From Paradigm to Paradox: On the Architecture Collectives of Latin America

A blog-essay by Ana María Durán Calisto (Harvard Design Magazine N. 34, June 2011)

Research done in collaboration with Francisco Izquierdo
Concept developed with Mariana Ibáñez

The present demands description in new words and concepts, particularly when it is experienced as a financial, environmental, ethical, and epistemological crisis, as a prelude to inevitable (or desired) transformation and change. And it is this demand that we confront as we attempt to analyze a particular, visible, growing phenomenon in contemporary Latin America: the proliferation of architecture collectives. This is not to say that such collectives are new—precursors include Archigram, Superstudio, Archizoom, Coop Himmelb(l)au and Gropius´Architects´s Collaborative, among others (ultimately, the roots of collectives run deep into the Medieval guild system and across professional associations). Nor do we want to imply that we consider this a specifically Latin American phenomenon. Architecture collectives are popping up all over the world. What we can and will try to do here is gather narratives that may allow us to unravel specific Latin American manifestations of this widespread condition and delve into why young professionals in the region have embraced this modus operandi with such force and zeal.

Karl Marx was convinced that we are determined by our times. Within historic materialism, some Thomas Edison would have come to be, and the lightbulb would have been invented. Such a line of thought makes us wonder what the economic and technological forces are that breed architecture collectives. Is their social structure a response to the financial crashes that most Latin American countries experienced in the late 1990s and early 2000s? Did young architects join forces to cope with unemployment and meager professional opportunities? Did they expand the boundaries of their professional activities to penetrate new markets? Or do their nodal networked structures—whether intentionally or spontaneously formed—simply replicate the geometries of the World Wide Web? Are the collectives a by-product of other social and professional networks that exchange ideas and information online in real time? If we dig further into the social and geopolitical transformations that characterize contemporary Latin America, could we argue that the collectives emerge out of the shift from a ’90s neoliberal economic paradigm to a neo-socialist, often populist, model that has strengthened the municipal and national public sectors in most countries? Are the collectives an expression of the movement toward regional cooperation and integration?[1]

After interviewing by e-mail and/or researching the members of twenty-nine collectives, as well as studying the messages in their outspoken responses, texts, and work, we are compelled to reverse Marx’s idea and test that of Max Weber: The times are also the creation of the women and men who live in them, of their beliefs, their will for change, their passions, pursuits, and visions.[2] Individual creativity matters, and a society´s superstructure is not the mere by-product of an economic and technological infrastructure but a force of its own. The collectives are not just a response to crisis (Latin America has been in crisis for decades) nor are they merely the mirror image of nodal telecommunication technologies. Their main drive is to serve as agents for spatial, social, economic, and political transformation.

What we can ascertain without distorting their core motivations is that these collectives focus their efforts and research on urban issues and conditions and often openly engage politics in attempts to alter the public sector. They never allude to crisis as something to endure but rather as a welcome opportunity for inquiry and work. They engage real people and real scenarios. They do not accept the state of the built and natural environments, with their socioeconomic inequities; they believe that they can transform their places and regions through design, education, policy, community involvement, and research.

The collectives relentlessly work from the infrastructure to the superstructure and vice versa, beyond dichotomies. They believe that architecture should engage the built environment through both material and immaterial means. In their view, acceding to binary oppositions lies at the core of our shortcomings as designers. A natural corollary of their synthetic view is that architecture, in addition to addressing the transformation of the built environment through the design and construction of new buildings, cities and landscapes; or through the rehabilitation and integration of existing fabrics, should also engage the cultural forces that shape it. The architects of the new generation seem to claim a role within not only the transformation of material culture but also of cultural thought.

