The rise of Bolivia's Aymara people, as seen in architecture and fashion
December 17, 2014 9:41 PM   Subscribe

Bolivia has undergone a significant change under the three terms of President Evo Morales, the first president to come from the country's indigenous majority. Members of that majority have found prosperity, increasing the prestige of indigenous design and style, as seen in this seven minute segment on the new buildings and minor twists on old fashions adopted by Bolivia's indigenous bourgeoisie, from Financial Times' coverage of the displays of the Aymara people's new-found wealth.

For more coverage of Evo Morales presidency and the changes in Bolivia, see this article from Global Research on Boliva's movement towards Socialism in its re-election of then-impending re-election of Morales, the decline of the United States influence and the rise of Evo Morales from the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, an opinion piece on Al Jazeera America, regarding Bolivia's reliance on the nationalized extraction of resources, as covered previously regarding the nationalization of Bolivia's electrical grid.

Regarding the stylistic buildings, The Guardian has a piece on Freddy Mamani, the Bolivian architect whose “New Andean” style is transforming El Alto. The Mellow Trouble journal also has a piece on the regional style, writing in support of the five to six story buildings, called ‘cohetillo’, which means spaceship, ‘cholets’, a mix of chalet and cholo. The vivid structures are multi-use buildings, where the first floor is rented out for commercial shops, the second floor is usually a two story-high events salon available for weddings or baptisms, and then a floor or two for rented apartments or for the owner’s children. Not everyone supports the design; for example, Bolivian Express finds the Kitsch, neo-Bolivian developments, found mostly in El Alto, as loud designs that shout their owners rise to riches.

As for that well-known Bolivian style of dress, with bowler hats, long dresses and shawls, even worn by some of the indigenous women who wrestle in La Paz, BBC has a write-up on the rise of the 'Cholitas,' with an interactive description of the outfits, and Bolivian Life has more information on the bowler hats and dresses that show off sexy ankles. And if you noticed the reference to Italian Borsalino hats, that was referring to the Borsalino hat company, who are best known for their fedoras.
posted by filthy light thief (18 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you have trouble accessing the FT article above the break, search for the title of the article in Google, and follow the link to the article to read it without needing to sign up. You might have to answer a single question to see the full article, but it's a lower hurdle than full registration.

AP has a short photogallery of images from an indigenous fashion show in Bolivia, which I didn't fit into the post.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:45 PM on December 17, 2014


It's like someone took a Bauhaus style manual and then hand wrote "Don't" in front of every design point.
posted by PenDevil at 10:01 PM on December 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


You say that like its a bad thing… ;)
posted by Pinback at 10:08 PM on December 17, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure if it's the rebirth of an ancient culture or the creation of a new one, but something interesting is certainly going on there.
posted by Kevin Street at 11:38 PM on December 17, 2014


Holy shit, I'm pretty sure one of those buildings is actually Optimus Prime. AWESOME.
posted by nonasuch at 12:00 AM on December 18, 2014


The look is pretty cool AWESOME, but it must be hell to maintain. I bet Optimus Prime will look pretty dingy after a few years of rain and urban pollution.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:23 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, those are some ugly buildings. Kitschy and cheap-looking, like some sort of cut-rate 70s theme park. I'm predicting they'll date about as well as the worst examples of 70s architecture.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:42 AM on December 18, 2014


What a great post.

And Bolivia, fuck yeah.
posted by spitbull at 4:24 AM on December 18, 2014


I dunno. If you want to build an enduring and prosperous system, you need to set things up where you can hand the whole thing off to a successor after two terms of office, even from an opposition party, and be confident the institutions you put in place will survive their administration, and benefit their children's children. FDR is an exception, but Americans were nervous enough about another president-for-life who may not have been so benign that they explicitly outlawed it after he was gone (Can you imagine a third Regan term?)

Morales appears to have done some excellent work, but with examples such as Mugabe, Castro, Poppa Doc and Chavez out there of liberators-turned-oppressors, I'm a little nervous when he starts angling for yet another term.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:48 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Holy shit, those are some ugly buildings.

Proof that two people can look at the same thing and see something totally different. I think they are great, really striking and visually interesting. I'm going to be house shopping soon but it is so depressing how literally everything for sale is a box with a gable roof in a muted color; it would be nice to be in a place were at least a few buildings were playful and deliberately toying with conventions and expectations. Even just some bright paint would make me more interested in starting the process.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:03 AM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


The buildings remind me a bit of period-restored Victorians, with swing.

