Exhibir arquitectura en Colombia: una historia en construcción

Michael Andrés Forero Parra


Desde pabellones temporales en exposiciones internacionales, pasando por exhibiciones itinerantes en museos de arte, hasta muestras experimentales en bienales y trienales; exhibir arquitectura es hoy una práctica profesional y un objeto de investigación. No obstante, en este campo creciente, algunas geografías permanecen ausentes, con lo que se ignora las conexiones de dichos eventos arquitectónicos con algunas disciplinas, actores y redes. Por tanto, este artículo recupera un siglo de historia de exposiciones de arquitectura en Bogotá y proporciona un paso inicial para reconocer la exhibición de arquitectura como una pieza fundamental en la historia de la disciplina en Colombia y como un componente vital de la difusión de la cultura arquitectónica en Latinoamérica.

Palabras clave:  exposiciones de arquitectura, historia de la arquitectura, difusión de la arquitectura, cultura arquitectónica, Colombia, Latinoamérica

Exhibiting Architecture in Colombia: A History Under Construction

Michael Andrés Forero Parra


From temporary pavilions at international expositions to travelling exhibitions at art galleries to experimental displays in biennials and triennials, exhibiting architecture has become both a professional practice and an object of research. Some geographies remain absent within this burgeoning field, however, ignoring the connections of these architectural events with different disciplines, actors and networks. This paper recovers a century-long history of architectural exhibitions in Bogotá, acknowledging the display of architecture as a relevant aspect of Colombian architectural history, playing a vital role in the dissemination of architectural culture in Latin America.

Keywords: architectural exhibitions, architectural history, architectural dissemination, architectural culture, Colombia, Latin America

With the proliferation of platforms for exhibiting architecture around the world since the seventies, different approaches to architectural exhibitions have emerged. 4411N01 They have been conceived as links of a cultural production chain and as laboratories for productive thinking. 4411N02 Although sometimes considered to be a downgraded version of the ‘real’ built architecture outside the gallery, architectural exhibitions are now perceived as a form of architectural practice. 4411N03 Others, rejecting the limitation of the gallery or the built object, recognize architecture as a hybrid that transforms and redefines itself with each act of exhibition(ism). 4411N04

Some aspects of architectural exhibitions have been consistently emphasized, such as their public character; their fragile and temporary nature; their collaborative spirit; the collective space they engender; and their crossdisciplinary pollination. 4411N05 Far from providing a discrete, self-referential perspective, studies of architectural exhibitions have shown architecture to be a relational discipline, integrating art history, revealing the economic and political forces that impact the built environment and highlighting the institutional frameworks that affect and shape architectural culture. 4411N06

Nonetheless, within this burgeoning field, many studies have been limited in geographical scope to some countries: the United States, Canada, certain  European countries and, eventually, Japan. This limitation therefore ignores the artistic, technological, political and museological dimensions of these architectural events in different contexts. This paper recovers a century-long history of architectural exhibitions in Bogotá, acknowledging the display of architecture as a relevant aspect of Colombian architectural history, playing a vital role in the dissemination of architectural culture in Latin America.

The exhibition of architecture in Colombia has a long but unexplored history. Its origins can be traced back to the nineteenth century, with the 1899 Exposición Nacional, when the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes was invited to include the arts in an already established industrial and agricultural exhibition. 4411N07 Works by the French architect Gaston Lelarge were displayed alongside paintings, sculptures, photographs and metal ornaments by Colombian artists. 4411N08 Architecture, therefore, was exhibited for its aesthetic value. Lelarge presented three watercolors, a longitudinal section of a Gothic church and architectural drawings for a new market square and a pavilion for L’Exposition de Paris 1900. 4411N09

Arnoldo Michaelsen at the Museo Nacional de Colombia, 1952. Source: Catálogo Archivo MNC. Courtesy Museo Nacional de Colombia

Even though Colombia had no presence in Paris, the atmosphere of international expositions inspired a local event. A decade later, during the commemorations of the centennial of independence, architecture in a different format and on a different scale formed part of the exhibition content. Four pavilions and two garden follies were built for the 1910 Exposición Nacional, 4411N10 presenting architecture as a technological means for ensuring the nation’s progress. Although the investment they required was high for the time, only one of them, known as the Quiosco de la Luz, survived demolition. By 1938, it was the only physical testimony of this important historical episode.

