Fanning out across the barren altiplano at 4,000 metres, the city is one of the fastest-growing in South America. El Alto is going up so quickly it looks like it’s still in sketchbook form, as if no one had time to add any colour.
The streets are dusty and treeless. The houses and half-finished buildings are unpainted brick. A blinding sun blanches everything else.
“It’s so monotonous,” said architect Freddy Mamani, for whom this is clearly a problem and a personal irritant. “It’s depressing.”
Mamani wants to liven things up. You might want to reach for your sunglasses.
Walking into one of Mamani’s buildings is like coming out of a rabbit hole into an electric Bolivian wonderland. It’s a jolt to the rods and cones.
The interiors of his buildings feature two-storey ballrooms that are spellbinding tapestries of bright paint, LED lights and playful Andean motifs: chandeliers anchored to butterfly symbols, doorways that resemble owls and candy-coloured pillars that could hold up a Willy Wonka factory. […]