Freddy Mamani is a Bolivian architect coming from an Aymara family. His neo-Andean constructions are mainly located in the city of El Alto, above La Paz. Inspired by the Aymara culture, he has developed a unique, colourful, highly ornamented architecture and a new typology, the cholet.
El Alto, the new Aymara city
Freddy Mamani was born in 1971 in Catavi near La Paz. The proximity to the highest capital in the world allowed him to follow his father in the construction sites of the city at a very young age. Mamani grew up as a construction worker in a Bolivia that was emerging from dictatorship.
Bolivia, like its southern American neighbours, experienced several decades of dictatorship at the end of the 20th century. But the end of the authoritarian regime at the beginning of the 80s allowed the indigenous populations to come out of oblivion. Although being an important part of the country’s population (about 40%) they were relegated far from society, not considered, deprived of economic power. The democratisation of the country and a form of liberalisation of the economy in the 1990s was accompanied by the development of a new Aymara bourgeoisie. As a sign of change in Bolivian society, Evo Morales, coming from an Aymara family, was elected president in 2005.
This Amerindian people originates from the region of Lake Titicaca, between Bolivia and Peru. They are also the historical inhabitants of the Altiplano, a 1500km long region located at an altitude of 3300m. The capital of Bolivia, La Paz, is located in a valley of the Altiplano. The Indigenous populations are widely distributed in its metropolitan area. Notably in El Alto, a former suburb of the capital, which became a city in its own right in 1984. Located on the high plateaus overlooking La Paz at an altitude of over 4000m, it is today the third most populated city in the country. It was formed following the rural exodus of the 20th century, by poor indigenous populations coming from the agricultural lands of the Altiplano.
The Cholet, a contemporary architecture
Coming from an Aymara family, in a Bolivia emerging from dictatorship, Mamani participated as a mason in about a hundred building sites in the metropolitan area of La Paz. He was able to observe the development of El Alto, its society, its very poor population, and the emergence of a new bourgeoisie of Aymara origin. He followed engineering studies before training in architecture to meet the needs of this new class. From his experience on construction sites and the deep understanding of Aymara groups, he developped a new form of typology: the Cholet. The name is a neologism between the chalet typology and Cholo, a word with multiple meanings, reappropriated from its negative meaning evoking an indigenous descendant. The Cholet is therefore an architecture adapted to their needs and highlighting their culture, affirming their pride in being indigenous in contemporary society.
The cholet characterizes a 3 to 7-storey building with mixed use, between commercial and residential. The first level is dedicated to commercial galleries, shops and restaurants. The next two levels are dedicated to cultural activities, it is often a mezzanine with a dance floor thought for festivities, weddings etc. Finally the last two or three levels are accommodations sometimes partly rented but mostly inhabited by the owner of the place and his family, justifying the name chalet. These buildings, in a way develop their own economy and generate their own money.
The Neo-Andean style of Freddy Mamani
Mamani has built more than a hundred cholets, most of them in El Alto. This self-proclaimed neo-Andean architecture, however, is built in an unusual way. The structure, a mixture of concrete and brick filling, is thought out in advance, and the first part built is monochrome. Once on the building site, Mamani and the workers draw the colourful decorative elements, representing the nuanced patterns of Andean cultures. The ornamentation of the façades can be found in the interior, especially in the ballroom, the “brand image” of the building. It delivers an atypical, cultural but no less functional architecture for a new population that has the financial resources to build these cholets.
Although the scheme, its distribution by levels, and their use remain the same, each building is different in the design of its facade, the architecture of the chalet, the patterns and colors used inside and outside. For this reason some architects do not wish to recognize Mamani as an architect but rather as a decorator. These criticisms are in fact often a pretext for not recognizing independent contemporary architecture that highlights indigenous people who have reached a new social status. In the meantime this style is no longer that of a single man, copies are emerging in El Alto and other cities of the country, spreading this neo Andean style that affirms loud and clear the new place of the indigenous populations in Bolivian society.
All the images of this article come from the documentary Cholet The Work of Freddy Mamani by Isaac Niemand.
Discover here some photographs to see the contrast between the Cholets and the neighboring buildings of El Alto.