Grand Designs - Apocalyptic Architecture

30 Jan, 2013 | Joel Balsam

Culture, Social issues, Art, Urban living and Lifestyle

At the End of Days

‘It’s been a historical dilemma for Andean cities’, said Bolivian architect Mijael Bumuller. ‘An increase in demographics causes thousands to move to, and build on, the side of mountains’. You see it in Rio de Janerio in the world famous favelas, you see it in Peru, in Chile and of course in the picturesque sky-high city of La Paz, Bolivia.

Photo: Amaru Villanueva Rance

Makeshift, unfinished, windowless and with enough stories to fit generations to come, homes litter the interior of La Paz’s crater valley and along the sides of the cloud-scraping mountainside. Many of them built illegally.

Technically, every new home or add-on requires an architect or geologist for consultation, but in reality, they are rarely hired. Building unsafely can earn the builder little more than a slap on the wrist from government regulators. Instead, Mother Nature provides her backlash. Annual landslides have swept hundreds of homes off the mountain-side, leaving only rubble in their wake. After the end of the world, expect La Paz to be reborn.

7   Mario Landivar

Photo: Mario Landivar

Post-Apocalyptic Dream Homes

Bright, tall, new, and uniquely Bolivian, the new style of homes in El Alto and La Paz are eccentric - to say the least.

Some 20 years ago, nouveaux riches started erecting colourful monstrosities right beside the decrepit homes of their neighbours. These aren’t your average modern day stock market young, urban professionals (YUPPies) or insurance moguls. Instead, these members of Bolivia’s middle or upper class mostly earned their money as merchants or traders.


Photo: Mario Landivar

As a chest-beating sign of status, these owners build their homes as large and as bright as possible. They also try to make the homes completely different from anything you have seen in Bolivia - or in the global West for that matter.

Upper levels are added simply for parties, family gatherings or as a legacy for future generations. Bottom floors are often used for businesses, restaurants or shops.
One theory is that the houses are based off of the miniature styrofoam toy homes found at Alasitas Market. The toys are traditionally used to represent what someone wants or dreams of. In this theory, some people realized their dreams and made their own Bolivian Barbie DreamHouse.
And they don’t come cheap. Some houses can be worth over a million USD, and many owners are forced into debt after making this enormous status statement. While many of these new homeowners use architects, some people cut costs by doing the architecture work themselves.

4   Mario Landivar

Photo: Mario Landivar

As we enter the End of the World, these homes represent a new gold sequin jacket for Bolivia’s mountain-capital region. Instead of building windowless, unsafe buildings there is now an attention to aesthetics (chapi or not) and a desire to be unique from both colonial past and Western influences.


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