucial. Urbanism, and its efforts to provide physical spaces to house different communities has proven to be one of the main challenges that developing countries face around the world. Latin America is no exception. But despite the sociopolitical turmoil that has dominated the region throughout history – or perhaps because of it – Latin America’s creative forces have proven resilient to military dictatorships, terrorism, unemployment, inflation, you name it. In other words, we create no matter what.

Edificio FOCSA, Ernesto Gómez Sampera and Martín Domínguez. Havana, Cuba, 1956
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The Museum of Modern Art decided to pay tribute to this spirit in the exhibition “Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980.” It focuses on a period when architectural efforts in cities like Havana, Caracas, and Brasilia helped shape the region’s reputation as an innovative power – exploring the ways that Latin America’s open spaces and late urbanization allowed architects to imagine possibilities that couldn’t have existed in the older cities of Europe or even parts of the United States.

Lina Bo Bardi in her Glass House in São Paulo, Brazil. Credit Chico Albuquerque/Convenio Museu da Imagem e do Som- SP/Instituto Moreira Salles
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The exhibition displays an array of architectural drawings and models, vintage photographs, and film clips alongside newly commissioned models and photographs, in a space designed to feel like a walk through history. In terms of context, the first room offers a motion-enhanced, very visceral introduction to what several countries were facing at the time, both in terms of text and image. Then, viewers are treated to a quick tour of ideas that sprung up on university campuses across Mexico, Brazil and Uruguay, along with original sketches from the architect(s) that designed them.


Ideation, imagination and a greater sense of tangibility arise once these drawings turn into models and finally, real buildings. My favorite part of the exhibition was being able to understand what was going on inside the architects’ heads – their “making sense” out of spaces that didn’t exist before they imagined them.

The following rooms create an almost anachronistic relationship with history, portraying how the designs of the times were continuously challenging their surroundings. There is Brasilia, a city built entirely from scratch. There are the beach houses on the outskirts of Lima, which sit on top of cliffs and yet remain stable. There are the utopian towers pitched for a contest in Buenos Aires, and a plan for a hotel that looked like a spaceship sitting next to Macchu Picchu. Why would you want to create an Intersellar version of an Incan shrine? The possibilities were endless.

I encourage you to visit the exhibition before it closes. For those of us that know these cities like the tips of our fingers, it will be creatively stimulating to see how those who came before us decided to challenge history with pens, paper and later, bricks and cement.