Art in Latin American Architecture

By Paul F. Damaz | Go to book overview


A Few Thoughts on the Integration of the Arts

The concept of the interrelation of art and architecture is present in the minds of most creative architects and artists and of all persons concerned with problems of visual esthetics. It has its staunch advocates, as it has its violent detractors. But, considering the situation of contemporary architecture and the diversity of its plastic conceptions, it is as wrong to refuse art its place in architecture as a matter of principle as it is to say that art should be part of the budget of every building. Some buildings, in their purity and austerity, can come close to esthetic perfection without the help of any art work. Others, such as some of the latest works of Le Corbusier, have such a strong plasticity of form that they are works of sculpture by themselves and quite self-sufficient.

When and how the architect should use the services of artists, as he uses those of engineers and other specialists, has long been a matter of controversy. But the advocates of total integration can speak only from theoretical points of view, since they have no solution for the total unification of today's art and architecture. All examples of collaboration between architects and artists, including the best, remain at the level of the mutual relationship that can be achieved between the architecture and the work of art, each retaining its own individuality. This kind of integration of the arts is the only possible one, and perhaps the only desirable one in our time.

Modern architecture is now full-grown and mature. It has evolved from initial dogmatic simplicity to freer and more plastic expression, as indeed has been the case in all great art periods. But if the union of the arts is as desirable today as it ever was in the past, one must realize that it can no longer take place on the old basis of integration, if by integration one means fusion. Architecture has developed along materialistic and practical lines and is now a product of the mind. Art, on the other hand, remains by its very definition a product of the spirit. It is true that the new tendencies of contemporary architecture apparent in the softening of the Mies school, the new "brutalism," Le Corbusier's plasticity and Kiesler's continuity have brought architecture closer to sculpture. Nevertheless, it is difficult to see how art and architecture can be integrated to the point of becoming completely fused unless we are speaking of an art lowered to the level of a mass-produced building material, or of an irrational architecture transformed into an abstract sculpture. This last hypothesis might some day be possible through the development of a now type of plastic building material. For the time being, however, it could happen only through a return to craftsmanship, and this is unthinkable.

What we must strive for is a communion of the arts, in order that the dynamic colors of the painter and the plastic forms of the sculptor may become an integrant part of the architectural composition while retaining their independent and extrinsic esthetic values. Art can be a valuable complement to architecture, for it can create an extension and an intensification of its esthetic and emotional appeal. The interrelation between a piece of sculpture and its architectural setting is apparent even to the least sensitive observer. The successful result of such mutual influence depends not only on the quality of the architecture and the sculpture but also on the way they have been combined and, most of all, on their respective and reciprocal qualities.

The best examples of integration of the arts in recent years are those in which architecture and art have been brought together by confrontation. Art can then be chosen either to match the architecture or to oppose it but always to complement it.

This principle of confrontation, used at the University of Caracas, has produced the most successful example of integration of the arts in the Western Hemisphere and probably in the world, while the idea of fusion, used at the University of Mexico, has resulted in the failure of a grandiose attempt.

Assembling art and architecture by juxtaposition consists in using works of art as decorative objects chosen for their form, volume, texture and color and placing them in preconceived architectural surroundings in such a way as to achieve the best decorative effects. While this method is not necessarily objectionable it is dangerous unless handled by a coordinator who has a deep feeling for, and a good knowledge of, both art and architecture. But herein lies the real difficulty, for very few present-day architects have any genuine appreciation of modern art, and experience has shown, for instance at the UNESCO Building in Paris, that decisions made by committees of "specialists" are even worse than those made by the average architect. On the other hand, furnishing an interior or even filling a skyscraper, as was recently done in New York, with works of art, excellent though they may be, has nothing to do with integration of the arts.

There have never been so many artists as there are today in our mechanical civilization. Whether this fact represents a healthy reaction against our materialistic life or a defense of human beings against their inhuman surroundings, or as seems more likely, a misconception of what artistic creation is, it is unquestionably becoming more and more difficult for the architect who is not an art expert to pick out the talent from among the crowd of mediocrities. This has perhaps always been true, but it has become much more of a problem since we have recognized that abstract art is more appropriate to architectural integration than any kind of figurative art.

Great art does not belong to any one school or style. It may lie anywhere between absolute abstraction and photographic imitation. However, we are here concerned with modern architecture, and it seems difficult to reconcile realistic art and contemporary architecture. The Mexican example should be enough to persuade architects to stay away from it.

If we accept the principle that a wall should be re-


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Art in Latin American Architecture
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Picture Credits 6
  • Acknowledgments 7
  • Color Illustrations 8
  • Contents 9
  • Author's Note 11
  • Preface 13
  • Foreword 14
  • Part 1 19
  • Sources of Latin American Culture 23
  • The Pre-Columbian Heritage 27
  • Colonial Art and Architecture 35
  • Modern Architecture 42
  • Contemporary Art in Latin America 52
  • Art in Modern Architecture 68
  • Part 2 107
  • Schools 129
  • Theaters, Restaurants, Clubs and Commercial Buildings 155
  • Hospitals and Religious Buildings 168
  • Hotels, Apartment Buildings and Private Houses 183
  • Monuments and Memorials 197
  • Landscape Architecture 208
  • Experimental Architecture 222
  • Bibliography 230
  • Index 231


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