Hidden Gems of Latin American Architecture

Hidden Gems of Latin American Architecture
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Nido de Quetzalcóatl / Javier Senosian. Image © Marcos Betanzos

We know you're an architecture aficionado and that your passion takes you places that inspire and awe. Even though a visit to the classic tourist sites can result in an amazing trip, visiting lesser-known places can make for an unforgettable experience. It is because of this passion for parts unknown that we have compiled this list of some of Latin America's hidden architecture gems for you to consider as you plan your next trip.

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Edward James' Surrealist Garden

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Jardín Surrealista / Edward James. Image © Victor Delaqua

The Garden's history dates back to the exploration of the site, nestled in the Huasteca Potosina, by British writer Edward James and his partner Pluto Gastelum. The two told of being engulfed by a cloud of butterflies while bathing in the river. James, a zealot of the Surrealist movement, took this as a sign of fate and was inspired to create his own version of "The Garden of Eden." Construction of his vision began between 1947 and 1949.

The Pilgrim Route

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Ruta del Peregrino. Image © Iwan Baan

The Pilgrim Route was a master plan carried out by the Mexican architects Tatiana Bilbao, Rozana Montiel, and Derek Dellekamp in conjunction with the architectural firms of: Luis Aldrete Architects, Tatiana Bilbao, Ai Weiwei (Fake Design), Christ and Gantenbein, Dellekamp Architects, Alejandro Aravena (Elemental) Godoylab, HHF Architects, and Rozana Montiel (Periférica). The route goes from Ameca all the way to Talpa de Allende and is one of the most important events on the Catholic calendar, giving pilgrims a whole new way to experience the land. 

Quetzalcoatl's Nest

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Nido de Quetzalcóatl / Javier Senosian. Image © Marcos Betanzos

This architectural project was constructed on uneven terrain at 5,000 m2, owing its unique geography to the tree-lined ravine that cuts through the landscape. The site's architecture corresponds with the principles of organic architecture that guided the work of Mexican architect Javier Senosian. The manner in which it evokes elements of nature like animals, shells, and caves while combining them with other elements from the land highlights the artistic tradition of Mexico. Nowhere better is this seen than in the details of the painted windows and indigo tiles that line the walkways of this architect junkie's dream.

IK LAB Gallery / Jorge Eduardo Neira Sterkel

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Galería IK LAB / Jorge Eduardo Neira Sterkel. Image Cortesía de IK LAB

In the heart of one of the most exclusive places in Latin America lies unprecedented art galleries, home to a list of distinguished international artists and host to a number of vanguard exhibitions of contemporary art. IK LAB develops immersive cultural experiences that promote creativity, conscience, and the vision for the growing community of Tulum and its many international visitors.


Cap Ducal / Roberto Dávila

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Cap Ducal / Roberto Dávila. Image © Natalia Yunis

Cap Ducal, constructed in 1936 in Viña del Mar by architect Roberto Davila, is a fixture of the city's architectural menu. Situated on a rocky outpost overlooking what was once the city's first public beach, it's the only coastal building, now a hotel and restaurant, left standing from the 1930s, adding to its already extensive cultural heritage. Along with other Latin American cities, Viña del Mar was witness to the gradual integration of maritime activities with urban life. [1] During the 1930s, several reforms were passed that established Viña as one of Chile's most important resort towns, a legacy that continues today.

Votive Temple of Maipu / Juan Martínez Gutiérrez

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Templo Votivo de Maipú / Juan Martínez Gutiérrez. Image © Maria Gonzalez

The building's powerful sculptural form and structural consistency surprises and awes at first glance, a homage to its creator who demanded that it stand out among all other temples. This demand saw to its creation as not only a church, but a structure with significant meaning for the people of Chile. In it, you can see the origins of the Beaux-Arts school, which helped form talents such as Juan Martinez. Its classicism is expressed in the symmetric organization of the east to west geometric axis that includes the colonnade and the pre-existing walls of the old church.

Marble Cathedrals, Chilean Patagonia

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Catedrales de Mármol, Patagonia Chilena. Image © Pedro Soffia

The Marble Cathedrals are found in General Carrera Lake, the largest lake in Chile, along the second half of the Carretera Austral, about 223 km from Coyhaique, Chilean Patagonia. The formations of calcium carbonate eroded by water make up three structures: the Marble Chapel, the Marble Cathedral, and the Marble Caves. You can get to them by boat from Puerto Rio Tranquilo and, at a low tide, enter the Cathedral and see its hues of white, blue, gray, yellow, and pink. Also, how the polished crags seem to disappear into the depths of the lake.