Large tracts of Latin American cities have been self-built in the last century. Any architect committed to understanding the mechanisms of “informal” urbanisms and willing to address their needs is bound to expand the definition of not only architecture’s role, but also its skills and functions. Collectives’ natural response to this ambitious attempt to amplifying architectural practice is to team up with professionals from other disciplines: biology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, geology, ecology, medicine, nutrition, and more. The outcomes of these collaborations are often art interventions in analog and virtual public spaces. Their ultimate intention is to transform public space and trigger a discussion on the city by leaving an imprint through it on the collective consciousness or subconsciousness. From a semantic standpoint, their expanded definitions, rather than articulating or consolidating a new paradigm, situate the members in the realm of paradox, a malleable free zone where they may feel more comfortable and without any need to establish truths, trends, or fixed stances. We have identified seven paradoxes that underlie the work of most collectives we researched and that attempt to draw a sketch of their character, here ordered from specific to general.

Paradox 1: Amplified architecture and studio implosion

Noticias sin previo aviso (News Without Warning) is a radio program run by Rec Comunidad Audiovisual. This suggests the range of activities in which Latin American architecture collectives engage. They are multifaceted to the point that at any particular moment they could be composing music, developing the design for a public park, curating an exhibition, or erecting a structure with a community.

The first paradox refers to that condition of practicing architecture beyond its traditional borders. Architecture collectives engage the built environment by producing editorials and publications; creating archives (of built and unbuilt projects, maps, photographs, videos, texts, etc.); multimedia projects, and art installations; curating exhibitions; opening galleries; convening seminars and workshops; developing research and fabrication laboratories; and so on. They do not subcontract these services or specialize in any. Their team interactions are very fluid; they converge and diverge as need be, depending on the expertise summoned by each commissioned or self-generated project. What is constant is the spirit of collaboration, although its manifestations vary. Their social groups enlarge or contract. Nurturing and enabling diversity is one of their main mottoes. Their intent to be both plural and cohesive has translated into a form of practice that diversifies, even as it narrows to a focus. Collectives strengthen through implosion, as their practices bifurcate into subnetworks, off-shoot internal stems, always in a way that maintains some group coherence. Group identity is not defined by activity, but rather by collectively defined ideology. Their inner fusion into strong nodes makes them capable of supporting and stimulating global interactions and networks.

Growth happens through subdivision, for the most part, of conventional architecture offices, whose new parts expand beyond local, regional, and national borders. Architecture collectives’ structures are networks in the making, perennially under construction, with temporary consolidations at the convergence of a few individuals. A literary reference comes to mind, one quoted by the members of Fábrica de Paisaje: Collectives are like Borges’s garden, where trails bifurcate, making all possible outcomes a simultaneity, like the network society that iterates fractally at all scales. In this world, networks and spheres are not distinct monads, but rather indistinguishable—all balls of wool reaching out through some of their loose threads.

The resilient, free-flowing behavior of collectives may trouble those who strongly believe that architects contribute best to their societies and built environments by doing what they are trained to do: projecting, envisioning, and imagining space within the framework of time, and executing their visions by mastering tectonic, representation, and communication skills with the technologies and instruments needed. But such concerns are unfounded, for collectives are not proposing to abandon the traditional responsibilities and skills of an architect: They embark on architectural projects with rigor at all scales; they design furniture, participate in competitions, create buildings, sculpt landscapes, and deploy urban interventions, all to change the experience of space. Their members simply chose not to depend on slow, rigid, and often recalcitrant institutions that have monopolized the development of architectural culture, or they compensate for the absence of those institutions by developing a para-academia, a para-press, and a para-culture. By expanding academic and cultural practices beyond institutional restrictions, collectives are questioning and reformulating the pedagogical, editorial, cultural, and curatorial role of architecture. The architect’s role is being defined as that of a manager, an orchestrator, a coordinator, or a choreographer. The idea of the isolated visionary sketcher who actually sees his grand architectural visions built has been recast as the notion of an entrepreneurial, dynamic collaborator who cannot know the future and remains in an engulfing present that needs to be clarified.

