Sprawled over a high plateau above La Paz, El Alto is arguably Latin America’s largest indigenous city. At an altitude of 4800 m, colorful buildings arise and geometric facades are visible from the teleferico travelling above the altiplano. The first cholets were sighted almost fifteen years ago: the main author of this so-called New Andean Architecture is Freddy Mamani Silvestre. Since then, they proliferated: various architects have appropriated them in terms of style and copied them typologically. “Cholet” is a portmanteau of the high-class “chalet” - the pitched roofs of these mansions resemble the ones of Swiss cottages - and the derogatory “cholo” - racist slang for an indigeneous person. However, Cholets became for the new El Alto’s Aymara bourgeoisie identitarian devices - expressions of wealth and cultural pride after centuries of oppression and colonialism.
Mamani ‘s buildings have a common language - two or three storey dwellings and a ballroom on the highest ceiling room filled with Andean symbols, casted columns and windows with different geometrical profiles cutting the whole space. “We use the colours of our textiles, colours that are alive,” tracing inspiration from traditional garments and folkloric masks. These ballrooms are identified not only through iconographies but also by the use they make of it - from dances to ceremonies, to domestic inhabitation, to basketball courts or swimming pools.
Cholets are always designed in close contact with the buyer - triggering a personal and almost process of embodiment of the owner with the building itself. “The building is to produce income. On the roof is our own home.” Although, the spatial experience can be read in completely opposite ways: during the day the light from outside is absorbed by the colors and it seems to be inside a video game, a confetti space. As soon as darkness falls, the LED lights direct you into the ballroom and surround every architectural element. Not only the architecture itself is ornamental but the eccentricity with which the Aymara use and change the program of the space. The one of cholets is a controversial phenomenon, that nonetheless portrays the political, social and economic contemporaneity in Bolivia. On an urban level the cholets have become a symbol, recognizable monuments - able to immediately recall Andean identity nationally and internationally.
Ultimately, the architecture of Crucero del Sur - the specific cholet depicted in the pictures - speaks the same language of the ceremonies that take place inside it. In these exuberant interiors, matter and performance achieved an absolute reciprocity.