The control and changes of urban spaces can reveal the intricate intersections between power and architecture. In this way, political regimes have often manipulated physical environment to promote political power and convey the identity that supports and legitimizes their rule. While power and architecture have been relevant in the past decades for scholarship produced in Europe and the United States, they have not received the same attention from scholars working on Latin American subjects. With the following essays, Dialogues would like to mitigate the present void and put forward new ways to look at and discuss the built environment. The section starts with a short introduction by Idurre Alonso and Maristella Casciato addressing the main ideas around the theme. Each of the subsequent four essays examines case studies in which the symbolic use of architecture and urbanism was used by different political actors in order to accommodate their specific ideas. Camilla Querin focuses on the marginalization of Afro and Indigenous Brazilian communities via the control of historical urban spaces in Rio de Janeiro. Catalina Fara analyzes the construction of a modern image of Buenos Aires generated by photographer Horacio Coppola and promoted by the municipality through the photo book Buenos Aires 1936. Visión Fotográfica. Cristóbal Jácome-Moreno examines the Eighth Pan-American Congress of Architecture (1952) in Mexico and its links to the government in the promotion of a unifying architectural past and present for the country. In the final essay, Lisa Blackmore addresses the urban reforms associated with hydro-engineering by Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo, linking them to his interest in projecting an image of modernity.
El control que se ejerce sobre los espacios urbanos, así como los cambios a que estos se ven sometidos, pueden revelar una compleja complementariedad entre el poder y la arquitectura. En muchas ocasiones, los regímenes políticos transforman espacios físicos a fin de afirmar su poder y hacer públicas imágenes que buscan afianzar su legitimidad y apoyo popular. Mientras que, en décadas recientes, el estudio de la relación entre el poder y la arquitectura ha cobrado relevancia en las academias de Europa y Estados Unidos, no ha recibido la misma atención en trabajos académicos dedicados a Latinoamérica. Con los siguientes ensayos, “Diálogos” busca llenar este vacío y presentar nuevas formas de mirar y hablar del mundo construido.
La sección comienza con una breve introducción de Idurre Alonso y Maristella Casciato, que aborda las ideas principales sobre el tema. Cada uno de los cuatro ensayos examina una serie de casos en que distintos actores políticos hicieron un uso simbólico de la arquitectura y el urbanismo con el fin de hacer llegar una determinada idea o imagen política a sus poblaciones. Camilla Querin centra su atención en la marginación de las comunidades afrodescendientes e indígenas brasileñas mediante el control de los espacios urbanos históricos de Río de Janeiro. Catalina Fara analiza la construcción de una imagen moderna de Buenos Aires que fue generada por el fotógrafo Horacio Coppola y promovida por el municipio de la ciudad en las páginas del fotolibro Buenos Aires 1936. Visión fotográfica. Cristóbal Jácome-Moreno examina el Octavo Congreso Panamericano de Arquitectura (1952) en México y la relación que tuvo con el gobierno en la promoción de un estilo arquitectónico que uniera el pasado del país con su presente. En el último ensayo, Lisa Blackmore se refiere a las reformas urbanas asociadas con la hidroingeniería del dictador dominicano Rafael Trujillo, vinculándolas con su esfuerzo por proyectar una imagen de modernidad.
O controle e as mudanças dos espaços urbanos podem revelar as intrincadas interseções entre poder e arquitetura. Dessa maneira, regimes políticos costumam manipular o ambiente físico para promover o poder político e transmitir a identidade que apóia e legitima seu governo. Embora poder e arquitetura tenham sido um tópico relevante nas últimas décadas para a produção acadêmica na Europa e nos Estados Unidos, o tema não recebeu a mesma atenção de estudiosos que trabalham em assuntos latino-americanos. Com os seguintes ensaios, Diálogos gostaria de mitigar o atual vazio e apresentar novas maneiras de observar e discutir e ambiente construído.