Paradox 2: The self in the other’s mirror

The work of young members of explicitly associated collectives or spontaneous networks of collaboration like the incredibly successful “archipelago” of Medellín, is being published in diverse media throughout the world. Paisajes Emergentes—whose publications, exhibitions and lectures are displayed as a mosaic in this web-page—are but one example of this phenomenon.

Faced with discussing these collectives, we fear slipping into stereotyping. But perhaps stereotypes can provide us with good clues. After all, some collectives explicitly play with the preconceptions that besiege Latin Americans as they study, work, or travel abroad. This is the case with Supersudaca, whose members explicitly chose humor to subvert and neutralize the term sudaca (southerner), pejoratively used in Spain to refer to Latin Americans, particularly to those of Andean origin who have migrated there in large numbers. By playfully embracing the stereotype (“We are super hicks!”), Supersudaca makes the cliché a source of freedom and openness. The name is immensely appealing to young Latin American architects, who respond with a smile to its defiance. By being politically incorrect and concentrating its efforts on provoking discussions on the challenges faced by the South, Supersudaca empowers its members in unforeseen ways.

But stereotyping approaches prejudice, so we will constrain this discussion to the ways in which Latin American architects are perceived within the international community of architecture. What are we known for? First and foremost, our still vigorous and almost uninterrupted Modernism. Second, our persistence in designing with an economy of means and our ability to respond nimbly to extreme situations of scarcity and emergency as we optimize material, economic, and human resources. Third, Latin American architects and contractors are often the same person, which means that construction is central to an architecture that retains the ethos of Baukunst but also that design is often sacrificed for cost savings. Fourth, design specializations did not exist in Latin America until recently; architects have also been fulfilling the roles of urban planning, urban design, landscape architecture, interior design, and industrial design since the first Modern schools of architecture were established between the 1930s and the 1960s.[3] They also work across scales and programs, rarely specializing in things like residential, commercial, or health-care buildings. They could be simultaneously working on a park, a house, a retail store, and a museum.

Of course, not all Latin American architects align with these stereotypes. Awareness of this helps uncover “otherness” and emergence within standard practice. Such a strategy leads to collectives that strive for diversity of practice but that enter some stereotypical domains (such as designing with an economy of means even in projects that do not have tight budgets, as part of an ethos).

Latin Americans are probably less known for the strange relationship they have maintained with mirrors for centuries. Mirrors did not even exist in the region before they were introduced, along with architectural drawings, by the Spaniards in the 16th century. We are tempted to say that when Latin American architects first looked at themselves in mirrors, the images they saw were of what they should be, or were told they were, or had been, rarely of what they were, thereby reinforcing stereotypes. Any truer image not replicating a foreign or past model tended to be fractured and fragmented, confusing the viewer.

The collectives and the generation they represent are building a fresh image for themselves, stating who they are and who they wish to become within a global order that has provided them the means to produce and manage their own identity. Bringing the metaphor of the mirror to the foreground is vital in a discussion of these collectives, because their drive to see and evaluate themselves and be critiqued by others is one of the strongest underlying motives.

Productora was very explicit about this. The members’ motivation to establish a collective was triggered by a deeply felt need to provide physical and virtual spaces for the discussion of contemporary architectural production in Latin America. “We have always been discussed by others, and our work has been interpreted from the outside. It is time that we begin to analyze ourselves. We have always produced, but now we need to engage in high levels of criticism, discussion, and interpretation,” they wrote to us. They know that this will ultimately trigger a continuous mutually beneficial dialogue between production and interpretation.

What has been the outcome of “engaging the mirror”? Collectives see more of themselves, and elements of their real identities are beginning to flicker in the mirrors and references of others. It is in this quintessential relationship with ourselves that the phrase Octavio Paz used for Mexico in the 1950s can be now applied to all Latin America: “For the first time in our history, we are contemporaries of all mankind.”[4] For collectives, to be able to participate in global architectural discussions is vitally important. One of their core motivations in creating teams is to leap into the international arena from their well-grounded regional platform. They know that formerly peripheral, now eccentric or newly centric conditions inevitably lead them to question the assumptions of the established centers of cultural production like New York and Madrid, where practices, theories, and pedagogies may benefit from the alternate viewpoints of Latin Americans as more and more non-Latin professionals are encountering a completely different framework for design and as opportunities open up for work in the emerging economies of the “global South” (particularly in Brazil and India). This shift within geopolitics and geoeconomics has endowed professionals from the region with a relevance that had been beyond their reach.