El Conjunto Calle del Sol / Rubio y Gómez

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Conjunto Residencial Calle del Sol. Image © Rubio y Gómez

Built in downtown Bogota in an attempt to recover a piece of history, El Conjunto Residencial Calle del Sol has become a majestic symbol of the city's architectural heritage and culture. Nestled within the colonial surroundings of the Candelaria neighborhood, this neo-gothic fortress features elements of "exquisite end of the century modernity" where the contrast and constant remembrance of its style make it one of the city's exceptional living spaces. 

Faenza Theatre / Arturo Tapia, Jorge Muñoz, and Ernesto González Concha

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Teatro Faenza. Image © Pedro Felipe

The story hidden within Bogota's Faenza Theatre's Art Nouveau style is one of glory and misery. The building, an icon of Bogota architecture, was built in 1924 on the corner of Calle 22 and Carrera Quinta on a piece of land where the Faenza Porcelain Factory, the structure's namesake, once operated. 

Luis Ángel Arango Library / Germán Samper

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Biblioteca Luis Angel Arango. Image © Dan Gamboa Bohorquez

In a 7,200 square meter parcel of downtown Bogota, there's a particular building whose austerity goes hand in hand with its timelessness. German Samper designed the structure with fine materials, namely wood and marble, with the intention that it shouldn't be higher than the surrounding buildings.

García Márquez Cultural Center / Rogelio Salmona

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Centro Cultural García Márquez. Image © Alejandro Ojeda

The Garcia Marquez Cultural Center is an immense icon in the center of Bogota. It's meandering form and dialogue between time and place can be seen on multiple scales. The project was an initiative by Mexico's Economic Culture Fund in 2004 and was led by Rogelio Salmona, who unfortunately didn't get to see the completion of his work in 2008 due to his untimely death.


Santa María de Guadalupe Parish / Claudio Caveri

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Parroquia Santa María de Guadalupe / Claudio Caveri. Image via Taller AVD

This project by architect Claudio Caveri was created at the intersection of a yearning for local identity and the modern international architectural movement that swept Argentina in the 1960s. The structure stands out from the surrounding buildings while simultaneously paying homage to the features of Caveri's previous work, Our Lady of Fatima Church in Martinez, Buenos Aires. Both works boast elements of the"casablanquismo" style that defined Argentine architecture during the 50s and 60s.

The Work of Francisco Salamone

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Portal del cementerio de azul. Image via Wikipedia User Elciri Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

The mark left by Italian architect and engineer Francisco Salamone on Buenos Aires Province represent the state-led growth and development that took place in the region between 1936 and 1940. Between the cemeteries, slaughterhouses, and town halls, the needs of the state were met while also maintaining a degree of grandeur that can be seen today. Today, the duality of Salamone's work, found somewhere in the intersection of urban decay and a need for the monumental, can still be seen in all the towns where he left his mark.


Eduardo Guinle Park / Lucio Costa

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Parque Eduardo Guinle / Lucio Costa. Image © Nelson Kon

Eduardo Guinle Park was inaugurated in 1920 and is a neoclassical palace nestled in the southern end of Rio de Janeiro. In 1940, the park passed to the federal government. A year later, it became the center of an urban development plan led by Lucio Costa, the director of the National Service for Historic and Artistic Heritage, who proposed the construction of six residential buildings. Today, the buildings maintain a uniform visual style marked by columns while the variety of the park's terrain is highlighted by the winding walkways and wooden pergolas that line the paths.

Exposition Center in the Bahia Administration Building / João Filgueiras Lima (Lelé)

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Centro de Exposições do Centro Administrativo da Bahia / João Filgueiras Lima. Image Cortesía de Arcoweb

Built by João Filgueiras Lima in 1974, the Exposition Center of the Bahía Administrative Building is a massive concrete structure completely suspended 15 feet off the ground. The building features a massive rectangular platform with an exposition hall in its east wing and an amphitheater molded in the shape of an inverted pyramid in the west wing. 

