In El Alto, Bolivia, tradition runs deep. There are 36 separate indigenous cultures living in the city, making up over half of the population. Until recently, however, these native peoples were not represented very strongly in the political sphere.
That”s fortunately changed since the election of indigenous president Evo Morales. Many initiatives have been put in place to rebuild strength in indigenous communities around the country one of which comes in the form of breathtaking architecture.
El Alto is the fastest growing city in the world, so homes, businesses, and community centers are popping up everywhere.
The most notable champion of El Alto”s architectural comeback is Freddy Mamani, an architect known as the “King of Andean Architecture.” His bold, brightly colored designs draw inspiration from traditional indigenous art and architecture, but take on a modern twist that makes them look sleek and futuristic.
People are commissioning buildings from Mamani left and right. The architect attributes this to people”s desire to show off their heritage. About a quarter of Bolivia”s population belongs to the indigenous Aymara culture, and the construction of these buildings is one way that they can embrace their traditions.
“With this architecture,” he says, “they come to the fore saying, “We are Bolivians, we are Aymara, and we can show off indigenous Bolivians” new confidence and identity.””
Mamani has built more than 80 buildings in El Alto to date, and people still want more.
The designs might seem over-the-top to Western sensibilities, but that”s simply a matter of cultural upbringing. The bright colors and geometric forms are based on traditional motifs, so these seemingly modern buildings are actually steeped in centuries of tradition.
Bringing the indigenous aesthetic into urban settings is important, since it shows that native peoples are establishing newfound prominence in their country. It also marks the first time the Aymara have been actively building their own cities since they were conquered by the Inca Empire about 600 years ago.
The buildings are just as striking on the inside as they are on the outside.
One ballroom designed by Mamani was opened with a rich cultural celebration.
Watch this video for a closer look at the rejuvenation of Aymara culture in El Alto.
Mamani”s work has garnered respect and attention from people around the world. We”re excited to see what”s in store for indigenous Bolivian cultures in the years to come.