Paradox 3: Hand-machined

Rec Comunidad (above) and LAB.PRO.FAB (below) demonstrate how young Latin American architects are hybridizing artisanal with digital strategies of fabrication. Some of them have access to CNC milling machines; others don’t. But that is beside the point. If the machines are neither affordable nor available, they use local labor to translate their computed ideas into form. They know that the digital is, above all, a way of thinking.

Beyond conceding that knowledge is an extensive family with many quirky relatives, one could argue that at the core of what has distinguished Latin American architecture from the practices rooted in European and North American traditions in the last decades is that while the dominant cultures of architecture closely followed the scientific paradigm and high-technological innovations, Latin American architects remained strongly linked to artistic, artisanal, and literary forms of expression as well as to the aesthetics of abstraction inherited from Modernism. This detachment from technological advances in design and construction has been ruptured by digital telecommunications and has evolved into a series of high-tech/low-tech hybrids favored by new practitioners, as they fuse the possibilities opened up by digital thought processes and manufacturing with artisanal methods and artistic efforts. Postmodernism, Deconstructivism, and the pure digitalism of computer-generated form found few followers in the region, since local professionals were skeptical about their ability to respond to social and environmental stresses in complex, contested, and largely self-built urban contexts. Latin American architects reactivated their dialogue with the main discourses of international architecture when digital fabrication, “green” approaches to design, retrofitting, the importance of landscape, and the possibility of designing in tune with the invisible, dynamic forces that shape cities (urban parametrics) lit up the horizon.

The region also aligns naturally with the boost of hybridization triggered by cultural globalization and consciously explores its possibilities in search of renewed expression. As Fab Labs -digital fabrication workshops promoted by the Center for Bits and Atoms of MIT- are dispersing CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machines and programming all over the world, their branches reach cities like Caracas, Lima, Medellín and San José, where new experiments are grafted.[5] The collective Rec Comunidad, for example, is working with the Fab Labs in Caracas and Barcelona (and the academic institutions that support them) to develop fabrication workshops in informal areas and to investigate what happens when a CNC mill and a computer are made accessible to the builders and carpenters who live and work in these self-organized urban areas. The project is in its initial stages, and we expect it to deliver exciting results.

But the tools that perform best in Latin American hands are those that facilitate communication across borders and that enhance conversations, exchanges, and collective organizing. The filaments weaving young professionals along and across the region, beyond Pacific and Atlantic coasts (they move, they have friends abroad), can be wireless or wound with wool. The analog and the digital meld as Latin American architects travel and exchange e-mails, letters, and postcards; in our interviews, many mention that their favorite mode of communication is still conversation.

Paradox 4: Exploding geopolitical borders to consolidate regional solidarity

Conceptual image submitted by Particular. It clearly expresses transversal, regional integration, the need to join forces across borders in the region to strengthen and consolidate global ties and influences.

Young collectives in Latin America have pulverized any remaining cultural dependence by reformulating it as multicultural interactivity on the same terms, at the same level, at a global scale. We are witnessing the behavior of a generation that shares, like none before it, a common ground, a global culture, and the varied ways of expressing it in its heterogeneity. Perhaps this is the case everywhere, but in Latin America it has meant escaping marginality and isolation. This full-fledged decolonization of the mind is not necessarily happening among Latin American elites or the poor with limited Internet access. It stems from the expanding middle and upper-middle classes. What we find most intriguing about this process it that, as ArchDaily´s executive editor David Basulto has said,[6] decentralized cultures that have emerged far from the traditional centers of culture and had few ways of participating in the production of knowledge and culture are now capable not only of actively doing so, but also of contributing to it from within the specificity of their living conditions. The new generation of Latin Americans, which does not want to be confined to any provincial definition of practice or identity, has nevertheless shaped its mission out of a deep desire to transform its cities, strengthen the bonds with other professionals in its region, and openly promote its practices. The external infrastructure is strengthening internal bonds.

