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Brutalism in Lima: Ethical and Aesthetic Essays

Brutalism in Lima: Ethical and Aesthetic Essays

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© Diego Vivas

The origins of brutalism can be traced to the UK in the 1950s during the post-war period. However, there is no clear record of its initial boundaries or theoretical frameworks. Despite this, it is widely agreed that it sought to uphold constructive sincerity as its main value and that it had, in the execution of Le Corbusier’s Marseille Housing Unit (1952), a turning point for its global diffusion (Casado, 2019). For authors such as Banham (1966) or Collins (1977), constructive sincerity in Brutalist buildings does not only refer to material or technical criteria, but also to moral, political or ethical ones. These variables, in nations such as Peru, were fundamental and built an aesthetic while trying, through and from architecture, to construct an idea of a country. This essay seeks to be an approximation to these ideas and experiences.

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Residencial San Felipe. © Diego Vivas

In Peru, brutalism – as Villamonte (2013) points out – was introduced through the School of Engineers (from 1955, Faculty of Architecture, Urban Planning and Arts – FAUA) during the 1950s and 1960s. Professors and students who assimilated and transmitted the ideas of second-generation modernity subsequently began to develop them in projects commissioned by the National Housing Board (JNV) and public competitions promoted by the State. Buildings such as the Residencial San Felipe (1964) or the Residencial Santa Cruz (1966) were the first attempts, but it was the Centro Cívico de Lima (1966-1970) that was their most forceful and monumental introduction (Ortiz de Zevallos, 1980). Made up of large volumes of ‘beton brut’ or exposed concrete, the project, designated by competition, contained clear sculptural vocations that attempted to transmit a new monumentality and an exaltation of the civic dimension through an honest expression of the materiality and an articulation and scaling of squares and streets for public enjoyment (El Arquitecto Peruano, 1966).

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Centro Cívico de Lima / Crousse, Córdova, García Bryce, Llona, Málaga, Núñez, Ortiz, Páez, Pérez León y Williams. © Juan Lozada. Edición: Diego Vivas

In a political twist, in 1968, in the midst of the completion of the Civic Centre in Lima, President Fernando Belaunde – who had also been a professor, the first dean of the FAUA, a leading promoter and disseminator of modern architecture in Peru and a promoter of the various collective housing works of the JNV and public competitions – was overthrown by General Velasco Alvarado in a coup d’état, which restarted a process of military regimes in Peru. These regimes found, in the brutalism proposed by the various teams of architects through their proposals in various competitions or direct commissions, a means of communication and, in particular, a semiotic to embody their principles through ministerial buildings and public companies that went hand in hand with the government’s nationalist ideology, with the ‘Revolutionary Government’ and the new reforms undertaken (Villamonte, 2013).

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Edificio Petroperú / Walter Weberhofer y Daniel Arana. © Diego Vivas

The first building to attempt to respond to these new political searches was the Edificio de Petroleos del Perú – Petroperú (1970). The personal relationship between the 5th place architects, Weberhofer and Arana with the military members may have been what allowed them to be commissioned to design the building over the original winning duo of Miguel Cruchaga and Emilio Soyer (Cruchaga, 2005)(1). However, according to Villamonte (2013), the ideas put forward by the winners were followed: a large vertical volume accompanied by low horizontal buildings sought to resemble an oil well, thus making tangible one of the main reasons for the coup d’état: the search for national sovereignty over the oil resource.

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Ministerio de Cultura (Ex Ministerio de Pesquería) / Miguel Rodrigo Mazuré, Cruchaga, Emilio Soyer © Diego Vivas

Next, and chosen through a public competition, the Ministry of Fisheries (1972) was designed and built by the original winning architects of the previous competition in conjunction with Miguel Rodrigo Mazuré. The building decided to play with large volumes, heights and interior voids which, according to the authors, were intended to resemble the anatomy of a cetacean, seeking on this occasion to represent the power and potency in the production of the fishing resource (Cruchaga, 2005). With powerful and highly symbolic forms, it had a pharaonic scale and a dimension that surpassed its functions (Ledgard, 2015), leading to a great controversy that was exacerbated by the sudden disappearance of the ichthyological resource from the coast months after the inauguration and the budget deficit for the payment of the fees for its construction (Villamonte, 2013: 112).

