Review: ‘Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980’ at MoMA

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Review: ‘Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980’ at MoMA
Latin America in Construction A model of Rogelio Salmona’s Torres del Parque in Bogotá, Colombia, from 1964-70, at the Museum of Modern Art.

“Latin America in Construction” recalls a not-so-distant time when architects and governments together dreamed big about changing the world for the better. From Cuba to Chile, Mexico to Argentina, cities in the region boomed. The task of providing everybody with homes ultimately proved unmanageable: proliferating slums outpaced new construction; poverty rose. By the 1980s, a pitiless neoliberalism swept aside much of the abiding faith in public largess and its social agenda.

Even so, what got built through the 1970s in places like Havana and Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Lima included some of the most inspired architecture of the modern age. The show is an eye-opener, rectifying a long-skewed, Eurocentric worldview, shedding light on a period neglected for generations outside the region. It’s the sort of exhibition MoMA still does best.

That it glides over politics, lumps some nations together and ignores others, like Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, provides fodder for detractors and for reams of future dissertations. It is next to impossible to discern from the show, say, what transpired in Cuba, where the United States’ embargo, Soviet prefabricated concrete-panel housing and Fidel Castro’s regime quashed a short-lived efflorescence of revolutionary architecture. The exhibition nods to an exemplar of that creativity, the National Art Schools in Havana, partly designed by two Italian architects, but it overlooks far less familiar projects, like the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas by Joaquín Galván and the medical campus in Santiago de Cuba by Rodrigo Tascón. Others will make up their own lists of the disappeared. []