Cool bowlers, cool fedoras, cool post. Thanks!
posted by allthinky at 6:48 AM on December 18, 2014


Dip Flash: I'm going to be house shopping soon but it is so depressing how literally everything for sale is a box with a gable roof in a muted color; it would be nice to be in a place were at least a few buildings were playful and deliberately toying with conventions and expectations. Even just some bright paint would make me more interested in starting the process.

When selling a house, it's generally best to go safe in terms of colors, but when building your own 5 story building, you get to have a lot more fun. (And when you own a house, you can also have fun with colors and details. Look beyond the colors to the structure, and think of how you would customize it to your liking.)
posted by filthy light thief at 6:53 AM on December 18, 2014


And when you own a house, you can also have fun with colors and details. Look beyond the colors to the structure, and think of how you would customize it to your liking.

Drab exterior building colors are very much a US preference, for whatever reason drives fashions on these things. Interestingly, the brochures at the paint store have plenty of bright exterior colors, but that is not what people are choosing to do, even in cases where resale isn't a concern.

The lack of structural variation and experimentation is actually a lot more depressing -- colors can be changed trivially, but there isn't anything you can do to alter the constraint that almost every house is a stick-framed rectangle with a peaked roof. Some places have an unusual amount of modernist houses (eg Palm Springs) or have distinctive vernacular architecture (Santa Fe and Key West, say), but about 99 percent of houses you will find in the US are pretty much the same thing.

It makes house shopping less interesting each time, honestly, in the same way that car shopping would be boring if all you could buy were beige minivans.

That's why I enjoyed the photos of the buildings in the FPP so much -- they are not just colorful, but are playing with both modernist and vernacular/indigenous motifs in neat ways. Architecture everywhere should be doing this, but as this op ed discusses, that hasn't been happening:

Architecture’s disconnect is both physical and spiritual. We’re attempting to sell the public buildings and neighborhoods they don’t particularly want, in a language they don’t understand. In the meantime, we’ve ceded the rest of the built environment to hacks, with sprawl and dreck rolling out all around us.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:33 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Drab exterior building colors are very much a US preference

My personal theory is that this was driven by the crazy housing market bubble. Everyone was buying their house as an 'investment', planning to resell later for more money, so everyone tried to appeal to some sort of extremely boring 'average buyer'. Maybe now that the market's collapsed people will stay in their houses longer and start to see them as a place to live, and thus a place to customize.

almost every house is a stick-framed rectangle with a peaked roof

Well, that's at least partly because that kind of house works well. Stick frames are sturdy enough but economical, rectangles are vastly more efficient both to build and to live in than circles and pentagons, and peaked roofs are pretty essential if you live any place where water occasionally falls out of the sky.

Even within those constraints, a lot of variety is possible. Not everything has to be a garage-forward beige box.
posted by echo target at 8:35 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


peaked roofs are pretty essential if you live any place where water occasionally falls out of the sky.

Where I live, rain and snow fall onto my flat roof. It does not seem to be a problem.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:06 AM on December 18, 2014


My personal theory is that this was driven by the crazy housing market bubble. Everyone was buying their house as an 'investment', planning to resell later for more money, so everyone tried to appeal to some sort of extremely boring 'average buyer'.
...
Even within those constraints, a lot of variety is possible. Not everything has to be a garage-forward beige box.

But it's probably easier and cheaper to build 100 garage-forward beige boxes than 100 unique homes. I think we'd see more variety if all the home building corporations disappeared and people when back to commissioning their own personal homes.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 11:22 AM on December 18, 2014


Where I live, rain and snow fall onto my flat roof. It does not seem to be a problem.

Consider yourself lucky, then. Flat roofs are a challenge to install correctly and require much more maintenance than pitched roofs.

Back to Bolivia, though: I really want to see what these architectural ideas look like after they've filtered into common vernacular architecture rather than weird pieces commissioned by millionaires. Or indeed if they will filter in.
posted by echo target at 2:34 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Indigenous Bolivia begins to shine under Morales regime (BBC News, 26 Dec. 2014). More on the racial tension and how the Morales presidency has helped indigenous Bolivians, but what still needs to be done.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:08 PM on December 28, 2014


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