Free Confluence Treaty: Towards an Intellectual Horizontality in Architecture Across the American Continent.
The relationship between Latin American Architects and North American academia has evolved throughout time. In the last four decades, Latin American architects have increasingly been involved in academic institutions from the United States. Archivo de Ideas Recibidas narrates experiences of four architects from Peru, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico. From the 1980s, where the relationship between these two parts of the continent was strictly unilateral. Latin American architects, as students, were practically consumers of the intellectual products that were being developed in the northern hemisphere. Today, the role that these architects perform in North American academia is much more engaged in its direction. This transition, from consumers to contributors, adds to the establishment of an intellectual horizontality in architecture across the entire American territory.
In 1984, Luis Longhi, traveled from Peru to the University of Pennsylvania to continue his Graduate studies in architecture and sculpture. His interaction with the work of North American architects, such as Louis Khan and the conceptualism that prevailed academia at that moment, influenced his way of approaching architecture. The recognition by and assimilation of Western academia gave him the determination of becoming responsible for a new kind of Peruvian architecture of that time [22:56 interview Luis Longhi]. This is exhibited through his teachings, at the Peruvian University of Applied Sciences (UPC) and at the University of Sciences and Arts of Latin America (UCAL), which focus on more formal, technological and experimental objectives than many other studios across Latin America. Nevertheless, it is clear that at this stage there was an influence from the United States to Longhi and not the other way around.
In the 90s, Hernan Diaz Alonso had a similar encounter with North American academia. This time, Diaz Alonso was accompanied by his route companions, as he refers to those who shared his same trajectory from their place of origin, in Argentina, to Columbia University. During his interview [22:56 interview Hernan Diaz Alonso], he attributed this affluence to the United States to the economic situation of his country at the time– where the Argentinian peso had the same value as the US dollar. His interaction with academia in North America elongated permanently, as he went from being a consumer of Western academic discourse to the key players in the development of its institutions throughout recent years. Besides working as an architect and teaching in different North American practices and institutions, he eventually consecrated as the director of Sci-Arc, a pioneering institution in the development of formal and technological fronts within architecture. As opposed to Longhi, Diaz Alonso was fully assimilated by North American academia, to the extent that even his professional practice is dependent on it.
Throughout the 2000s, Hernan Diaz Alonso developed his career as an academic. However, during this decade Columbia University turned almost unrecognizable for his generation. At this time, the Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design (MSAAD), the program he attended a decade before, was already being led by his compatriot Enrique Walker. There was a shift from consumers to contributors. Thanks to this, Walker was able to radically change the program’s direction towards a renewed interest in history and theory which departed from the technocratic agenda of the 90s that led to Diaz Alonso’s pivotal role in Sci-Arc’s transition towards the digital environment that characterizes the school, when ascending to director in 2015. Concurrent with this shift, it also became increasingly common that the direction of architecture schools in the United States was influenced by Latin American architects, providing prosperous environments for new methodologies and theoretical frameworks informed by their practices.
Within this new context, in 2008, Cristobal Amunátegui attended the newly reformed Columbia University, when Enrique Walker began directing the MSAAD program. Here his interest in history and theory, developed during his undergraduate at Chile’s Catholic University– where he first encountered Walker– found continuity. This allowed him to delve into North American academia while maintaining an outsider’s perspective. He never had to assimilate into traditional Western academia, instead became critical of it. During his interview, Amunátegui narrated that he does not teach studio in the US. He prefers to maintain a separation between his design practice rooted in Santiago, Chile and his academic practice at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). One of his main concerns with Western academic discourse is the hyper-conceptualization of things to a point where they get removed from reality [34:15 interview Cristobal Amunátegui]. This criticism on the separation between practice and pedagogy has been generated thanks to his ability to maintain certain autonomy from the country (US) without losing his involvement in Western academic discourse. Latin American architects from previous decades attended North American institutions to learn from them and to accustom to their methodologies. Now they begin to shape it.
Mexican architect Tatiana Bilbao is also part of the Western academic discourse yet she represents a new stage in this relationship. Bilbao currently teaches at Yale University School of Architecture’s graduate program. However, what is remarkable is that she does not hold a Master’s degree from any North American university or any other institution elsewhere. In her interview, she declared that her own alma mater, the Universidad Iberoamericana (IBERO), turned her down from teaching after realizing she has no post-graduate education [30:57 interview Tatiana Bilbao]. On the other hand, Yale, Columbia, Harvard, Rice, and other institutions throughout the world have decided to overlook this qualification and recognize that her extensive practical experience is of great value for academia. Bilbao points out the deficit that exists today within Mexican architectural academia; it fails to incorporate the ideas being generated, by its own progeny, outside of it. The strong modernist roots it still holds to this day create an insular environment adverse to external influence. Whereas the lack of regulation in the construction industry plays in favor of young architects that begin to practice as soon as they come out of school. In the United States these roles seem to be inverted. The rigorous licensure process and immense liabilities young architects face in construction has increasingly pushed them to the receptivity of academia, where new ideas become the nourishment of their prosperity. Despite the apparent dissimilarities between these regions, Bilbao still perceives a symbiotic relationship between the two.
In architecture, the creation of this symbiosis between Latin American architectural practice and North American academia has developed throughout time, and it can be visualized as a gradual progression or spectrum. At one extreme, Luis Longhi acquired the ideas that proliferated the Western academic discourse in the 1980s, to then apply them to the Peruvian context. On the opposite end, Latin American architects today like Cristobal Amunategui or Tatiana Bilbao, have already become important contributors in the production of this discourse. Their education as well as professional experience has developed in Latin America, yet in the United States they find a platform to express their ideas, even if they encounter certain incompatibility with it. At the center we can observe Hernan Diaz Alonso, who also shares a Latin American formation; the absorption of North American discourse, however, has turned him into a key figure with little to no active influence from the former. The interaction and exchange between the two places opens up the doors for a constant revision that flows bilaterally. While the production of architecture in Latin America is influenced by the concepts and ideas generated by academia in the United States, these at the same time are also influenced by the construction of architecture in countries like Mexico, Peru, Chile and Argentina. What is significant about this symbiosis is the recognition of alternative modes of knowledge outside of traditional Western academia, which contributes to an intellectual horizontality in architecture across the entire American territory.
Amunátegui, Cristobal. “#33 Cristobal Amunátegui // Amunátegui Valdés Architects.” Interview by Asiel Nuñez. Archivo de Ideas Recibidas, February 25, 2020. Video 44:20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0VcOZ6S25w&t=6s
Bilbao, Tatiana. “#07 Tatiana Bilbao // Tatiana Bilbao Estudio // Arquitectura.” Interview by Asiel Nuñez. Archivo de Ideas Recibidas, February 2, 2020. Video, 39:45. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DU04tKKe-M
Díaz-Alonso, Hernán. “#26 Hernán Díaz Alonso // HDA - X // SCI - Arc.” Interview by Asiel Nuñez. Archivo de Ideas Recibidas, February 26, 2020. Video, 33:04. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoO0J5bUNGo
Longhi, Luis. “#03 Luis Longhi // Longhi Architects // Arte y Arquitectura.” Interview by Asiel Nuñez. Archivo de Ideas Recibidas, October 29, 2019. Video, 35:46. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsk35Xnc5V4&t=171sIn