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How the Houses of Vilamajo and Villanueva Are Similar and DifferentResearch Paper

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Julio Vilamajo and Carlos Villanueva: Houses of Architects

The Latin American architecture of Carlos Raul Villanueva from Venezuela and Julio Vilamajo from Uruguay is a combination of several different influences and ideologies, from Bauhaus to Utopianism to Latin American culture, that, in these two architects, manifests itself in a mixture of geometric and spirited Latino pop architecture reflective of a social doctrine espousing socialistic principles. This paper will discuss and compare two houses of the two architects Julio Vilamajo and Carlos Villanueva to show how their work is inspired by both the popular world architecture of the 20th century and the culture of Latin America, where they live.

As the American architect Sullivan stated, "Form ever follows function," and there is a lot of truth to be said for this statement with regards to the Latin American architects and their works as well as the influence and impact of their cities and countries on their architectural styles. The function of the homes of Villanueva and Vilamajo is not just to provide a dwelling space but also to say something about themselves as artists and about their view of the world and the history of architecture and culture as they see it. Thus, their homes reflect dynamic currents of thought and changes throughout time and space: the function of the homes is to transcend the here-and-now in a way and take the viewer to a transcendent realm; thus the form follows the function in that it presents a dynamic vision, a hybrid-construct of arresting dimensions, traditional throwbacks, cultural accents, and modern motifs.

Lejeune notes that for Villanueva, there is a number of influences that give the architect his own flair. For example, there is the political scene in Caracas that has an impact on his work there in Venezuela as well as the history of the nation and the European influences: "the synthesis of formal rationalism and Baroque plasticity, classicism and functionalism of its architecture and urban interventions constitutes a model of classical proportions."[footnoteRef:1] But Villanueva was born in London and moved to Venezuela later. His particular tendency in constructing housing in Venezuela was to use "space" and "color" in order to make his houses stand out from the "demon city" that encased them and which Villanueva sought to escape through architecture. Thus one sees in his houses "El Paraiso" (1952-1954) and "23 January" (1955) as well as "El Silencio" this tendency to use color and space to set the homes apart from their surroundings and transcend the civic and public turmoil in which they were situated. One finds traditional European Baroque sentiments infused with Bauhaus styles, flats and horizontals, that effect a dynamic hybrid of old world and new world architecture. [1: Jean-Francois Lejeune, Cruelty and Utopia: Cities and Landscapes of Latin America (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003), 86.]

How and what they decide to design their houses with is based on their influences, as Lejeune has noted. Villanueva had spent time at the Beaux Arts in Paris so this had an impact on him and in the 1950s and 1960s, the style of architecture in the world was influenced by the Bauhaus movement. Thus, his residential houses are at times decorative and at other times without ornament, after the brutalist fashion of Breuer and others. In his Caracas homes, Villanueva displays a gigantic faAade of shells which are used to alleviate the sense of space by playing off one another within the composition. He plays with balances between height within his space and gives distinction and variance to the surroundings rather than blending in with everything else in a uniform fashion.

Like Villanueva, Vilamajo prioritizes his materials for his houses based on the aesthetic appeal of the current architectural flow. Thus, the Vilamajo House (now Museum) built in 1930 in Montevideo has a style that is very Frank Lloyd Wright in character and even Bauhaus. Its flats and horizontals are offset by its funky character that emanates from a lively, joyous exterior faAade that is surprisingly variant with its dotted surface and various window sizes. Like Villanueva, Vilamajo is responding to the 20th century corporatism that Sullivan decried, the rise of the skyscraper with its soul-deadening lifelessness, which Sullivan attempted to ornament at least with some style and beauty. These two architects however are dealing with the infusion of corporatism in Latin America, so Villanueva, designing his large scale residences reverts to the Brutalism in fashion at the time but adds a splash of color here and there to break up the monotony of the design, as in El Silencio. Moreover the characteristics of the Art Nouveau are never far from the Villanueva faAade, and these characteristics imply a kind of reluctance to depart from old-styles even as the "skyscraper" closes in on Caracas. Ornamentation (whether Gothic or Art Nouveau) is part and parcel of the architect's business: he must please aesthetically as well as practically. Form does follow function -- but that is not to suggest that all form must be mechanistic. Function in nature is anything but mechanical -- and human nature is dynamic, colorful, transcendent (and so, Villanueva's houses resonate with this life).

