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    El sentido de nuestra arquitectura colonial / Carlos Raúl Villanueva
    Revista Shell (Caracas, Venezuela). -- No. 3 (Jun. 1952)
    p. 17 - 22 : ill.
    Journal article – Essays
    Villanueva, Carlos Raúl. “El sentido de nuestra arquitectura colonial.” Revista Shell (Caracas, Venezuela), no. 3 (June 1952): 17–22.

In this essay, Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva argues that the goal for Latin American architects should be “to identify the functional elements of colonial architecture and their possible application to contemporary architecture.” Inspired by the coveted ideal of functionality in modern architecture, Villanueva observes that some of the staple elements of colonial architecture in Venezuela are, in fact, functional. He gives the covered passages, patios, balconies, eaves, and window shutters of past centuries as the examples of some of the architectural elements designed specifically with the climate and light of the tropics in mind. He also postulates a rational study of local materials in order to preserve the uniqueness of the architecture of the region. Villanueva’s preference for those elements that can be easily adapted from colonial architecture to modern constructions is also clearly seen in his interpretation of the conclusions of the VIII International Congress of Modern Architecture celebrated in Hoddesdon, England (1951). The Congress proposed designing open and civic spaces amidst the sprawling development of modern cities. According to the Venezuelan architect, this is nothing more than a return to the large colonial plazas found in every Latin American city and town.


Today, Carlos Raúl Villanueva (1900–1975) is considered to be, along with the Brazilian Oscar Niemeyer, one of the greatest modernist architects in Latin America. He is most widely celebrated for his attempts to integrate architecture and visual arts and for the incorporation of the works into his designs by some of the most cutting-edge modern international and Venezuelan artists. [See Villanueva’s texts: “Síntesis de las Artes Mayores,” document # 1173816; “La síntesis de las Artes,” document # 864335; “Las experiencias de un ensayo de integración: la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo,” document #1172330; and also: Sibyl Moholy-Nagy, “Villanueva and the Uses of Arts: The integration of painting and sculpture in his architecture constitutes a unique achievement of our period,” document # 1172346.] Nonetheless, his desire to preserve colonial architectural motifs can still be seen in his Museo de Bellas Artes de Caracas (1935–38) and Ciudad Universitaria (1944–70) in his native Venezuela. Likewise, the essay “El sentido de nuestra arquitectura colonial” points to an important source of influence that was largely overlooked in the initial reception of Latin American modernism by its European and North-American contemporaries.

Dorota Biczel
International Center for the Arts of the Americas, MFAH, Houston, USA
Courtesy of the archives of Fundación Villanueva, Caracas, Venezuela