The hyper Americans! : Modern architecture in Venezuela during the 1950s

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2014-05

Authors

Villota Peña, Jorge

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Abstract

During the 1950s, Venezuela embarked in an architectural venture marked by aesthetic, programmatic, and technological explorations. Politically framed by the international tension of the Cold War, this period was distinguished by multiple commercial exchanges between Venezuela and the United States, specially based on the oil industry. Many cultural aspects of the Venezuelan life, including its urban and architectural production, changed because of this interrelationship. Yet the conventional view is that architecture in Venezuela was torn between the repetition of U.S. models and the purest creativity of its local designers. Based on periodical publications of that time, and methodologically framed by the contemporary notion of transculturation and Gianni Vattimo’s weak though, this research demonstrates that modern architecture in Venezuela, produced by both locals and Americans, went beyond a unilateral center-periphery influence, and ended up being the hyperrealization (intensified version) of U.S. ideals. In this sense, the research analyzes an aspect not studied yet in depth: the connection between the long-term geographical profile of Venezuela and a unique geopolitical situation, as the basis for an outstanding architecture. The dissertation examines how the Edificio Creole in Caracas, designed by American architect Lathrop Douglass for Standard Oil, and completed in 1955, was not the subsequent version but the advanced prototype of the Esso office buildings both in Louisiana and New Jersey. It shows as well how the Electricity Building in Caracas (1955), also designed by Douglass, and whose authorship has remained unknown until now, represented a unique opportunity both to explore the insertion of an “horizontal skyscraper” in downtown, and to reveal a complex network of professional and political relations. By examining Higuerote Beach Resort, a vacation and residential complex located near Caracas, the dissertation also demonstrates how American magazines were used by Venezuelans as the basis for an architecture that became original without the inspiration of a genius designer. Finally, this research analyzes the production of a supernatural architecture through the Helicoid Shopping Center in Caracas (designed by Arquitectura y Urbanismo C.A. in 1955), one of the most paradigmatic examples of modern Venezuelan creativity, and probably the utmost realization of the American Utopia.

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