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  • The Present, the Modern, and Modernization:Reexamining Latin American Modernity in the Writing of Alberto Cruz
  • Maxwell Woods (bio)

Since at least the 1970s, a radical reevaluation of Latin American modernity has taken place within cultural criticism: against earlier readings of modernism in Latin America either as part of the "inevitable road [to] cosmopolitan high-cultural grace" or as a betrayal of "localized allegiances," new criticism has tended to show how various expressions of modernism in Latin America transculturate European cultural formations and root them in local histories and experiences.1 Lacking from many of these discussions, however, has been an examination of modern architecture. For instance, Walter Mignolo, Fernando Rosenberg, Enrique Dussel, Monika Kaup, Nestor García Canclini, and others who have participated in this reevaluation of Latin American modernity investigate art, music, literature, philosophy, and history, but architecture rarely receives mention.2 This is especially peculiar given the widespread effect of modern architecture within Latin America as well as evidence that modern architecture has participated in the same blending of vernacular forms with European modernism that has been noted by these other authors.3

This article departs from this tendency, as noted in scholarship, to ignore architecture in broader theoretical discussions of Latin American modernity.4 As such, this article begins with a survey of the debates between postcolonial theories of modernity in Latin America—which, through a temporal metaphorics, argue for constructing alternative modernities from within [End Page 287] modern temporality—and decolonial theories of modernity in Latin America, which, through a spatial metaphorics, argue for empowering alternative epistemologies that are exterior to modern Eurocentric epistemologies and temporalities.5 In the most polemic instances of this debate, postcolonial thinkers have accused decoloniality of theoretical shallowness whereas decolonial thinkers have accused postcoloniality of accepting colonial epistemologies in their appeal to methodologies from the North Atlantic.6 Rather than adding directly to this theoretical partisanship, this article asks a different simple question: where's the discussion of architecture in these debates? Subsequently, the article will claim that there are substantial reasons why architectural history has been absent. By ignoring debates regarding the coloniality of modernity, the theorization of the transculturation and hybridization of modern temporality within postmillennial histories of modern architecture in Latin America has often led to these histories serving as ideological legitimations of settler colonialism. Against the apparent resulting conclusion to be drawn from this historiography—modern architecture in Latin America gives form to coloniality—this article concludes by arguing that the 1954 text of the Chilean architect Alberto Cruz—in which he details the process of designing a chapel at Los Pajaritos outside of Santiago de Chile—presents a "decolonial option" for modern architectural practice in Latin America.7

In this text, Cruz is devoted to a specific question: how can Chile have a modern architecture when "the modern" is precisely, as we will see later, what Chile supposedly lacks at that moment? I argue through my reading of this text that Cruz resolves this problem by rethinking modernity around the problematization of the present. Against ideas of progress, technological advancement, or the emergence from "immaturity," Cruz defines modernity as the collection of what is happening today. In a summarizing phrase that will be explained in this article: modernity, for Cruz, is that which takes (a) place. Cruz's theory of modernity, this article argues, therefore provides a resolution to current debates between postcolonial and decolonial critiques of modernity in Latin America by erecting a decolonial theory of modernity from within the postcolonial metaphorics of temporality. In sum, in his design of the chapel at Los Pajaritos Cruz effectively imagines a decolonial option for modern architecture in Latin America: not the particularity of Latin American cultural forms against the hegemonic ideology of "the modern" in Europe, but rather a modern architectural form produced by problematizing the present and thereby situating Latin America as out of time with European modernity.

Decoloniality, Postcoloniality, and Modernity

In "The Art of Telling the Truth" (1988) and "What Is Enlightenment" (1984) Michel Foucault defines what he calls the "attitude of modernity" through his reading of Immanuel Kant's discussion of the Enlightenment (Aufklärung).8 In his summary of Kant's...


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