A look at an immense landscape (2023)

Cities and landscapes in Latin America are the result of three distinct but interconnected processes.1The first is its physical geography, which remains fundamental to its territorial organization, cultural diversity, and position as an important source of minerals, metals, and hydrocarbons for global markets. The second, historical, is that Latin America underwent a process of colonization very different from others, particularly North America, which implanted an extensive network of cities and a tradition of cultural hybridization, both of which are still in force today. The third, socio-economic, and one of the best-tested hypotheses about Latin American culture is that there has been a full-fledged modernism in the cultural sense of the word, but without full modernization in the economic and social sense. of the term


As with North America, it is impossible to describe the geography of Latin America without using superlatives. Its area covers 8,134,980 square miles and extends from latitude 32° north to latitude 56° south and from longitude 117° west to longitude 35° west; No continent has a higher latitude. Along this stretch, the climate changes from arid to tropical (with nearly 70% of the landmass in the latter category) to temperate to sub-Antarctic. Along its western edge is one of the wettest (Tutunendo in Colombia, with 464 inches of annual rainfall) and driest (Chile's Atacama Desert, some parts of which have never had rain). Two main figures articulate the interior of the continent: the Amazon rainforest (the world's most biodiverse forest) and the backbone of the Andes (the world's longest mountain range), which stretches in a nearly straight line for more than 4,350 meters, miles by length of the continent. Extensive savannas, tropical forests and rivers characterize the regions east of the Andes to the Atlantic Ocean, while the western edge of the continent is characterized by the extreme topography of the mountain range facing the Pacific Ocean. The cities are mostly near the coast, while the interior is mostly reserved for nature, replete with wonderful and even unseen panoramas and abundant resources. The nighttime image of Earth taken by NASA from space in 2000 is essentially the same as the map drawn four and a half centuries earlier by French cartographer Pierre Desceliers: both show virtually continuous coastal settlements as opposed to a sparsely populated center . .

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Although colonized by the same imperial power, Spain, and sharing a religion and language (with the exception of Brazil, originally Portuguese colonies, and Haiti, where Haitian Creole prevails), Latin America's formidable geographical barriers have prevented the region's 590 million residents from politically be united economically and culturally. The original territory developed into twenty countries, each with their own historical and political developments and cultural identities. There are also clear ethnographic differences. The southern cone (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and the southern part of Brazil) is characterized by a population of mainly European origin with a very small minority of indigenous groups. The Andean countries (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia) occupy the northwestern region and have a more or less equal distribution of mestizo, white and indigenous populations. The tropical region (Venezuela and Brazil) has a mestizo and African American majority and a white minority. Central America (from Panama to the US border) and the Caribbean are home to a majority of Native American, African American, and mulatto people who are the result of trade and slavery practices in these areas.2

Colonization through the founding of cities

The Spanish colonization of Latin America was a purely economic enterprise. Competing with the rest of Europe to secure shipping lanes and control access to new products, Spain quickly developed a network of shipping lanes covering most of South and Central America and southern and western North America, providing mining, agricultural and worldwide infrastructure unrivaled port operations. The organization of this vast economic enterprise was made possible by the systematic creation of cities. At least 911 cities were founded, from Patagonia to northern California and throughout southern and southwestern North America. Cities were designed as a network of strategic points, mostly, but not always, located on continental margins, as transit points, or near ports and mining resources.3When useful, the Spanish also appropriated cities and infrastructure built by pre-Columbian civilizations.4

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The network itself was rhizomatic: it spread very rapidly in a multi-directional search over vast, previously uncharted areas, resulting in a system of isolated cities, widely separated and connected mainly by rivers, some pre-existing highways, or the sea were . The unifying institution in this scattered enterprise was the Catholic Church. As the sole sponsor of churches, schools, missions, and hospitals, it has been the major player in the spread of Hispanic culture and language, Christianity, education, and healthcare. Equally important, it was the main economic player of colonization. As spiritual and financial leaders, the Catholic clergy held positions of political and economic power: after the monarchies of Spain and Portugal, they were the continent's largest investors and landowners. Anything that was mined (mined, collected, or mined) was immediately shipped abroad to satisfy European markets, ultimately expanding the economic and political power of the Spanish, Portuguese, and Roman Catholic empires.