A seção começa com uma breve introdução por Idurre Alonso e Maristella Casciato endereçando as principais ideias em torno do tema. Cada um dos quatro ensaios examina vários estudos de caso em que o uso simbólico da arquitetura e do urbanismo foi usado por diferentes atores políticos, a fim de acomodar suas idéias específicas. Camilla Querin se concentra na marginalização das comunidades afro e indígenas brasileiras através do controle de espaços urbanos históricos no Rio de Janeiro. Catalina Fara analisa a construção de uma imagem moderna de Buenos Aires gerada pelo fotógrafo Horacio Coppola e promovida pela municipalidade da cidade através do álbum de fotos Buenos Aires 1936: Visión Fotográfica. Cristóbal Jácome-Moreno examina o VIII Congresso Panamericano de Arquitetura (1952) no México e seus vínculos com o governo na promoção de um passado e um presente arquitetônicos unificadores para o país. No ensaio final, Lisa Blackmore aborda as reformas urbanas associadas à hidroengenharia pelo ditador dominicano Rafael Trujillo, vinculando-as ao seu interesse em projetar uma imagem da modernidade.
Political regimes have often manipulated the physical environment to promote political power and convey the identity that supports and legitimizes their rule. Among the agents that embodied these transformations, architecture and urbanism, being products of social and cultural conditions, have functioned to expose the hidden agenda of those in command. In this respect, the scholarship that examines the links between political history, power, and architecture in Latin America during the modern and contemporary periods is relatively recent, beginning mostly in the 2010s with the work of scholars such as Patricio del Real and Luis Carranza on modernism in Latin America, Felipe Hernández on “marginal urbanisms,” Luis Castañeda and George Flaherty on Mexican architecture, Lisa Blackmore on Venezuela, and Otavio Leonidio and Sergio Bessa on Brazil, among others.1
Conversely, the reconsideration of the significance of the fraught encounter between power and architecture in Europe marked scholarly discourse considerably earlier, soon after the end of World War II. The vast number of publications that have looked more closely at the regimes in western and eastern Europe in the first half of the twentieth century have emphasized the communications machines designed under dictatorships to increase popular consensus. Under fascist as well as revolutionary rule, the construction/reconstruction of central urban spaces tied modernization strategies to an aesthetic discourse capable of conveying political messages. The obsessive formalism that generated the setting for promoting totalitarianism proved to be the fatal staging of a mise-en-scène. After 1945, the strategic alignment of the winning nations redesigned the European borders at large and accelerated the process of political and physical reconstruction, also interpreted, for instance in the first decade of post-fascist Italy, as a new Rinascimento.2 The historiographical discourse has operated in the direction of expanding the geographies of twentieth-century modern architecture, questioning the chronological span of modernity beyond Western modernism and the International Style in North America, introducing a more nuanced regional recognition and acknowledging the significance of the rise of new building types (among them commercial, leisure, and media oriented) and new groups of users.3
With the idea of mitigating the lack of research around this topic in non-Western regions and in an effort to showcase current debates relevant to the field of architecture, the following four essays address the impact that national discourses and power have had on specific architecture and urban transformations during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries in Latin America. The contributing scholars use diverse interpretative strategies to handle the theme, including references to Blue Cultural Studies, memory spaces, Pan-Americanism, and printed materiality. Their approach avoids conventional methodologies of discussing the history of architecture in terms of chronological or stylistic analysis. Rather, they show new ways to obliquely enter into the topic, highlighting multifaceted nature and the intricate presence of architecture in our society. Thus, by moving the conversation beyond the built environment, these essays help us understand the expansive impact certain architectural projects have had at sociohistorical and cultural levels, revealing further political uses of architecture.
Between the 1950s and 1970s most Latin American countries, propelled by developmentalist agendas and economic booms, underwent vast programs of modernization. Key modern architectural projects were created during this time, such as the construction of the new capital of Brasilia, fostered by Oscar Niemeyer in accordance with Lúcio Costa's master plan (1956–60); the University City in Mexico's capital, by Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral (1950–52); the campus and buildings of Universidad Central in Caracas, by Carlos Villanueva (1954); and other major government buildings and social housing. These creations, now icons in the history of architecture, were employed by government elites, in some cases during periods of dictatorship, as a way to promote modernization and produce congratulatory discourses. It is the aura of an ideal modernity projected into these buildings that made generating a scholarly critical discourse on their self-representation challenging.
