IN THE SEARCH FOR A CONTEMPORARY MACHU PICCHU
The mission [adventure] of Peruvian architect Luis Longhi.
by Maya Ishizawa
In 1911, Hiram Bingham, an American explorer revealed the most emblematic Inca complex nowadays, Machu Picchu. Even if this event has been called a “discovery”, locals from the area who guided Hiram Bingham to its location, cultivated the terraces [andenes] of the site that was built during the 15th century, a century before Spaniards reached the Inca land. Fortunately, Machu Picchu was not found by Spanish colonizers, and remained conserved under the vegetation that covered it for nearly 500 years.
When Hiram Bingham brought about the value of this complex of Inca architecture, the discussion on the national identity was central in the nation-state building of Peru, process that had only started in 1821 and that is yet to be consolidated. Machu Picchu and other Inca archaeological sites of the Urubamba river valley were chosen as symbols for this new-born nation. Inca architecture became one of the most exploited symbols for the creation of a Peruvian identity. Yet, during 286 years of colonization and evangelization, indigenous peoples, inheritors of the Inca civilization and their traditions were treated with disdain. Nevertheless, the resilient Andean communities could safeguard their worldview/traditional knowledge that has been captured in constructions such as Machu Picchu.
However, even when having such magnificent examples of architecture that converse with the environment where they are placed, there is a discontinuity between Inca architecture and the Peruvian contemporary architecture. This has been fed by a capitalist, soul-less and uninspired production of buildings. The “colonial style” that has been constructed over pre-hispanic foundations has been copied; neo-colonial architecture and the “chicha style” have invaded Peruvian cities. The architecture in Peru is the reflection of a society that has been traumatized by a colonial past and later integrated into a global civilization without being cured of its traumas.
These are the reflections that accompany Luis Longhi’s architecture. Born in the city of Puno in 1954, next to the Lake Titicaca, the sacred lake of the Inca, where they are thought to have come from, Luis Longhi feels very close to the altiplano landscape where he has grown. From Italian descent, he was raised among Quechua and Aymara people that connected him emotionally with the ancestors, and their traditions, undermined by the hegemonic Western culture being imposed over the Andean world.
After studying and living for 15 years outside from Peru (United States and India), he felt the call of the ancestors and the need to return to his homeland in order to fullfil a mission, to recover the essence of an architecture from these lands, and conceive what could be a contemporary Inca architecture, retying his production to the broken threads that connect us with them.
But Luis Longhi’s search, is a search in the practice, it is not a theoretical search. Longhi is looking for an original architecture through the communication with the place, the feeling of local materials, the playing with the light, concepts learnt along his professional and academic practice. Longhi feels close to Louis Kahn, Isamu Noguchi, Peter Zumthor, Carlo Scarpa, and of course, the ancestors, pre-hispanic architects that communicate through their works: the waka of Puruchuco, the Temple of the Moon in Machu Picchu, and the Tiahuanaco Sun gate.
Longhi, as an artist-sculptor and architect, obeys primarly to his instinct in the moment of creation. He is inspired by some principles that he has come to elaborate through his practice. First, he understands nature as a divine creation and hence, a perfect one. From here, he derives the feeling of respect to the environment and place. Second, he accepts the ethymological intepretation of the word “design” as being formed by De, meaning Divine and Signum, meaning Sign. He defines design then as the act of taking divine decisions, which would give to the architect the huge responsibility of “guardian of the planet”. Only by accepting this he could understand the assertion of Peter Zumthor of how to recognize good architecture: “only when it (the architectural work) can move…”. He considers the work of an architect as the capability of generating a divine creation. Following classical ideas informed by Christianism and the Enlightment, he firmly defends the idea of architecture as the most powerful tool to save or ruin the world. Third, he is inspired by the thinking of Louis Kahn who talks about an “architecture with soul”. Fourth, he considers himself as having been, like Luis Barragán, “touched” by beauty. And finally, he admires the labor of Inca architects that honored their gods through their work. Hence, the search of Longhi is of creating architecture responsible, with the environment and the cultural space, charged with soul, that can move emotions in its dwellers and visitors, and that connects the present with the past, through the regeneration of Inca principles of design.
The result: Longhi’s architecture appears as sculptures in the landscape.
Longhi has enjoyed working not only in the natural landscape, like in the case of the beach houses, but he has also established deep relationships with old buildings in ruins. In these projects, Yuyanapaq and the Municipal Theatre, he tried to connect with the memory of the buildings. In the case of the exhibition Yuyanapaq, the recent Peruvian past is confronted, marked by terrorism and a war [1980-1992] that has mostly been suffered by the inheritors of the Inca, the Andean peasant communities. In this curatorial work Longhi established a relationship with the hosting house, the Casa Riva Agüero, a house that has witnessed the sacking during the Pacific War. The tour in the exhibition corresponds to the tour into the past and feelings of this centenary house, and for 18 months, the dwellers of the house in ruins, were the victims of the war, achieving a poetic metaphor between the country and the house.
The Municipal Theatre, partly consumed by a fire in 1998 was adapted by Longhi to be the scenery of the classic Shakespeare, King Lear. He transformed the audience floor in the stage, connecting the old stage in ruins through a platform, that later became the stage for several other plays. In this intervention, Longhi tried to respect the building and its wounds, in order to leave them cured until it was restored.
Yet, the emblematic work developed by Longhi is the Pachamac hill house. In this building, a residence for a couple of intellectuals, Longhi captures all the principles that guide his practice, recovering pre-hispanic symbols and traces expressing with mastery the deep interrelations between art, architecture and place. Working with local materials found in the site, Longhi created a land art in between the sea and the hills of the pre-Andes mountains.
These are only the first stones of the contemporary Machu Picchu. But building Machu Picchu was not the task of only one architect. Longhi’s work as educator aims at raising a new generation of Peruvian [and worldwide] architects that respect the environment, the place and the culture, putting new stones in the contemporary Machu Pichu.
Architect. RA, MArch, MFA, Dr. h.c.