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The careful pluralization in the title and subtitle of Latin American Modern Architectures: Ambiguous Territories indicates the editors’ cognizance of the inherent difficulties of the term “Latin America.” In circulation now for more than a century and a half, the term has long been less a geographical designation than a social one. It suggests that the various nations of the southern continent that emerged from the administrations of Iberian empires share a tradition of political habits and a currency of cultural expressions. Modernity may have spread unevenly across this space named Latin America, but the process of modernization is often itself similarly characterized as a singular force, almost a force of nature in its transcendence of the borders, languages, and customs, all of which mark out differences between the constituent elements yoked together as Latin America.
If the several nations followed their own paths into and through this modernization, why not discard the term altogether? The editors explain that, although they are cautious of the perils of simplification, they are also wary of exacerbating the proliferation of accounts of myriad distinct and incommensurable modernisms. They wish instead to “argue for the possibility of ‘Latin America’ as a pathway into exploring a network of transnational relationships and transcontinental connections” (3). In other words, the essays in the book examine the modern architectures fashioned across conventionally differentiated spaces and events, the modern architectures situated in the ambiguous territories of Latin America.
By identifying vague or fluid territories as its central matter, the book implicitly recognizes the transnational as a crucial space of modernity. Transnationalism underwrote the activities of a preceding imperial age, and in different form, it enables current postmodern globalization. So it is no surprise to find transnationalism woven into the structures and manifestations of both modernity and modernism. But in each appearance, transnationalism takes different historical forms, and describing those forms may not be a simple task. Architectural histories in particular, with their primary objects seemingly so fixed in place, rarely come prepared to explicate the changeable contours of cultural exchanges, economic transactions, or political migrations. Hence the considerable attraction of a collection of essays that promises to focus its attention on precisely these agents of modernity.
The editors divide the essays into three thematic sections. The first section, “Singular Journeys,” contains accounts focused upon well-known individuals, using them as lenses through which to discern experiences of internationalism. Gaia Piccarolo presents “Lucio Costa’s Luso-Brazilian Routes,” which examines the travels of the Brazilian architect from his peripheral home to a metropolitan center. In “‘Corbusians’ in Uruguay,” Jorge Nudelman Blejwas discusses the [End Page 389] apprenticeships and subsequent careers of three architects who worked at Le Corbusier’s Paris atelier. For her essay “Mass Culture at Mid-century,” Noemí Adagio juxtaposes the humanism theorized by Enrico Tedeschi in Argentina with that proposed by Joseph Hudnut at Harvard.
In the second section, six essays grouped under “Techno-cultural Assemblages” offer accounts that examine efforts to coordinate and implement the developmental practices of modernism. Luis Castañeda takes the parallel careers of Pedro Ramírez Vázquez in Mexico and Fernando Belaúnde Terry in Peru as markers of politicized architectural practices. An extended architectural experiment, the program of the Caracas superbloques in Venezuela, is the subject of Viviana d’Auria’s “Caracas’s Cultural (Be)Longings.” Daniel Talesnik’s essay “Monumentality and Resignification” situates a case study of the UNCTAD III building within the political complexities of Chile during and after Salvador Allende’s government. Also beginning in Allende’s Chile, “A Panel’s Tale,” by Pedro Ignacio Alonso and Hugo Palmarola Sagredo, presents as a political narrative the adoption of a standardized construction component. Claudia Shmidt retraces the dilemmas of “Argentina’s cuestión capital,” the siting and building of Argentina’s federal capital. Paulo Tavares’s “Modern Frontiers” reveals how the construction of a different federal capital, Brasília, prompted new strategies of settlement in the Amazonian wilderness.
The final section, “Mediated Territories,” includes essays that consider correspondences of...