Latin American Architecture Collectives
Mapping by Francisco Izquierdo

The role that Spain’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID)[7] has played in the construction of an idea of integration through its investments in education and cultural exchange between the nations in Iberian-America (former Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the Americas plus Spain and Portugal) cannot be underestimated. Spaniards, since the 1990s, have been investing hugely in Latin America, especially during privatization of telephone companies, transport infrastructures, and more. Their economic presence in the region has gone hand in hand with the funding of scholarships and cultural projects. Spain has advantages when it comes to negotiating concessions in Spanish-speaking Latin America. When the Spanish economy started blooming, as Spain integrated into the European Union, it started renewing its impact within Latin America…contesting the United States, our main model and partner until then. Nor can we underestimate the participation of world-renowned architecture schools that have provided the hubs for encounter and consolidation of collaborative, ever-expanding networks through their academic pursuits in the region and their alumni associations. Furthermore, as Latin America strengthens its trans-Pacific trade and cultural relations, Brazil has emerged as a solid propeller of infrastructural integration. The surge of neo-socialist governments has translated into financial, political, cultural and military projects of regional collaboration and integration. But the most interesting vectors interweaving the region are the spontaneous networks that grow and are linked to, but outside of, cultural and academic institutions. Collectives have the will to build a regional design community that shares similar questions and faces similar conditions. Their strategy is to involve others in their regional concerns as much as it is to engage the concerns of others from their particular perspectives, which are bound to evolve as the process of encounter with diverse territories and cultures unfolds.

Paradox 5: Organized and hierarchical anarchy

Leadership remains a key feature of apparently anarchic collective structures


Supersudaca team members, self-depicted, tongue in cheek

Anarchy is the absence or assertive rejection of the government that regulates social relations and exchanges. Since informal settlements lie outside regulation and are therefore described as illegal, do they present us with anarchy? To a certain degree. Informal settlements in Latin American cities are self-managed, self-financed, and self-organized provisions of housing (and employment) not being met by the governing bodies or by private enterprises. Bureaucracies are too slow or corrupt to respond adequately to the needs of an exploding urban population, and private enterprises are simply not interested in providing social housing unless doing so is profitable (as in India, where slum redevelopment is undertaken mainly by private investors who have access to prime land if they rehouse the slum dwellers settled on it). Self-built cities are organic, natural responses to concrete needs. Collectives, like the anarchic settlements they are often interested in addressing, lie outside public and private institutions, although they do keep strong ties with them, particularly architecture schools. The projects they embark on, often called “unsolicited architecture,” frequently result from their own research rather than from public or private commissions. Collectives assert autonomy, self-sufficiency, and democracy, as they intellectually take charge of a situation formerly perceived as beyond their control. In our interviews, it became clear that members are skeptical about all-encompassing and controlling master plans. Theirs is a world of welcomed uncertainty. What meaning can planning have there? The collectives embrace piecemeal and participatory methods of intervention, without abandoning the notion of providing infrastructural and structural supports for the future. They use preexisting regulating and permanent frameworks to perform ephemeral, transformative actions, which propose to catalyze experience, enliven the city, and facilitate spontaneous occupation. The Casa Nautilus, by URO1.ORG is a case in point: It temporarily introduced a transparent house in downtown Santiago to trigger discussions revolving around issues of domesticity, the public domain, and culture.[8] From the standpoint of their practices, their response to the instability of the region has been to join forces; support each other by sharing resources, space, ideas, and connections; keep the structure fair and horizontal; remain open and flexible; and have fun. Their workplaces are playgrounds: They thrive through humor, subversion, and trickery, and thus remind us that magic is still real in Latin America[9] and that humor is the best antidote for discouragement. This is not a generation that sat down to lament the lack of opportunities or the economic constraints it inherited. Its networked organizations provide the support necessary for it to perform well in face of uncertainty and risk.

