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View from Bolivia. (View).

Bolivia's vast geographical variety and richness of cultures, from indigenous tribes to colonial powers, has given rise to a compelling diversity of architecture.

Bolivia is a country of great contrasts and surprises. It covers approximately twice the area of Spain, but its population is small: a little over 8 million inhabitants, most of whom live in abject poverty. Yet the country has almost limitless natural resources, which have been ruthlessly exploited throughout its history by Bolivians as well as foreigners.

Bolivia has three clearly identifiable topographical and climatological regions, with average temperatures of 2600 in the Andes at an altitude of 3650m, the Andes valleys at 200m (average temperature again 26[degrees]C), and 30[degrees]C in the Amazon region.

Along with the descendants of the colonial Spanish, Bolivia is home to diverse ethnic groups of pre-Hispanic origin, such as Quechua, Aimara, Chiquitano and Guarani among others. Through the centuries, these groups have generated architectural styles that respond coherently and efficiently to their culture, to climate, topography and available materials of the regions. These traditions of construction are being lost as the people adopt models foreign to their purposes and the country's environmental, technological and economic requirements. As in most of Latin America, there has been uncontrollable internal migration out of the countryside and out of towns that have stagnated economically. As people flock to the sources of jobs and power, they overwhelm inadequate planning provisions and the urban order breaks down into extraordinarily complex, chaotic and fragmented cities.

In these dynamic emerging cities, the homogeneous historical centres have degenerated and the growth of the urban area has accelerated, at the same time throwing out peripheral belts inhabited by the poor. These contrast sharply with the sumptuous residential areas of a well-off minority, deepening social divisions through spatial segregation.

A high proportion of buildings are developed in total disregard to urban rules and regulations -- precarious self-built housing in spontaneous, clandestine settlements in unplanned areas -- in many cases occupying public spaces. As most of the settlers have no property tides or rights, a serious social problem develops over land ownership.

Ironically such chaos, anarchy and continuous change has generated an unusual, even attractive urban landscape, which rises above the monotony of the orthodox paradigms of theory, dominates the urban image of these cities and gives them the coherence granted by their own particular identity. This is an urban reality quite unrelated to the picturesque and messianic versions of the city produced by some urban theorists.

With the country's precarious economy, there are scant resources to devote to construction. Architects' interventions are confined to less than twenty per cent of building. Contemporary architecture in Bolivia is still dominated by the obsolete model of the 'garden city'. Historically, the model has been influenced by various international architectural tendencies: solutions ranging from adequate reinterpretations which adapt to the settlement areas' own requirements, to mere reproductions or copied models that do not respond to a local cultural, technological, economical or environmental reality. Some try to rescue conceptual contributions of traditional architecture, but the vast majority of designers create a strictly commercial architecture of facades evoking European styles prior to the Modern Movement.

On the other hand, migration and poverty have allowed (quite unplanned), some cities and other important towns during the Colonial and Republican periods -- such as Potosi, Sucre or the Jesuit Missions of Chiquitos and Moxos among others -- to preserve their architectural and cultural patrimony almost entirely intact. It is important to mention that in Bolivia, the archives containing about 90 per cent of the Baroque and Renaissance music of the Americas are to be found. In these cities, true examples of Renaissance and mixed-origin Baroque (Barroco Mestizo) of the Colonial period are found, within a homogeneous and harmonic urban context based on the grid or checkerboard outline. It is interesting to observe how radically different are proposals and solutions in the Andean and Amazon regions. Andean building uses stone and adobe masonry, while Amazonian building takes advantage of immense timber resources to generate structures based on wooden skeletons with infill of tabiques -- structural partitions made o f wood and mud.

Bolivia is a country yet to be discovered. But there is much to recommend it: its social contradictions, its immense archaeological and architectural richness -- it is one of the world's exceptional reservoirs of flora and fauna, being among the eight countries with the greatest biodiversity -- the attractiveness of its ancient cultures, and an amazing variety of landscapes that range from the highest Andean peaks to vast plains and tropical forests in the Amazonian deep valleys.
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Author:Cordova, Luis Fernandez De
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Oct 1, 2002
Previous Article:Letters.
Next Article:The November issue of the AR is devoted to American architecture.

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