Abstract - Latin American Architecture at MoMA
LATIN AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE AT MOMA: "LATIN AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE SINCE 1945"
In 2015, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) presented the exhibition “Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955–1980,” curated by Barry Bergdoll and Patricio del Real of the museum’s Department of Architecture and Design, the Brazilian Carlos Eduardo Comas, and the Argentinean Jorge Francisco Liernur. Based on the argument that a modern architecture is still in development in that region, it displayed a chronological continuation of the exhibition “Latin American Architecture Since 1945” (1955) proposing a historiographical revision relating architecture to economic and political developments. This exhibition at MoMA can be seen as a significant sign of a historical revision that has been happening in the last decades all over Latin America–a region whose narrative was initiated in the 19th century–involving divergent opinions about the history of architecture in the region. A common ground among researchers is the necessity of reevaluation of each country’s particular social, political, economic and historical conditions and the recognition of different “modern architectures,” while a more conflicting debate relates to cultural approximations among this geopolitical group of countries creating a Latin American identity.
In order to better comprehend these present questions, I decided to look back at the exhibition “Latin American Architecture Since 1945” and its generating context considering Latin America and Latin American as ideologically charged expressions. To better understand existing debates and contextual issues, this research considered the work of historians and critics such as Patricio Del Real, Luis E Carranza, Silvia Arango, Sonia Maria Milani Gouveia and Josep Maria Montaner. In terms of the exhibition itself, this research sought to examine the curatorial project and the narratives it created as well as the relationship to its display. It did it based on the exhibition’s archives organized by the museum, the catalogue written by the curator Henry-Russell Hitchcock, photographs presented on the show, and the exhibition design created by Artur Drexler.
“Latin American Architecture Since 1945” (1955) exposed a panoramic and enthusiastic view of the architecture production of 11 countries curated by Henry-Russell Hitchcock. The project argued the selection of relevant examples of the flourishing modern architecture in the previous 20 years–since 1930s–and the introduction of what was considered the most significant architects of each country. The show would then present an architectural production that was considered outstanding and of deserved attention for its vigor and inventiveness considering the restricted constructing methods, frugality of materials and usual bad maintenance of buildings.
In the construction of this panoramic view, Hitchcock provided information about general aspects of the architecture, mainly from capitals, with descriptions of a few neighborhoods and buildings pointing out to dominant characteristics of what would be considered modern in each country. Exploring different strategies such as repeating the same criterions to each analysis–as the use of structural ferro-concrete, the exploration of exposed bricks, or how were the residential buildings–and reinforcing formal similarities, Hitchcock created a unifying depiction of the region. Although it is noteworthy the reinforcement of the Brazilian architecture as a model for others in the region, the general narrative emphasized a discourse of homogeneity and totality–what is similar, not what is different–following the museum’s ideology of a universal history. Furthermore, his narrative also traced historical references of European architects, including the influence of figures like Le Corbusier, but pointed out to a shift to United States’s influence, especially in terms of formal education. The catalogue’s text not only advocated the relevance of North American architectural education, but also placed the United States in the center of cultural references to the region.
Culture here represented common values shared by all the countries–supported by the concept of similarities and the elimination of existing diferences–and that its examination considered primarily formal and aesthetic domains disconnected to social, political, economic and historical considerations. It became clear during this research that culture had a direct involvement in a political project and that architecture had a significant role in the elaboration of an identifiable Latin American style.
 Critics like Patricio Del Real question the use of the term Latin America especially in the period after the World War II and the transformation of the identity of the region that is assembled in this single expression. Jorge Francisco Liernur, in the Foreword of the book Modern architecture in Latin America : art, technology, and utopia argues about an an ending in the application of the term in a near future whereas Silvia Arango advocates the use of the term for the historical importance in the creation of the identity of the Latin American people.
 In the beginning of the catalogue, Arthur Drexler points that the exhibition is the second survey of the Latin American modern architecture, as the first happened in occasion of the show "Brazil Builds" (1943). Also, the countries presented were: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Republic of Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela.
* The paper was written for the course "Architecture After 1945" at Columbia University GSAPP.