In Bolivia a new architectural style has been born, the cholet. A design that connects with the roots of its Aymara legacy and that opens its wings to the contemporary present.
The most incredible interventions in the world of architecture always come from people who know how to visualize the shortcomings or motivations of an environment or time, almost always linked to a specific cultural movement. The most current example is in Bolivia, where a singular architect has created a new architectural style, which is having an overwhelming success in Latin America.
Freddy Mamani Silvestre was born in Catavi, Bolivia, a small town in the Konani canton. Neither he, nor everyone around him, could have ever imagined that he would become an architectural reference worldwide, much less that he would do so by adapting the iconography of his Aymara origins to the present. All this, thanks to the new emerging upper-middle class of the Bolivian people.
El Alto, the most avant-garde city in Bolivia
A novel project that emerged in a recently minted town. It is a city that is about 30 years old, and that was born under the shelter of La Paz, the administrative capital of the country. The city is called El Alto and, due to its location, it has become in a very short time the most dynamic and promising space in the area. It is at an altitude of 4,000 meters, and before Mamani arrived, it was characterized by a monochromatic construction aesthetic, in which the reddish tones of the adobe bricks stood out, the most versatile construction element in the Orb.
According to the self-taught architect, his intention is to give color, personality and enhance the culture of his country, through buildings whose symbology is inspired by the Aymara past. An example of this is his first creation, a building for resourceful young merchants. This was based on the iconography of the past, and its design was so revolutionary that before finishing the work, the local newspaper La Razón dedicated an extensive report to it.
From a bricklayer, to creating more than 70 buildings in El Alto
Imagine that you are a mason and that for your love of art you have designed a spectacular building, a constructive sample so different from the rest, that before finishing the work you appear in one of the most popular media in the country. Wow. Quite a rush, right? But the best thing is that, either because of the diffusion, because of your good work, or because of a mixture of both, a few years later you have made 70 buildings of the same style in El Alto, and more than 100 in all of Bolivia. If that is not successful…
This concept, which Mamani calls New Andean Architecture, is popularly known as Cholet, a term that comes from the fusion of Chalet and Cholo, a pejorative name used to refer to the mestizo Indians of the city. At first the word Cholets did not like Freddy very much, until he glimpsed it differently. For him, Cholet comes from the confluence of Chalet and Chola, name of the mestizo Indians. In this way the author identifies his buildings with the feminist movement.
Freddy Mamani’s creations are called cholet
In a recent interview, the architect admits that he sees his buildings as Aymara women, adorned with their typical colorful costumes, hats and traditional jewelry. At the same time, he says that he is referring to the woman’s ability to welcome the whole family. Honestly, it seems more like a well thought out way to relate his works to current feminism than a reality. Either way, it’s a pretty good marketing strategy.
But… What is a Cholet? A cholet is a building with six and seven floors, distributed in such a way that the ground floor is a commercial premises or family workshop; the first floor is a meeting space or party room; the following floors are used for apartments for rent; and at the top, there is a chalet, usually a duplex, where the owner resides. In addition, the building has a marked and exuberant geometry inside and outside, which transcends the Aymara culture, mixing it with contemporary concepts.
The cholet has seven floors and is characterized by its colors
The geometric shapes are born from those found in the ancient city of Tiwanaku (500-1,000 AD). Shapes of condors, pumas, or birds, which are combined with designs that are born from mountains, lightning and flowers. Thus, the artist has created his own language with which he articulates his idea of a contemporary city, generously applying colors of blue, green, red and bright pink tones.
.The use of large chandeliers in the interior rooms, together with the application of capitals on the columns, enhance the use of bold colors and shapes, which are illuminated by 2,000 or 3,000 light bulbs. The resounding forms of the interior are executed by local artisans, who mold them following professional techniques. In addition, they apply the paints with brushes, not with a broad brush.
The nouveaux riches of Bolivia live in the cholets of Freddy Mamani
Of course, this new architecture is not made for low-end pockets. The owners of the cholets are the nouveaux riches of Bolivia, local people who have been lucky in business, and who have settled in the second most populous city in the country. People who don’t mind showing off their cultural belonging and their economic position with pride.
The success has been so overwhelming that the artist has traveled around the world teaching his new concept of architecture. Freddy Mamani has been to Las Vegas, California, Paris, even the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In addition, he has granted interviews in almost any digital or television medium. Now, some of the builders who started with him are his competition, but his creature grows beyond his wings… Where will it go?
*Photographs by Mattia Polisena