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El Alto

A project by Freddy Mamani Silvestre

Since 2005, a man and his firm have completed sixty projects in his hometown of El Alto, Bolivia, the world’s highest city, which sits at nearly fourteen thousand feet, on an austere plateau above La Paz. The man’s name is Freddy Mamani Silvestre, an architect with no office, but just a computer. He draws formal blueprints, sketches his plans on a wall or transmits them orally to his associates.

Like most of his clients, and like some 1.6 million of his fellow-citizens, Freddy is an Aymara — his eccentric style is inspired by the craft traditions of his own indigenous culture and the strong masonry of pre-Inca architecture. His people have been subject to successive waves of conquest and dispossession, first by the Inca, then by the Spanish.

“For me, this architecture has its own language, its own identity, its own essence. This is also a form of protest, but through architecture we are showing who we are, what we want and what we have.

The architecture of El Alto incorporates circular motifs from Aymara weaving and ceramics and the neon colors of Aymara dress, and it alludes to the staggered planes of Andean temples. But it has also been inspired by science fiction, particularly by the Transformer movies. It might be called, like the second film in the saga, Revenge of the Fallen.

As a young man, Freddy worked in construction. In his early twenties, he earned a degree in civil engineering, against the advice of his family. “It’s a career for the rich,” they told him. A problem he solved by designing in an Aymara vernacular of his own invention.

All photos by Tatewaki Nio

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