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Secretaría General de la Comunidad Andina de Naciones (Ex Pacto Andino – Acuerdo de Cartagena) / Arana – Orrego – Torres. © Elvis. Edición: Diego Vivas.

These vocations of sheltering power are also reflected, with different intentions, in the formulation of the building of the Cartagena Agreement (1972), designed by Arana, Orrego and Torres (AOT). Regional international policy had in this building a monument of large horizontal volumes whose construction sought to communicate to both the population and the other nations the Revolutionary Government’s desire for Peru to be configured as the country that would lead the integration between the member states of the Andean area (Villamonte, 2013). These large parallelepipeds suspended on the edge of the recently completed Vía Expresa provided an exterior meeting space, through squares, gardens and public spaces in the lower part, prior to the interior spaces for governmental discussion (Kahatt, 2018).

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Ministerio de Producción (Ex Ministerio de Industria, Turismo e Integración) / Manuel Gubbins y Víctor Wyszkowsky. © Diego Vivas

These essays in the representation of reforms and state leadership and power also have an interesting iteration in the building of the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce (1973) – now the Ministry of Production – directly awarded to Manuel Gubbins and Víctor Wyszkowsky, where they explicitly sought to configure three supporting volumes representing the ministerial functions and suspending the general management office at the top; a strategy also used in the Ministry of War Complex (1975) built by Tanaka, Chueca and Mesía. Both buildings perpetuated in their forms the vertical organisation of hierarchies and the vision of power of an era.  

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Complejo del Ministerio de Guerra / Héctor Tanaka, Alberto Chueca y Walter Mesía. © Diego Vivas

Brutalist experiments continued after General Morales Bermudez took power in 1975. Buildings such as the extension of the SENATI (1974-1976) or the Marine Naval School (1975) and the Banco de Crédito de Miraflores (1976-1979) designed by Jacques Crousse and Jorge Páez, began to introduce a brutalism of different orders and plastics in the city anchored to other local references to the pre-Hispanic past – through the use of pyramidal and stepped forms, explored in other ways also in the projects described above – as well as to Italian futurism, which deserve to be studied in greater depth. In the same way, the North American references alluded to in the previous public buildings constructed during the military regime of Velasco Alvarado (to projects such as those of Rudolph, McKinnell & Knowles, Beckett, among others) remain awaiting an extended and profuse study to establish continuities and discontinuities, as well as the degrees of conscious or unconscious, paradoxical or otherwise, influence that may have existed in their execution. A similar situation of need for further research is the case with unconstructed projects such as, for example, Arana Orrego Torres’ Ministry of Agriculture (2).

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Banco de Crédito del Perú / Jacques Crousse, Jorge Páez. © Diego Vivas

Brutalism in Peru developed as a current of thought and way of building which, anchored to the ideas, developments and material innovations, as well as the respective situations, had a space for its evolution, raising to a greater or lesser extent the principles and ethics of the executing entity. These principles and values remain sculpted in its buildings to this day, reinterpreted by the views and uses of the new times. It is crucial to think of them today as opportunities for renewed democratic, inclusive, civic and collective spaces where these aesthetics converge with contemporary needs, recovering in some cases the privatised freedom of their first floors, as in the case of the Cartagena Agreement and currently, as a result of the changes that occurred during the pandemic, the access to the Ministry of Culture (former Ministry of Fisheries). Likewise, to recover the sculptural and expressive conditions of buildings such as SENATI or, in other cases, to give them the possibility of sheltering new uses and the possibility of being re-signified, as is currently happening – with its inconveniences – with the Civic Centre.

