Bolivian Baroque Psychedelic

My designs are a modern expression of our culture
— Freddy Mamani

Freddy Mamani a 47 year old former bricklayer from Bolivia, has re-invented architecture… he has created his own ‘neo-Andean’ or Baroque Psychedelic in the highest city in the world, El Alto.

Freddy Mamani in his 2018 exhibition. Photograph: Lumento for the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Freddy Mamani in his 2018 exhibition. Photograph: Lumento for the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain

Grown out of pre-Colombian roots he says that the layered cutouts in the ceiling refer to the Andean “Chakana” cross and the geometric friezes to motifs found in Tiwanku, the centre of pre-Inca civilisation near El Alto.

The Andes form a backdrop to the city of El Alto, Bolivia. Photograph: Alamy

The Andes form a backdrop to the city of El Alto, Bolivia. Photograph: Alamy

Aymara women of Bolivia in traditional woven cloth. Photograph: Pinterest

Aymara women of Bolivia in traditional woven cloth. Photograph: Pinterest

The colours - clear references to the beautiful woven cloths of Aymara, the indigenous group of which Mamani is part.

Mamani grew up in a mud-brick house in a remote rural area, where he had to walk for an hour to the nearest school. The eldest of seven children, he moved to El Alto with his brothers and sisters when he was 13, beginning to work as a mason, and later studying construction at university. He graduated in 2002 and received his first commission from a local entrepreneur who had made his fortune doing business with China.

The ceiling of a mini mansion-ballroom, El Alton, Bolivia. Photograph: Juan Karita/AP

The ceiling of a mini mansion-ballroom, El Alton, Bolivia. Photograph: Juan Karita/AP

“He asked for something unique,” says Mamani, showing me an image of a bright green building, part Space Invader, part ancient temple. “So that’s what he got.”

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He mixed up the space putting a commercial space on the ground floor, double-height party hall above this and a few floors of rental apartments with a house for the owner on the roof. While they are relatively expensive to make, (costing between $200,00-$500,000) he was inundated with orders and the owners made back the money for construction within a couple of years, primarily by renting the spaces out for events.

Screenshot from 2015 documentary  Cholet: The Work of Freddy Mamani  from director Isaac Niemand

Screenshot from 2015 documentary Cholet: The Work of Freddy Mamani from director Isaac Niemand

What parties could be had!

Such is his influence that last year he was invited to exhibit at the Fondation Cartier and designed and installed a ballroom in his vernacular for the exhibiiton Southern Geometries: From Mexico to Patagonia.

Freddy Mamani ballroom at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris. Photograph: Mattia Polisena

Freddy Mamani ballroom at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris. Photograph: Mattia Polisena

“In the last 18 years, my practice has been trying to introduce a colour to El Alto, I have created what I call the New Andean Architecture in El Alto.”
— Mamani, speaking through a translator at The Met's A Year of Architecture in a Day symposium January, 2019