Architectural exhibitions as mechanisms for discourses on national progress could be found across Latin America. Also in 1910, Argentina organized the Exposición Internacional del Centenario. Pavilions in brand-new public spaces were unveiled in Buenos Aires, including some representing countries such as Italy, Spain and Paraguay. In 1922, two exhibitions in Brazil presented architecture differently. The first, the Exposição Internacional do Centenário da Independência, which was held in Rio de Janeiro and was similar to those held in Bogotá and Buenos Aires, showcased the country’s growing industries and achievements through pavilions that “were designed according to a neocolonial spirit.” 4411N11 The second, the Semana de Arte Moderna in São Paulo, gathered together poets, musicians, painters, sculptors and architects “in the first anti-traditionalist manifestation, cultivated with the inspiration from the modern artistic movements in Europe.” 4411N12

The dichotomy between a local, traditional identity and a modern vision also impacted architecture in Colombia. Proa , the first Colombian architecture magazine, founded in 1946, published the book Arquitectura en Colombia in 1951, which connected two opposed realities: colonial architecture and contemporary architecture since 1946. This connection tried to establish modern architecture as a “natural” progression from local tradition. 4411N13 While the magazine tried to establish a local origin for modern Colombian architecture, architectural exhibitions encouraged visitors to reach different conclusions.

In September 1949, for example, the French architect René Hartwig curated an eclectic exhibition that included architecture, painting, sculpture and stained glass at the Museo Nacional de Colombia (MNC). 4411N14 René Hartwig displayed full-color tourist maps of the French Antilles and architectural drawings for a hotel in Guadeloupe. 4411N15 In November 1952, at this same institution, twenty-four watercolors of natural landscapes and the built environment by the architect Arnoldo Michaelsen, mostly of the Colombian Caribbean, shared a space, at least in print, with landscape paintings produced by twenty-one society ladies. 4411N16 Even though these exhibitions can be seen as an effort to highlight vernacular architecture, they are also examples of architecture exhibited as a tourist guide. The airplane, as some authors have argued, stimulated the idea of a modern nation. 4411N17 It is worth noting, in the context of this “modernization,” that Proa ran advertisements and reviews of international architectural exhibitions, such as those in São Paulo and New York, 4411N18 which reveals the publishers’ ideas about exhibitions as modern platforms for international exchange.

In 1954, Proa dedicated an entire issue to reviewing an exhibition of the social housing projects built by Venezuela’s Banco Obrero de Caracas, an agency founded in 1928 that was in charge of housing programs throughout the country. 4411N19 Organized in Caracas, this exhibition later travelled to Bogotá. According to the review in Proa, eight housing projects were exhibited using “scale models, drawings, dioramas, pictures, statistics and research papers.” 4411N20 Although the editors focused on the built projects and the details about the exhibition itself are minimal, is it nevertheless an important precedent, executed without the presence of paintings and decorative arts, for the exhibition of architecture as an autonomous professional discipline in Colombia.

The sixties reinforced this position. Inspired by the Art Salon organized by the central government in 1940, the first Architecture Biennale in 1962 was an event that involved the Sociedad Colombiana de Arquitectos (SCA), the School of Architecture at the Universidad de Los Andes and the Ministry of Education. 4411N21 However, architects criticized its system for judging, the influence of photography when presenting works and the unwieldy exhibition design of its first iteration. 4411N22 Although the public that visited the first  biennale was very small, it helped to expand the emerging architectural culture from a specialized professional group to a general audience.

