"Architecture is still very much an art in Latin America. The articulate elements in the community expect more from architects than purely 'functional' solutions." This was true in 1955 when Henry Russell Hitchcock wrote his perspicacious book "Latin American Architecture Since 1945," and, in general, it is still the case today, although in the last few years the bare American skyscraper has made deep inroads in some Latin American countries.
In adopting the basic concepts of functionalism, Latin American architects have not followed the extreme, austere, wing of modern architecture. The most important building in South America, which houses the Ministry of Education and Health in Rio, is far from being the simple parallelepipedon dear to the followers of Mies. A landmark of modern Latin American architecture, it is an articulate building where contrasting volumes assembled in perfect composition are enhanced by paintings, sculptures and gardens in perfect plastic unity. In Latin America, more than in any other part of the world, architecture is regarded as an art: "I have always considered architecture as a work of art, and only as such is it capable of subsisting," declared Oscar Niemeyer.
The separation of art and architecture has never been envisaged either in the minds of the public or in the intentions of the architects. Latin Americans have kept the long art traditions of their Mediterranean and Indian forefathers. They show a definite taste for strong colors and rich decoration. They are romantic, sensitive, extrovert, exuberant and responsive to the emotional impact of the grandiose. Their imagination and rich fantasy find no difficulty in accepting the strangest forms that may be suggested by their architects and painters.
Architects and artists do not form two separate classes, as in the United States. Intellectual "milieux" are rather small: architects, artists, writers and other intellectuals know one another, maintain constant social contacts and often are close friends. There is no barrier between these professions. While architects in the United States, with or without their consent, rapidly become specialists, Latin American architects receive the most varied commissions, from the simplest commercial or industrial building to the most imaginative free-form pavilion.
Architects and artists are trained in the same schools, and several architects have become well- known painters and sculptors: the Mexican muralist Juan O'Gorman was one of the pioneers of modern Mexican architecture, and the architect Firminio Saldanha has become one of the best Brazilian mural painters. The Colombian artists Alejandro Obregón and Eduardo Ramirez, and the Chilean painter Roberto Matta, were trained as architects.
Architects are very much aware of activities in the art world. Many have art collections that reveal the refined taste of their owners and enable one to see, side by side, precious pieces of pre-Columbian art, gracious colonial baroque figures and ultra-modern abstract paintings. Some architects are directors or members of local museums, art galleries and art schools.