The foundation of the cities was decreed by statute—the law of India—an instrument that established authority and governance over the territory and its resources. Cities were organized according to a predetermined plan, conceived in the abstract space of law and never formally worked out.First: A grid extending from a central square around which were the three authorities: the local outpost of the Spanish government, the church and the governor's residence. As a founding act, the plaza was both symbolic and performative: it marked the starting point of the city, the processes of resource extraction and its stewardship, and the expansion of Hispanic culture, and affirmed the Empire's presence throughout the territory. The plans for Bogotá, Santiago de Chile, Buenos Aires, Havana, Quito and Caracas, to name a few, are essentially the same.

The Law of India is a fascinating and voluminous document that lays down all aspects of founding a city in an unfamiliar area in onecleaned upShape. In addition to describing the size and proportion of space and street grid layout, the law established site criteria, preferred elevation and wind exposure, proximity to water, pasture and good soil, and forest resources. The law also detailed ways to expand and shrink cities. From the beginning these cities were cases of "light" urbanism and indeed the 1793 project of José de Oviedo y Bañoshistory of conquestThey refer to them as “portable cities” (portable cities), a concept compatible with our contemporary notions of dynamic urban environments.

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As cities grew in economic importance, they became hotspots in the business network, not only growing in size but also supporting the construction of significant works of ecclesiastical and civic architecture. When they didn't thrive, they shrank and some eventually disappeared. The network was also affected by power struggles in European metropolises: its influence in the colonies temporarily decreased while these conflicts were resolved. This process continues today: Latin America has remained in an economic dependency vulnerable to external cycles and the dynamics of a laissez-faire economy on a global scale, in which China, the United States, Germany and Canada are now investing heavily in gaining its Resources.

Although all cities have the same morphological origin, none resembles the others as the original grid configuration has been adapted to the specifics of the local topography. The grid of Buenos Aires in the flat extension of the Argentine plain is fundamentally different from the grids implanted in the Andean region, where sites were wedged in valleys between high mountains. The square, church, and grid complex was not only a highly adaptable entity, but also reproducible as cities needed to expand. In this case, a new square with its church would form the nucleus of a new center around which the newly arrived settlers would settle. Through the proliferation of this unity, a polycentric city would eventually form, with each church square forming the nucleus of a new and distinct community. This method allowed for easy extension of the original chart, while retaining the possibility for variation when adapting to different locations and growth rates became necessary.

The possibilities for intervening in the colonial conspiracy also differed fundamentally depending on the topography of the territory. In extremely mountainous cities like Quito, the new forms of urbanism were difficult to integrate into the founding structure. Therefore, they were placed in a linear fashion outside the historic center, with little or no reference to the original fabric or to each other. In the case of flat topography, again as in Buenos Aires, the grid was overwritten to allow the insertion of modern urban infrastructure such as roads, continuing the layout of the original grid but forming a 'new grid'. on a larger scale, which allowed the city to expand. In terms of their size and atmosphere, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Spanish colonial towns were intimate, houses forming a continuous facade along the street, with lush gardens within the block. The settlers often replicated the streets and architecture of their hometown, which was mostly located in southern Spain. Only the capitals of the viceroyal ties - such as Lima, Mexico City, Bogotá and Buenos Aires - reached grandeur and monumentality both in their architecture and in the scale of their urban interventions.5

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Modernity without modernization

The legacy of Spanish colonization cannot be overstated. First, the urban pattern established by the Spanish has remained largely unchanged. Sixteen of the twenty most populous cities in Latin America today were founded in 1580.6Second, although independence changed the political process and redefined foreign relations, the economic conditions created by colonization remained essentially unchanged. Latin America remains highly dependent on foreign investment for the development of its economy. In the years immediately following independence, Spain's rival powers - France, Germany and England - quickly intervened to usher in a second era of colonization. Likewise, after the shift from agriculture to global commodities (such as saltpetre, copper, and oil) beginning in the 1920s, the United States became the primary extractor and consumer of Latin America's newfound resources. Third, the socio-cultural heritage has evolved slowly. Through their involvement in international trade, the elites remained cosmopolitan and up-to-date with European and North American cultures, and continued to introduce new ideas and cultural practices to their homeland. However, while they adopted liberal capitalist ideologies for international trade, they remained backward in their newly acquired political and economic power and maintained conservative social and labor relations at the national level. Consequently, modernization in Latin America has been asynchronous and uneven, both as an economic and cultural condition, and has not reached all strata of society with the same consistency and intensity.7Additionally, it was intermittent as countries' economic conditions responded to global business cycles. This explains why in Latin America "the traditions are not yet entirely gone and modernity is not yet fully present".8