Banco Obrero de Caracas architectural exhibition, 1954. Source: Proa 81

This trend also involved another exhibition platform. Following the exhibitions by the architects René Hartwig and Arnoldo Michaelsen in the fifties, architecture played a significant role at the mnc during the sixties. On December 7, 1960, the travelling exhibition 4,000 años de arquitectura mexicana (4,000 Years of Mexican Architecture), based on a 1956 book published by the Sociedad de Arquitectos Mexicanos, opened to the public. 4411N23 In April 1961 and February 1962, the museum hosted the competing proposals to build government buildings in Barranquilla and Pereira, respectively. 4411N24 On July 10, 1963, with the support of the Brazilian Embassy, an exhibition on the landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx was inaugurated. 4411N25 In 1964, in the absence of a permanent space for the Architecture Biennale, the MNC hosted its second iteration and, in 1965, another three architectural competitions were presented. 4411N26 In October 1968, a show about the Netherlands included “Architecture after 1945,” “Ancient Cities” and “Modern Churches” as curatorial themes. 4411N27 Although architectural historiography has often idealized the Architecture Biennale as the mythical origin of the public exhibition of architecture, it is clear that other platforms exhibited architecture, even those for modern artists. 4411N28

On December 10, 1968, the exhibition Espacios Ambientales  was inaugurated at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá (MAMBO). Inspired by the Italian exhibition Lo Spazio dell’Immagine, the Bogotá exhibition included interventions on the walls that created illusory architectures, a 16 m2 scale model of the city and other environments. Though on display for only thirteen days, it is considered to be the first exhibition of conceptual art in Colombia. 4411N29 The end of the sixties saw a blurring of the boundaries between art, architecture and exhibition design, as with Project Argus at the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven, Imaginary Architecture at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Environments at the Architectural League in New York. 4411N30 In a decade marked by a global spirit of experimentation and speculation and at a time in which many platforms in Colombia were starting to display architecture, this exhibition deserves to be recontextualized within the history of architectural exhibitions, as architecture was presented as a bodily-sensory experience, echoing other projects in Latin America, such as Mathias Goeritz’s Museo Experimental el Eco in Mexico City (1953) and Hélio Oiticica’s Tropicália in Rio de Janeiro (1967).

At the end of the decade, a new platform was founded. The Museo de Desarrollo Urbano opened on July 11, 1969 in Bogotá. It was a project devised by the municipal government with the purpose of enriching the city’s cultural life. 4411N31 One of the ten chronological themes of the original museological script was “Contemporary Architecture,” following “Modern Times.” 4411N32 The museum, which changed its name at the turn of the century to Museo de Bogotá, displayed scale models, plans and photographs, along with other ethnographic objects. Architecture, therefore, was exhibited as an archaeological artifact, a way of narrating the city’s history.

It is important to highlight that architecture from Colombia was starting to gain recognition abroad. After Brazil (22) and Mexico (17), Colombia (11) was the country with the third highest number of architectural works (out of 89) referenced in the catalog of the exhibition Latin American Architecture since 1945, published by the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 1955. 4411N33 Likewise, the Argentinean architect and scholar Francisco Bullrich included the Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona in his book New Directions in Latin American Architecture, published in 1969. Salmona, who had worked with Le Corbusier from 1948 to 1955, had already designed one of his iconic works: Residencias El Parque, completed in 1970 and awarded the main prize at the eighth Colombian Architecture Biennale in 1976.

During the seventies and eighties, architectural exhibitions continued to flourish in Colombia. In 1970, the Centro de Estudios de Arquitectura y Medio Ambiente was founded by the architect and scholar Alberto Saldarriaga and Lorenzo Fonseca, an architect and the editor of Proa. This was a professional initiative that encouraged writings, publications and exhibitions  on architecture. 4411N34 Saldarriaga and Fonseca organized six architectural exhibitions, most of them on housing projects, using black-and-white photographs and plans and exploring regions beyond the Colombian capital. 4411N35 Architectural exhibitions, therefore, were a vehicle for discovering different contexts and circulating architectural research.