Paradox 6: Net-individuals, the net-self, and network subjectivity

The net-self. Photomontage by Ana María Durán Calisto

The word “network” has been stretched to describe labor relations, production methods, urban interactions, economic affairs, ecosystems, and social tissues. Just as Darwinian notions of evolution and taxonomy became overarching metaphors of the 19th century, networks seem to have become the key concept to discuss in the 21st. We feel tempted to extend this notion even further and apply it to the individual psyche itself. A return to the mind seems all the more justified by the fact that the epistemological and technological forces that shape our world largely stemmed, after all, from scientific attempts to explain the human brain and the underlying codes of life. Collectives are, at heart, network individuals or net-selves, whose subjectivity functions in relation to larger social forms of branching and multi-scalar interactions. Thanks to plug-ins (software that enhances other software) and user-friendly, often free software, the wired world has moved from the complex to the simple, without abandoning complexity. This has enabled individuals to build hubs autonomously. The preeminence of the individual within an unprecedentedly massive and congested social body, or its survival, is no longer possible without networking the very self.

We find beings that function as networks at the core of all collectives. Collectives are not effacing their members, but rather providing a platform for their visibility; and leaders within them are clearly defined, no matter how strongly they claim to have a horizontal structure. The power of the top is replaced by the power of a knot. A node’s ability to establish connections endows it with power. An efficient node aspires to local, regional, and international interconnection, to be at the crossroads of an infinite number of pathways, particularly those that lead to other powerful nodes. This paradox of the contemporary, knotted sense of freedom goes in tandem with the will to be liberated from any existing faction or ideology by creating new forms of membership, new knots. An initial analysis may lead us to think that collectives are a return to philosophies that emphasize the importance of the social over the individual or of communal interest over personal interest. But without in any way severing the genuine social ethos and the truly altruistic desire to serve their communities, collectives, like all phenomena in the contemporary world, cannot be subject to this kind of polarization (society over ego). Individual benefits accrue thanks to the deployment of a collective strategy. Architects are weaving collectives not to efface individuals but rather to protect, reinforce, and promote their creative potentials. The shift from an emphasis on individual authorship to communal authorship may be a reaction to the star system established in the centers of cultural production that were accessible to a few professionals in the global South.

Paradox 7: Individual and collective imagination at the service of social realism

al bordE and Distopia Lab addressing regional social needs

Acknowledging that an overview of the historical context inherited by the new generation of Latin American professionals cannot be outlined here, we would like to sketch a diagram of some of the most significant moments or situations whose imprints run deep in our subjective mappings of the world, as it looks from the outskirts of the South, which is always very aware of what happens in the North. Two significant and pronounced processes of disenchantment have marked recent history. The first was the gradual disillusionment with Modernism that reached its peak in the 1970s and ’80s. In the political arena, a disappointment with the authoritative organizational systems of Communist regimes, particularly the Soviet, pervaded the air. The skepticism culminated with the beginning of Perestroika in 1985, the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the ensuing melting of the Iron Curtain. As borders diluted, the forces of international global capital expanded unfettered, and supported by personal computers, the Internet, and the World Wide Web, they reached the furthest confines of the planet, open Communist markets included. The current financial and economic crisis is swelling a third wave of disenchantment, but one very different. The laissez-faire and epic global conquest of the multinational market, which reached its most hedonistic peak in the 1990s, has decanted a skepticism regarding its viability, as environmentalists question the earth’s capacity to support current and growing levels of consumption and extraction. The engrained tendency of capitalist logic to concentrate wealth has strengthened gaps within and between nations, within and between social groups.

