Salón Flor de Urkupiña, 2012. Photo: A. Zeballos

For many years now I am living in the suburbs of Amsterdam and I constantly commute by public transport. In the small station where I take the train, there is always an Hungarian musician playing all kinds of music, one of those many times I hear the theme of the Bolivian group Los Kjarkas “llorando se fue” of course in the famous lambada rhythm; one of the few things that from Bolivian origin has been globalized and has become part of world culture.

Since last year, however, the city of El Alto is being well known because of “The architecture of Freddy Mamani Silvestre” through the book of Elisabetta Andreoli, as well as articles and television documentaries. Not that I think that this architecture will have some influence in Europe, but I am very pleased to see that it is considered something singular and a product of the process of changes Bolivia is having politically, economically and socially.

According to the architect Mamani “the design is done in the city of El Alto, which has Andean cultural roots then, we cannot call “cholets” to his architecture, a design that has its own identity and style from the Andean culture of Bolivia “.


The use of “cholo” appellation is very common in Bolivia, the term is used to refer to the indigenous of the Altiplano and is considered discriminatory and pejorative. In popular parlance, the word “chola” is also used to refer to the loving wife of a man and is widely used the term “cholero” which refers to a man who likes to have lovers. Another meaning is that which relates to the person migrated from the countryside to the city, who is trying to adapt or migrate their ways home to the new idiosyncrasies of the city.

But generally indicates miscegenation of the population. The “cholo”, also called “mestizo” is a mix between a mestizo and a mestizo, a mestizo and indigenous, a mestizo and a white or a white and an indigenous. This mixture was very common in the states or provinces of Latin American countries where the native population ended up being more than a third of the population. Considering this probably more than 70% of Bolivians are cholos, and of course a large majority of professional architects, so we’d all be doing “chola architecture”, well if we agree that our architectural products are born of our own social reality and culture, be it in El Alto or the South Zone of La Paz. But of course that “chola architecture” of El Alto is more original, more legitimate, more sincere and more Bolivian that all attempts to copy modern and postmodern architecture of downtown and the neighborhoods of the south.

In one of the most beloved books of Kenneth Frampton, (Tectonics, The poetics of Construction) refers that architecture has the ability to represent values, ​​that the building, unlike the fine arts, is both an everyday experience as it is a representation and that the built is a thing rather than a sign. The body articulates the world, at the same time the body is articulated by the world, when someone perceive the concrete to be something cold and hard, we recognize the body as something warm and soft.

The architecture of Mamani is undoubtedly a representation of the Bolivian reality, but goes beyond that, it is more than a sign, because the two-dimensional expression of the facade is brought into the building, where it grows exponentially creating stunning tri-dimensional spaces, full of colors and shapes characteristics of the Bolivian handicrafts. It is a craftsman architecture, in which the architect Mamani has found a language that combines construction techniques of stucco with forms and signs of the “Andean culture” as he has appointed. Being in one of those spaces should create in us ecstasy, satisfaction, surprise, envy, jealousy.

In my youth I ever wanted to know how are made the folkloric suits that represented, devils, condors, and other characters of our carnival; near the Street Sagarnaga in La Paz Bolivia was a tailoring shop, where I met these amazing artisans who were creating unique pieces for the Carnival, prodigious hands working in family: grandparents, parents, children and other relatives, devising fantasies above hard pressboard (number 18) , with a metallic thread called Milan and trimmings of all colors, fascinating embroidery pieces which then were put together through joints and sutures to complete the costume of the devil. For the masks they used tin cut efficiently and accurately with skilful hands.

The technique because of commercialism has changed a lot, now there are embroidery machines and the fabulous masks are made of stucco. But it is precisely this new technique which is closely related to the architecture of Mamani, its buildings have become devils and other characters, built to be inhabited and colonized, its scale has increased and is no longer just for one dancer, now is for an entire social group.

edificio-2012_-a_-zeballos-682x1024                                 Biablo

Foto A. Zeballos (2012)

I cannot wait for the time when all these devils, dragons, condors and others will constitute a fabulous urban dance troupe of buildings and manifest itself in all its splendor and colorful in the city of El Alto.

La Diablada – Carnival Oruro 2015


  1. Nelo

    Interesting article, last year on my trip to the Salar de Uyuni by bus, i had the pleasure of seeing some of these buildings in El Alto and they are unique and creative. The only issue i have is that they do stand out in the middle of all the bare brick buildings.

    • Hi John,
      I have another blog who deals with that issue, URBANISMO DE EMANCIPACION, maybe will clarify a bit better the problems in El Alto, as always occur in our societies social and economic problems are present, architecture cannot deal with that, but maybe could Urban Planning do it.

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