Making architecture a fundamental instrument in the construction of the city has been the most significant of the evolution of urban thought of the last two decades.
But getting to that point was not easy. While it is true that in the debate on the city of the early twentieth century that notion seemed to be a priority argument of those who fought for a new way of seeing architecture, it was not so much part of the advancement of knowledge but more well a result of the way of acting in the city inherited from previous centuries.
For that reason, it was natural for the pioneering architects of the early 1900s to express their thoughts about the city with architectural images. But in those same years was born the modern “science” of urbanism, a way of seeing the city that can be described as a sum of technical applications that were gradually associated with the previous inheritance. And little by little, that “technical vision” became strong because it was objective, based on science, and remember that the search for “objectivity” was a key issue in the political-social debate of that time until after the Second World War the command. The two-dimensional city, expressed in ordered occupation of the land and efficiency of the networks, was opposed to any architectural vision. The idea of “Urban Design” born in the fifties and made mature about two decades later with the proliferation of postgraduate studies, could not complement the two-dimensional vision but very slowly.
To this process that I have described quickly is the discredit of the architectural vision of the city that the pioneers had handled. Le Corbusier was taken as the main scapegoat but in reality he wanted to despise almost everything that was handled in the first four decades of the twentieth. I, a young student in the late fifties, witnessed this discredit. The first images of Chandigarh in India, commissioned to the Swiss-French teacher, were criticized and even ridiculed, as Louis I. Kahn was about a decade later about Philadelphia or how he looked with scorn and suspects that today he still has followers, the experience of Brasilia.
And yet, Chandigarh has become the cultural heritage of a millennial country. The whole of the National Assembly and the Dhaka Ministries in Bangladesh, has made the project of the foreigner Luis Kahn part of the national pride, and the monumental Brasilia is not only alive and well, but remains a motive of admiration associated with the spirit of greatness from a country. Three proofs that the identity of a city is in its architecture and public space and not in networks. Because both in Chandigarh and in Brasilia (Dhaka is not a new city) the conception of the network produced problems of scale, of urban interrelations, of life in fine grains that should be corrected. But the architecture fixed the attributes of an identity.
Our Guiana City emerged a little after the experience of Brasilia. And it was born marked by the technological vision, very associated to the Anglo-Saxon way of seeing the urban planning that reigned at that moment in the world. And I argued in a recent conversation with colleagues Víctor Artís and Gustavo Ferrero Tamayo, the first recognized urban planner and the second pioneer of that activity here, lucid at his eighty-six years, that it seemed to me that the main problem of our new city of the sixties, it had been the lack of confidence in architecture. We had a very interesting exchange of ideas, in the presence of a Dutch architect, Simone Rots, who is among us documenting precisely what has been the most important urban experience in Venezuela.
Since I visited Brazil for the first time in 1958, I was left with the impression of a society with extraordinary faith in itself, and although open to the world, very proud of its ability to contribute in terms of its own invention and reflection. That confidence offers a key in relation to Brasilia because Lucio Costa (1902-1998), besides being a man of universal thought, was a self-confident Brazilian and of the capabilities of his country. And if it could be reproached that practically handed over in the hands of a single architect (Óscar Niemeyer) the initial “form” of a large city, in the years that followed the sixties the contributions of other figures were multiplied, although, not with The energy of the times of Kubitschek (1902-1976) the President who made Brasilia, have been added to the monumental architecture of the city. And it should also be said that this faith in the undoubted greatness of Niemeyer is at the same time a sign of greatness and of the cultural maturity of a society. Examples abound in the story.
And that did not happen here. Villanueva was alive and he did not build a single work in that territory that became a city. One seeks in vain examples of contributions from the contemporaries of planners. And of the youngest, today setesones, besides the excellent school of Borges and Pimentel for the Jesuits only finds, archetypal pyramidal figure, unique and isolated symbol in an urban world born of the most updated techniques, the Headquarters of Edelca in Alta Vista , fundamental project of Jesús Tenreiro.
For that reason, because of that lack of architecture in that city of ours, I pick up what Artis said in the conversation I mentioned: there is still a long way to go to shape Ciudad Guayana. Trust that there will be less suspicion in the future. Because architecture can not be separated from any attempt to make a city.
Óscar Tenreiro Degwitz, Architect.
Venezuela, may 2009,
Entre lo Cierto y lo Verdadero