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Escuela Naval del Perú / Jacques Crousse, Jorge Páez. © Renato Fernandini. Edición: Diego Vivas

The current situation also demands that these buildings – which would currently be incompatible with the times and local demands in the search for energy and construction efficiency and carbon footprint reduction – find their place (Cutieru, 2021) and be reviewed from all approaches. Likewise, it is fundamental and critical that historiographical discourses emerge that incorporate and make visible the contributions of women architects in the various stages of Peruvian modernity and that allow us to have an integral panorama of the explorations carried out in Peruvian brutalism by various authors (3). These are tasks that, regardless of style and aesthetics, see these shortcomings as opportunities to, from a new ethic, think about ‘the future of the modern’ (4) in our latitude and allow the buildings to continue to speak to us of an era, while perhaps giving us the framework to think about their mistakes and successes, as well as about the future we want and about what we need and what we do not need to find ourselves as a country today. This approach is an invitation to continue discovering them, discovering ourselves and thus continuing to learn from their stories. 

Bibliography

  • Acevedo de los Ríos, Alejandra y Llona Ridout, Michelle (2015). Catálogo Arquitectura Movimiento Moderno Perú. Lima: Universidad de Lima / Fondo Editorial .
  • Banham, Reyner (1966). The New Brutalism: ethic or aesthetic?. Londres: Architectural Press.
  • Casado, Guillermo (2019). Reflexión crítica sobre el brutalismo. Arquitectura y Urbanismo, vol XL, núm 2,5-20.
  • Collins, Peter (1977). Los ideales de la arquitectura moderna. Su evolución (1750-1950). Barcelona: Gustavo Gili.
  • Cutieru, Andreaa (2021). The Refurbishment and Adaptive Reuse of Brutalist Architecture. ArchDaily. Recuperado de https://www.archdaily.com/967215/the-refurbishment-and-adaptive-reuse-of-brutalist-architecture
  • El Centro Cívico Concurso de Época. Proyecto Ganador. (1966). El Arquitecto Peruano, 342, 20-26.
  • Ferrer, Felipe (2011).El Brutalismo: expresión arquitectónica de una época de la historia del país.Moneda, 47-51.
  • Kahatt, Sharif (2018). La idea de lo público en la arquitectura de Arana Orrego Torres. En Arana Orrego Torres, historia de un emprendimiento (p. 43-62). Lima: Universidad de Lima / Fondo Editorial .
  • Ledgard, Reynaldo (2015). La ciudad moderna. Lima: Fondo Editorial PUCP.
  • Ortiz de Zevallos, Augusto (1980). Arquitectura ante o bajo el poder II. Debate, n° 6, 51.
  • Villamonte, Gonzalo (2013). Arquitectura y representación ideológica en Lima del siglo XX: los edificios gubernamentales construidos durante el Gobierno Revolucionario de las Fuerzas Armadas (1968-1975). [Título de licenciatura, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú]. Repositorio Académico de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú

Notes

  1. Interview with architect Miguel Cruchaga Belaúnde by Gonzalo Villamonte. Lima, 7 November 2005
  2. Revise Villamonte (2013: 143).
  3. There are valuable efforts such as Logo/topo II. Arquitectos / Arquitectas. Pioneros / Pioneras (VV.AA), Arquitectas sudamericanas: hacia una historia desconocida de la arquitectura y del urbanismo modernos, 1929-1960 (Huapaya, 2018) y Mujer, arquitectura e interiorismo en el Perú durante el siglo XX. Una presencia no reconocida (Olivera, Doraliza y Llontop-Castillo, María del Carmen, 2021) that are beginning to open the way and generate a basis for a feminist historiography of Peruvian architecture.
  4. During 2018, the event ‘The Future of the Modern: challenges and possibilities for modern heritage in Peru’ was held at the Faculty of Architecture PUCP, organised by the research group Patrimonio Arquitectónico PUCP.

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Cite: Vivas, Diego. “Brutalism in Lima: Ethical and Aesthetic Essays” [Brutalismo en Lima: Ensayos éticos y estéticos] 17 Jun 2022. ArchDaily. (Trans. Pérez Bravo, Amelia) Accessed .

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