Global capital, among other phenomena, catalyzed the generation of mega-slums in the new geographies of an exploding urban world. In the 19th and 20th centuries, as cities grew and consolidated in industrialized nations, developing nations were inserted into the global market as providers of raw materials, whether mineral or organic, and agricultural products.[10] The counterpart of modern cities were large tracts of mines; monumental transport, water and energy infrastructures; and mono-culture agro-industries that displaced rural populations into cities that were not prepared to receive them and had no industries that could absorb them as labor. Self-built and self-organized urban-economic patches started to expand and densify as migrants appropriated private or public land outside legal protection and property rights, in marginal or interstitial lands or waters, generally unsuitable for building. Alongside “informal” vernacular construction (which, because of its legal, financial, and technological restrictions, tends to be horizontal and hyper-dense), the real estate industry stacked the ground in central, clustered, or ubiquitous high-rise residential and commercial developments, shopping malls, and American-style suburban gated communities that spilled beyond and between traditional towns. The public sector, on the other hand, invested in social housing, the provision of services and infrastructure, and the deployment of an institutional framework, all of which always fell short in relation to expanding demand. Since the inception of industrialization, Latin America had tended to seek economic models in the North, particularly as it sought a place within international trading networks. With the rise of global capital and the digitalization of the economy, a large proportion of industrial and electronic production was transferred to the east, to emerging Asian economic powers. This progressive recalibration and decentralization of the global order left Latin America, with few exceptions, playing a marginal role, still related, to a large extent, to monoculture and mining.

Among those thrice disenchanted, there are architects who are looking for a third, fourth, or fifth paradigm without assuming that all solutions must come from the North. To revert to hard- core socialist models (as some of our governments have) would equate to have faith in an ideology of design that stemmed from the industrial era and is now obsolete. On the other hand, to surrender to the mere satisfaction of a voracious transnational market, whose budgets have yet to adequately compute social and environmental costs, does not provide an equitable exit to the crisis. The teams and individuals who are working in the challenging terrain of inquiry and the unknown, those who are attempting to grapple with innovative definitions of “economic development,” deserve attention, however in flux their work may be. Collectives lie within the skeptic, creative, and optimistic networks rising from disenchantment. They make us wonder whether “post” capitalism is micro-capitalism; whether a shift to off-the-grid, decentralized strategies of development may lead to a network of networks, whose wombs may breed their own trading and production relations, interconnected bubbles like the Galaxies Forming along Filaments of Tomás Saraceno.

[1] Latin America is undergoing an unprecedented process of political, financial, military, and infrastructural integration. Several institutions and projects have been launched to interweave the region since the 1960s: UNASUR, Banco del Sur, IIRSA, CAF, MERCOSUR, OTCA, and more.

[2] See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1930; originally1904–05).

[3] The first architecture school of Latin America was established in 1781 in México City (Escuela Nacional de Arquitectura). It later became the Facultad de Arquitectura of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

[4] Octavio Paz, The Labyrinth of Solitude and The Other Mexico, Return to the Labyrinth of Solitude, Mexico and the United States, The Philanthropic Ogre, trans. Lysander Kemp, Yara Milos, and Rachel Phillips Belash (New York: Grove Press, 1985), 194.

[6] David Basulto, in discussion with the author, March, 2011,

[8] See The project Elemental in Chile, with its open approach to housing, may have deeply influenced the new generation of Latin American architects. Elemental proposes a hybrid solution to the provision of social housing: Its system provides a basic framework to support inhabitation (public investment) and enough indeterminacy and space for growth (private investment).

[9] For a discussion on “disenchantment” with the physical world, see Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967).

[10] It is important to note that we have consciously chosen to use the geopolitics of nation-states, for even though transnationalism has eroded national borders and activated a different jurisdictional logic, mappings of exports, imports, telecommunication networks, and consumption patterns of energy and materials demonstrate that nations still play a major role in guiding the forces of the transnational market.


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