I was listening to NPR a few weeks ago and the object of the piece was the emergence of the country of Colombia. A day or two later I sat in a doctors office and picked up a Time magazine. The cover detailed the emerging country. I was intrigued by both pieces because my husband and I are adopting a child from Colombia and sometime in the next 6-18 months we will need to travel to Bogota to meet our new daughter. Both pieces discussed the fact that Colombia previously had a bad rap, but that the government and it’s industrious people are turning things around with sustainable growth built on legal enterprises. And since the president’s infamous visit and ensuing secret service scandal I realized how little I know about this gorgeous country.
So I began to research more of Colombia and its architecture in preparation for my impending visit.
Architecture of Colombia
Despite Colombia’s multiple cultural heritage (European, Indian and African), its architecture is mostly the result of adapting European models to local conditions. The country’s colonial buildings reflect their Spanish (and particularly Andalusian) origin, as seen in the traditional single-story houses laid around a central patio, to be found both in colonial towns such as Santafé (Bogotá), Tunja or Cartagena, or in rural haciendas throughout the country. After gaining its independence, Colombia severed its links with Spain and looked elsewhere for new models, first England, then France, marking the beginning of what became known as Republican Architecture (Arquitectura republicana), an era that lasted well into the twentieth century, when the changes in architectural thinking in Europe brought Modern Architecture to the country during the last years before World War II.
Colombian architecture reflects seventeenth century Spanish colonial origins. Regional differences derive from those found in Spain. Thus, hints of Moorish and Castilian architecture are evident in many cities. Many areas have had difficulty maintaining older structures, and the climate has destroyed many Baroque buildings. The many churches that dot the landscape are among the country’s architectural gems, whose interiors reflect the influence of Medieval and Renaissance churches in Spain. Newer buildings in larger cities utilize modern styles with adaptations of the Baroque style supplemented with wood and wrought-iron elements.
In the 1930s, Colombia began to embrace modern architecture. The new Liberal Party government tore down many older buildings to reject the conservative past. In their place, it constructed modern buildings with an international flavor.
Until the mid-1940s, most Colombians lived in single-family dwellings built of cinder blocks and covered with an adobe made of clay, cow manure, and hay. Uncontrolled urban growth due to massive migration from rural areas resulted in hugh informal settlements which make up the bulk of Colombia’s housing problem up to the present time. Nonetheless, there have been a few notable examples of high-density housing projects (aimed, however, at the rising middle-classes) such as the Centro Antonio Nariño, which followed the principles of Le Corbusier, or the Torres del Parque by the famed architect Rogelio Salmona.