Excerpts from the 1955 book by Henry-Russell Hitchcock

Latin America extends for a continent and a half. Comparable in area to all Europe and Anglo-Saxon North America combined, it is, of course, not as densely populated, since it includes very large areas of high mountains, deserts and jungles. Brazil, larger by all Texas than the United States, has only some forty-five million inhabitants. But from Mexico City in North America, whose size has tripled in fifteen years, to Caracas, which positively seems to expand under the visitor's eye, the tremendous rate of population growth (3 per cent a year- double the rate in the rest of the world) and the increasing vitality of the local economy, have induced a rate of building production unequalled elsewhere in the Western World. Today, Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro are both much larger than Rome; and of the six largest cities in the Western Hemisphere, four are in Latin America...

That there is some connection between quantity and quality in architecture no one can deny, even if the mechanics of the relationship are mysterious. Not all building booms produce moments of distinction, and Le Corbusier's splendid Unité d'Habitation has risen in a post-war France where there has been little new construction. But in most Latin American countries today there is both quantity and quality in architecture...

The newest area of architectural achievement in Latin American is Venezuela. In Caracas, the characteristic height of city buildings has risen from one to some twenty stories in about five years. At the University City, which more than rivals that of Mexico in variety of its associated works of art-sculpture by Arp and Pevsner, mosaic and stained glass by Léger, a vast auditorium ceiling by Calder--the advance of Carlos Raul Villanueva to a leading position in Latin America can easily be read. His Olympic Stadium and his Aula Magna with its attached Plaza Cubierta are among the most vigorous examples of modern architecture to be seen anywhere. Indeed to many, accustomed to associating Latin American architecture with the grace and lyricism of the Carioca architects, the vigor of Villanueva's exposed concrete may appear almost brutal. The organization of the University City, while more compact and human in scale than that of Mexico's, is less clear and geometrical...

Villanueva is also responsible for establishing the sound architectural traditions of the Banco Obrero, the local housing authority, although the latest work, both the middle-class apartment block at Cerro Piloto, is by Guido Bermúdez. In these the concrete is stuccoed and painted, still rather in the vein of the 1920s at Cerro Grande, but with more of the subtlety of the local polychrome tradition in the vast ranges of the blocks of Cerro Piloto...

The newest and tallest skyscraper in Caracas, the Edificio Polar, represents a less local tradition of modern design. With one of its architects a pupil of Mies van der Rohe, it is not surprising to find it quite Miesian in the regularity and delicacy of its outer shell, eleven-foot cantilevers carrying the metal chassis of the windows well forward of the four ferro-concrete piers...

Large-scale activity in Venezuela is so new and the professional backgrounds of its architects are so various- Villanueva's Paris Ecole des Beaux Arts (of which no trace appears in his current work), Vega's Illinois Institute of Technology, Benacerraf's Yale, Guinand's and Sanabria's Harvard, Galia's Montevideo, etc.- that it is not so easy as in Brazil, Colombia or Mexico to characterize the new architecture nationally. Large-scale activity predominates in public housing and at the center of the city; apartments are still a relative novelty; and despite the profusion of new houses, modern design for them still seems rather unacclimated and uncertain of its direction. Construction standards are rising rapidly without as yet reaching those of Colombia. The speed of production is striking in a part of the world where, in general, building workers operate with almost medieval deliberation. The energetic urbanism of Maurice Rotival is preparing a frame unique in Latin America for a brand new metropolis of the third quarter of the twentieth century. It will never have the enormous size of Mexico or Buenos Aires nor the relaxed charm of Rio, but with its admirable mountain-backed site and spectacular cloudscapes it already provides a more advanced sketch of the modern city than even São Paulo...

From Hitchcock, Henry-Russell. Latin American Architecture Since 1945 New York, Museum of Modern Art 1955


VILLENUEVA'S COVERED WALK, 1953-1954