Mechanization Center of Banco do Brasil / Irmãos Roberto

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Centro de Mecanização do Banco do Brasil / Irmãos Roberto. Image © Marcelo Donadussi

The Bank of Brazil's Mechanization Center, built in 2000 in Porto Alegre, stands out for the array of geometric elements that make up its structure. The horizontal frame shown in the rectangular blocks that form the building's body contrasts with the vertical pillars holding it up. In spite of its imposing physique, it's the subtleties found in the structure, like the detachment between the blocks and the resulting opaqueness, that give the structure its true monumentality.  

Teatro Oficina / Lina Bo Bardi e Edson Elito

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Teatro Oficina / Lina Bo Bardi e Edson Elito. Image © Nelson Kon

The Uzyna Uzona Theatre Studio, popularly known as Workshop Theatre, located on Jaceguai Street in São Paulo's Bela Vista neighborhood, was founded in 1958 by José Martínez Correa. The space acted as a manifest theatre, marked by grand spectacles that ranged from plays to musicals to dance performances. Originally designed by Edison Elito, the theatre was remodeled by the Italian-Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi in association with the original project' creator. The central idea of the remodel was to create a contrast between the new structure and the surrounding area in a way that looked as if the street were invading the stage, a representation of the democratization of the theatre, not only through its performances but through its physical space as well.

Casa Bola / Eduardo Longo

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Casa Bola / Eduardo Longo. Image © Chico Prestes Maia

Casa Bola was built by Eduardo Longo in 1979 as a private residence and was one of the most controversial specimens of Sao Paulo architecture after the 1970s. Iconoclast and self-ironic to a degree, the house consists of an 8-meter sphere that rests atop a concrete foundation, with a ludicrous staircase connecting the two structures. The unusual physicality of the structure is accentuated even more by the surrounding buildings of Sao Paulo's Jardim Europa neighborhood. 


Barrios Altos

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Barrios Altos / Balcones Republicanos. Image © Wilder Ramos

Despite being declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, many of Lima's residents note the structure's neglect. In the same neighborhood, you can find decaying examples of Republican and Viceroy architecture that, at first glance, seem to have lost their value; however, with a little effort and an eye for detail, it's possible to see the city's soul and rich history written on its architectural skeleton. Sociologist Pablo Vega Centeno reflects that, by walking through the streets, "we learn to see the houses as spaces constructed for and by people, and in this, we can value the urban heritage in Barrios Altos. The city's soul is found in the lives that have resided in this place and continue to reside here, generation after generation. After all, the skeleton cannot do without the soul."   

New Hope Cemetery 

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Cementerio Nueva Esperanza. Image Cortesía de Juan Caycho
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Cementerio Nueva Esperanza. Image Cortesía de Juan Caycho

José Matos Mar was the first to see it: “Nestled on a rocky terrain of rolling hills and small gorges, there's a showcase of the cultural diversity of migrants that can be seen in the way each community replicates the funerary customs of their various countries of origin." Found in Lima's Villa María district, and occupying more than 60 hectares, it is considered the largest cemetery in Latin America and the second largest in the world, second only to Iran's Wadi-us-Salaam.  The Day of the Dead is a massive celebration attended by millions of people. It's essential to visit and take in the space caught between city and countryside where the social, urban dynamics can be seen in the improvised gravesites, where a public space is created at the intersection of the living and the dead.


Capilla Susana Soca / Antonio Bonet

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Image Courtesy of Servicio de Medios Audiovisuales de la Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Urbanismo de la Universidad de la República. Image © Silvia Montero 2007

Designed by Catalan architect Antonio Bonet between 1959 and 1960, the geometric chapel located in the Canelones region was built in memory of the Uruguayan poet Susana Soca. Recognized for its structure, the building was Bonet's first religious-themed work in Uruguay and became a hallmark for modern Uruguayan architecture in the 1960s.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 19, 2018, and recently updated on September 21, 2020.

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Cite: Arellano, Mónica. "Hidden Gems of Latin American Architecture" [Gemas ocultas de la arquitectura latinoamericana] 22 Sep 2020. ArchDaily. (Trans. Johnson, Maggie) Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/898249/hidden-gems-of-latin-american-architecture> ISSN 0719-8884

Nido de Quetzalcóatl / Javier Senosian. Image © Marcos Betanzos


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