Indeed, the French architects Anne Berty (or Anne de Bouchard) and Franck Renevier transformed their research on Colombia into an exhibition in Paris. From December 18, 1980 to February 9, 1981, Architectures Colombiennes: Alternatives aux modeles internationaux, based on the eponymous book, was displayed at the Centre Georges Pompidou. This exhibition was a collaborative effort: led by Berty, it involved L’Ecole Spéciale d’Architecture, founded in 1865, the Colombian Embassy in France and the Centre de Création Industrielle, founded in 1969. 4411N36

Although this exhibition received positive reviews in newspapers such as Le Monde , Le Nouvel Observateur and L’Express, as well as magazines such as Sauf Mardi , BIP and Techniques et Architecture, it provoked mixed feelings in Colombia. 4411N37 The architectural historian Silvia Arango, for example, stressed its biased selection. Nevertheless, she supported the consideration of Colombian architectural production (mainly in Bogotá) as an alternative to “boring rationalism.” 4411N38 Alberto Saldarriaga criticized “the appearance” of a foreigner who produced a “publicity image” and “suddenly managed to attract the attention and the dedication of architects that are reluctant to collaborate on projects in Colombia,” 4411N39 while the art critic Alvaro Medina considered the exhibition to be “the culmination of a series of recognitions by other international publications over the last fifteen years,” but he sensed a domination of certain names over others, especially that of Rogelio Salmona. 4411N40 This controversial exhibition must be understood as a turning point, not only in terms of exhibiting Colombian architecture internationally, but also in terms of the impact of architectural exhibitions in stimulating new narratives and actions with an enduring impact.

This Colombian-French architectural-diplomatic exchange was furthered in 1984 with the exhibition Arquitectura en Francia: Modernismo- Postmodernismo. It opened at the Museo de Arte of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, founded in 1970. With the support of the French Embassy in Colombia, this exhibition, curated by the architects Francis Dollfus and François Chaslin, travelled from L’Institut français d’architecture. 4411N41 Proa  published a text from Dollfus and Chaslin in which they emphasized the importance of architecture “returning to the cultural field” and, therefore, the importance of this newly-created French institute. 4411N42

Alvar Aalto at the Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá, 1989. Source: Archivo MAMBO. Courtesy Museo de Arte Moderno de Bogotá

This international exchange suggests that Colombian publishers, curators and historians had contact with the platforms for the international dissemination of architecture that were founded around the world during these years, perhaps echoing the professional paths taken by their colleagues. 4411N43 Over the past century, architecture in Colombia has been exhibited for professional recognition, as historical testimony, for its aesthetic value, its discursive potential, its touristic appeal, its broad scope and its diplomatic power, suggesting a variety of approaches to exhibiting, curating and collecting architecture.

When the Quiosco de la Luz was donated to the MAMBO in 1979 for use in its children’s workshops, the curator referred to it as the first architectural piece in the museum’s collection. 4411N44 Although the museum did not develop an architecture collection, its architecture department, founded in 1984, became the first continuous exhibition platform devoted to architectural culture in Colombia. The chief curator of the department was the American architect Karen Rogers, who was a professor at Universidad de los Andes, a Proa contributor and cofounder of the Bogotá architectural firm Noriega-Restrepo & Asociados. Rogers was intermittently assisted by José Ignacio Roca and, on a more permanent basis, by Marcela Ángel Samper. 4411N45 Over the course of eleven years, the department presented a series of twenty exhibitions on a variety of subjects and involving numerous partners, including exhibitions of the work of internationally-renowned architects such as Mario Botta, Alvar Aalto and Karl Brunner. There were other exhibitions focusing on specific themes, such as housing, and shows in which the aesthetic value of architectural drawings was celebrated. 4411N46

At this time, Colombian architectural culture was thriving. The SCA had already produced eleven Architecture Biennials, laws for the protection of architectural heritage had been enacted and, besides Proa, other architectural magazines had been founded. 4411N47 In Latin America as a whole, the Mexican architect Luis Barragán had been awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize in 1980 after a retrospective at the MoMA in 1976, the Argentinean scholar Ramón Gutiérrez had published Arquitectura y urbanismo en Iberoamérica in 1983, “the first comprehensive study of Latin American architecture and urbanism,” 4411N48 and the first iteration of the Seminarios de Arquitectura Latinoamericana was about to take place in Buenos Aires in 1985. 4411N49

Parallel to these developments, the dissemination of architecture through exhibitions would reach new frontiers. After almost two years of research, the exhibition Historia de la arquitectura en Colombia started an international tour in 1985, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 4411N50 In 1989, Silvia Arango, who led the initial research group, used the exhibition and its catalog as the basis for a more detailed book, which was awarded the main prize at the Architecture Biennale in 1992. Even though the project started as a collaborative research endeavor that produced an exhibition to reach a wider audience, the historiography generally only acknowledges the final book.