Few places document this process as clearly as the contemporary Latin American city, a conglomeration of different forms of urbanism that overlay or juxtapose the colonial grid. Cities changed their morphology and physiognomy depending on who or what boosted their economy. For example, the Argentine economy prospered in the last decades of the 19th century due to the influx of British capital. The dominant model at the time, Haussmann's Paris, greatly influenced the physiognomy of Buenos Aires. In contrast, Venezuela's economic boom only began in the mid-20th century, when the United States was the dominant consumer of the country's growing oil economy. Automobiles, superhighways, and American-style suburbs sprawled throughout the valley, while the open spatiality of outward-facing modernism became the norm in architectural and landscape interventions. The landscape is another lens through which the development of the Latin American city can be understood. The nature of the New World has always been an object of awe and wonder for Europeans. The chronicles of the first Spanish settlers are full of descriptions of plants, vegetation, fruits and native people. However, the Latin American city remained the lucid space of colonization, both literally and metaphorically. Treeless and austere, it stood in stark contrast to the lush nature that clung to its edges. The landscape as cultivated nature was not integrated into the physical environment of the city until the second half of the 19th century, when the discourse of modern science, Enlightenment and Romanticism burst into Latin American culture. France and Germany sponsored numerous expeditions to gain knowledge of and access to resources previously monopolized by Spain. Scientists, naturalists and explorers have mapped and described almost the entire spectrum of natural phenomena, collecting specimens of flora and fauna for museums, herbaria, botanical gardens and greenhouses from Madrid to Saint Petersburg. Romantic painters and travelers extensively documented the natural, cultural, and urban landscapes of Latin America. These "objective" images, devoid of any Spanish or religious trace, were significant because their appreciation of the indigenous landscape reinforced the political aspirations of the new republics. In Latin America at the end of the 19th century, Enlightenment values, post-independence liberal ideology and European trade were in perfect harmony.

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Not surprisingly, French landscape design was paradigmatic in the 19th century, with important works in Rio de Janeiro (Campo de Santana by Auguste Francois Marie Glaziou, as well as his remodeling of public parks in the city), Buenos Aires (Parks and Gardens in Palermo by Carlos Thays and master plans by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier) and at the beginning of the 20th century in Havana (master plans by Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier). In the mid-20th century, José Lluis Sert, Maurice Rotival and Francis Violich, to name a few, introduced modern urban planning tools and practices into their officeregulatory plansfor many capitals. Modernism also shaped the sensibility of a new poetics of a tropical nature, which found its most convincing expression in the work of Roberto Burle Marx. In most countries, if not all, vast tracts of land set aside for various kinds of conservation are the latest mark that alien ideas have left on Latin America's native soil. About 12% of the continent is protected as a national park or other designation.

The hybrid and dynamic character of Latin American culture, the result of the processes just described, was recognized as a fundamental aspect of its identity. The cross-pollination of local and foreign practices has persisted since the early days of colonization, when the Spanish appropriated native cultural practices, but only entered the artistic or literary self-awareness of the Latin American avant-garde in the 1920s. as part of a project to construct a national identity. Although this condition manifests itself differently in each country and produces forms of expression typical of the historical trajectories of each country, over time hybridization has conditioned all areas of cultural production. As a practice, it involves observing and reinterpreting a wide range of material conditions, elements, and eventsfrom insideto appropriate it and make it your own. This continuous form of renewal also prevents the possibility of cultural essences because it disrupts accepted norms and continuities. In this number ofHDMThe reader will see different manifestations of transculturation, for example in the combination of modern spaces and programs with highly textured or ornate surfaces that are the result of traditional working methods and materials that are still widespread. Similarly, the relationship between architecture and landscape (or city and landscape) continues to be conceptualized as responding to and generating new forms of engagement with the environment.

The expanses of spontaneous ("informal") urbanization around metropolitan areas represent the most recent geography to emerge in contemporary Latin America. Although the reasons for the spread of this type of urbanization are complex and are not the subject of this article (cfHarvard-Design-Magazin, Spring/Summer 2008), one can refer to the imbalance that has always existed between densely populated cities, such as large administrative centers, and a very sparsely populated interior as a result of underdeveloped or non-existent regional economies. To a greater or lesser extent, Latin American countries remain dependent on external markets for their growth and development, at the expense of smaller but more stable regional economies that can accommodate demand for jobs while promoting a more equitable distribution of wealth, infrastructure and cities. regions. Finally, a new era of mining and resource extraction, once again financed by foreign capital, including China, is imminent as conditions in Latin America favor neoliberal global markets. These two contexts, which require extensive organization of new infrastructure and urban planning, represent future fields of intervention for architects, urban planners and landscape architects.

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