Likewise, curatorial narratives on exhibitions solely devoted to architecture seem to follow similar paths, especially when produced in the United States. In the recent ambitious Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980, organized by MoMA in 2015, the political connections and uses of certain architectural projects remained overlooked for the most part. In that regard, this exhibition appeared to follow the lines used in Latin American Architecture since 1945, organized in 1955, also by MoMA. The essays of the 1955 catalogue, heavily focused on general descriptions and usage of materials, did not comment on the political context in which the architectural works were created.
With the idea of contesting and going beyond past premises, this compilation of essays reveal the porosity of architectural discourse when power is at stake. These texts look at key moments in the history of Latin America across different geographies—Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic—stressing and discussing controversial relationships with the respective regimes. As Lisa Blackmore has remarked: “Only a critical attitude to the past will bring back into focus the political contingencies of spectacles of progress and stop modernity from being reduced to a cultural imaginary imbued with nostalgia.”4 To perform this critical approach, we have deliberately invited a group of young scholars to contribute to this topic.
The themes addressed by the authors can be grouped under three rubrics of power: erasure representation, and building. The first essay touches upon issues of cultural history, using the perspective of collective memory. The second text analyzes the work of a photographer who represented major urban transformation of Buenos Aires under the impetus of political authority, while the third and fourth contributions focus on specific built artifacts whose monumental scale played a major role at the national level and modified the perception of how architecture emblematizes power.5
With the intent of highlighting the persistence and significance of the subject of architecture and power, we have taken the topic to the contemporary period and include a first essay by Camilla Querin that discusses a relevant issue today: the problematics of memory spaces and monuments. Querin uses Cais do Valongo and the Antigo Museu do Indio in Rio de Janeiro as case studies to address the contradictions between the appropriation of a collective memory and the challenges raised by historical protection laws. Her text exposes the neglect of marginalized groups within the official histories in Brazil, addressing the problematics of monuments. In her innovative approach to the topic, Querin combines an examination of recent and past events and puts forward a call for activism that involves the built environment as a signifier of erased identities.
Catalina Fara analyzes Horacio Coppola's book, Buenos Aires 1936. Visión Fotográfica. A government commission, this publication was created with the idea of constructing a modern and progressive view of Buenos Aires through photographic images. Fara argues that the urban representations in the book allow us to understand the relationships between space, politics, and art during the 1930s in Buenos Aires, a key moment in the urban development of the city. Her work looks at the intersections between photography, book design, and architecture, putting a special emphasis on the materiality of the publication and the significance of the circulation of images in the construction of an urban imaginary.
In a similar way, Cristóbal Jácome-Moreno uses references to books, magazines, and conferences to address the topic of his essay. Rich in terms of a great variety of sources, Jácome-Moreno examines the Eighth Pan-American Congress of Architects, organized around the inaugural events of the University City Campus in Mexico City in 1952. He argues that the congress became a platform used to legitimize the official narratives utilized by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), who aimed to position Mexico as an important key player in the urban transformations taking place in Latin America. The Mexican government presented the country as historically unified, including the pre-Hispanic past as a key element of the discourse. In the search for a conciliatory image that would mainly help foreign policy programs, the government's actions stressed the ideology of the so-called dictablanda,6 or the authoritarian rule of the PRI.
Finally, the essay by Lisa Blackmore takes us to Rafael Trujillo's dictatorship (1930–61) in the Dominican Republic, a country commonly ignored in the scholarship of Latin American art and architecture. Blackmore utilizes an innovative approach in Latin American scholarship: she uses the perspective of Blue Cultural Studies for her critical analysis. She explores water-related projects during Trujillo's regime, examining how they became tools that bound together dictatorial power, spatial order, and modernization. Her text examines three case studies, significantly bounded to the concept of fabrication of and for the power—a pool, the irrigation canals, and a monumental fountain—to reflect on the spectacular display of dictatorial dominance through architectural projects.
We hope that this compilation of essays contributes to shaping a more complex perspective on the architecture and urbanism produced in Latin America, while at the same time fostering the production of new scholarship, generating a further understanding of the ties between political power and the built environment.