This travelling exhibition made a stop at the Museo de Arquitectura Leopoldo Rother. Founded as the Museo Nacional de Arquitectura on July 16, 1986 and located inside the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the museum changed its name in 1992 and started to continually display architectural exhibitions. By the end of the twentieth century, this museum had organized more than ten exhibitions, from which, unfortunately, practically nothing has been archived. 4411N51 When this architectural exhibition platform was established on a permanent basis, architecture began to disappear from other venues. The last architectural exhibitions at the MNC, for example, were the ones on Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Victor Schmid at the end of 1991 and, after the MAMBO’s architecture department ended operations in 1995, no other (modern art) museum in Colombia has developed a curatorial department for architecture. 4411N52

Even though this museum might represent a consolidation of previous efforts, it is vital to examine each aspect of the history of architectural exhibitions, as they expand, complement and alter our views on the dissemination of architecture. Recent research in Colombia has centered its attention on architectural publications, 4411N53 ignoring relationships with other platforms, such as exhibitions. The few architectural exhibitions in Colombia that have been examined are those from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, taking into consideration their role in constructing ideas of national identity and modernity. 4411N54 As a result, an entire set of exhibitions from the second half of the twentieth century has gone unexamined, recent theoretical approaches to architectural exhibitions have gone unexplored and other aspects, such as museological practices or architecture collections, remain unknown.

Architectural exhibitions in Colombia, spanning a century, can highlight changes within the architectural discipline, the institutional complex in which they operate and the museological practices that they develop. This history can also be connected to other networks in Latin America, such as the Museo de Arquitectura in Mexico City and the Museo Archivo de Arquitectura in Quito, both founded in the eighties, to name just a few. The introductory history presented in this article represents a starting point.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh at the Museo Nacional de Colombia, 1991. Source: Catálogo Archivo MNC. Courtesy Museo Nacional de Colombia


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Michael Andrés Forrero Parra

Architect, Universidad de los Andes

Master’s in Museum Studies, University of Leicester

PhD Candidate, Curatorial Research Collective, TU/e

m.a.forero.parra@tue.nl / arkforero@gmail.com

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EditorialCristina López Uribe
Interrogating Architectural Evidence: Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal’s Exhibition for the Israeli Association of United Architects
Michael Moynihan
Cuadros de una exposición. Arquitectura y urbanismo de nuestro tiempo (Amancio Williams, Buenos Aires, 1949)Luis Müller
Bienales Internacionales de Arquitectura de São Paulo.
Notas para una visión retrospectiva del cambio de milenio
Alisson Tavares Rosalino
Jane Victal
Un nuevo contexto cultural. España, 1977: dos exposiciones de dibujos de arquitecturaMaría Álvarez García
La cultura de la rebelión.
La ciudad en el espacio de Moratalaz. Taller de Arquitectura
Montserrat Villaverde Rey
Anna Martínez Duran
Despliegue expositivo SCOPRodrigo Torres Ramos
El valor de la novedad en dos exhibiciones de arquitectura.
Séptima Bienal de Venecia y On-Site: New Architecture in Spain del MoMADavid Campos Delgado
Magdalena Picazzo Sánchez
One-to-One Scale: Witnessing the Walker Art Center’s Idea Houses I and II (1941-1947)Diana Cristóbal Olave
Exhibiting Architecture in Colombia: A History Under ConstructionMichael Andrés Forero Parra
Lo popular and the Modern: Displaying Popular Architecture in 1950s MexicoZoe Goldman
Exponer arquitectura: espacios para exhibir lugaresJuan Carlos Espinosa Cuock
Tania Tovar Torres
Exhibiting Architecture: A PolemicAviva Rubin
Narrativas burlemarxianas: un proceso de reconocimiento internacional a través de exposiciones de arquitecturaAna Paula Polizzo
Reseñas de librosM. Fernanda Barrera Rubio Hernández
Daniela López Durán
Andrés Ávila Gómez
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