Indeed, the ornamentation -- the hieroglyphics, the "intricate patterns in an all-over coating" -- all of it speaks of an articulation of soul -- of a heart and mind that the new towers of "functionalism" would lack.[footnoteRef:2] Implicit in Villanueva's architecture was the sense that form should never lose its soul -- or never cease reflecting the transcendent quality of the human spirit. This idea was also apparent in the Vilamajo House, which sits like an extraordinary gift to a city steeped in homogenous works. Vilamajo might as well have been channeling Wright with his use of flats and horizontals and simple materials for his creation, because it was Wright who identified this style of architecture as "the triumph of human imagination over materials, methods and men, to put man into possession of his own earth."[footnoteRef:3] [2: Joseph Korom, The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: a celebration of height (Boston: Branden Books, 2008), 209.] [3: Bruce Pfeiffer, ed., Frank Lloyd Wright: In the Realm of Ideas (IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1988), 48.]

Still, in their own personal designs, the two Latin American architects embrace the Bauhaus influence on art, which was to encourage a movement away from pre-conceived or old-world methods of illustrating the spiritual, just as in design, it encouraged a movement away from old world modes of production. In terms of design and architecture, Bauhaus encouraged the Industrial design -- the mass-produced technique, utilizing new metals, new materials, and absolving nations of national characteristics. Villanueva decried this yet utilized it in El Silencio, and the Vilamajo House reflects the urbanization of the Wright style, which is a kind of prairie-post-industrial style in its own right.

Such poetic hybrids were certainly not new and existed in old world. Indeed, Greek architecture favored an organic feel, and strove "to put a bit of life into buildings to make them breathe [and] flex their sensuality," as Paul Johnson has stated rather well.[footnoteRef:4] The way they did this was by using any of five different tactics to convince the eye of a depth, line, and curve. Each tactic required more cost, as it required more labor, and so not every temple employed them. The same is true of Villanueva and Vilamajo, whose houses feel organic as though sprung up out of the earth, with Villanueva's use of the shell faAade to offset his home from surrounding buildings and the Vilamajo House's insistence upon parallel and perpendicular designs and flat surfaces to convey the simple spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright in a Latin American context, situated beneath the urbanized city's own depressing, corporatized landscape. These concrete constructs justify their existence by being something other than what the ordinary building in the neighborhood is even if the materials used are not really any different. [4: Paul Johnson, Art: A New History (NY: HarperCollins, 2003), 69.]

Marcel Breuer can be said to be the inspiration behind tenement dwelling housing of the latter 20th century -- the colorless, featureless, characterless buildings whose exterior flatness represented well the emptiness of the modern era after two World Wars. Ornament was superfluous. Minimalism was the new fashion. In one sense Breuer's "brutalism" is the one extreme of the Bauhaus influence, the other extreme being the abstract art of Kandinsky and both are found in Villanueva's works, which are at once traditional and modern -- consistent and harmonious and abstract and unpredictable. The Brutalism is also found in the Vilamajo House though here it is less oppressive and monotonous because Vilamajo breaks it up with unpredictable cadences and random enlargements of design and spots.

Modern architecture under the influence of Bauhaus would project an aura of sleekness and mechanical superiority -- but it would not hazard any embellishment or attempt any ornament. The ornament, so to speak, would be found in the perfection of the line, of the angle, of the horizontals and perpendiculars… [END OF PREVIEW]

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