Our guest columnist from Cali, Benjamin Barney, reflects this week on the sometimes conflicting but always necessary relationship between landscape and architecture. This column was originally published in El País, Cali, October 27, 2016.
Topography, climate and vegetation generate different landscapes that are biologically vital and give identity and coexistence: peace. Architecture is added and modifies these landscapes for better or for worse. They are stories that change little by little with the generations, or unexpectedly as in Cali leaving landscapes or buildings as the only witnesses. But they are always together or scrambled, oddly enough they are seen, named, analyzed, shown, and taught separately.
Natural landscapes, if they have some architectural vernacular: rural, peasant, or agroindustrial extensions and monotonous; suburban, near cities; urban, traditional and peripheral neighborhoods; central, the heart of the cities and their image; or historical as the small, old foundational centers.
Today for many, landscapes are almost always urban, and we see their beauty and their role in the collective memory, and not just on TV.
Landscapes, cities and buildings that change daily with the passing of the Sun, the Moon, the stars, the clouds, the fog, the rain, the breeze, or the wind; at dawn, at noon, and at dusk. And throughout the seasons, the white winter snow, the always-green spring, the summer yellow from so much sun, to the autumn of ochre and sienna. There are always infinite combinations as seen by different people at different moments of their colorful lives, which for some are only gray.
In the landscape is the ziggurat of Ur rising to heaven; the Pyramids in the endless desert; the Acropolis crowning the Athenian polis; the streets of Pompeii or Volubiles pointing to the view; Gothic cathedrals in medieval cities; rising in Rome to San Pedro; the Alhambra above Granada; Le Corbusier’s Unité in a forest in Berlin; the Palácio da Alvorada and behind the lake of Paranoá in Brasilia; or the red Torres del Parque in Bogotá, green hills behind and blue sky above or menacing gray clouds.
But all the same, architecture is landscape. The Parthenon leaving the Propylaea; entering the Pantheon, Agia Sofia, San Pedro, or the mosque of Cordova, looking for the gods; in the medieval cloisters or those of the Alhambra, since all the courtyards are magical under the infinite firmament; looking at the wide portico of the Altes Museum in Berlin, or the National Capitol in Bogotá; or touring the surrounding landscape at the Museum de Arte Contemporânea in Niteroi, or at the GGM Cultural Center, in Bogotá; or inside or outside in the Cathedral of Brasilia.
You have to travel to see architecture that enhances the landscape, like Mont Saint-Michel and the sea; or that replaces it, as in Paris, Venice, Amsterdam or Bruges; or imposes itself as in El Escorial; or exalts in itself as in Teotihuacán, Tulum, Machu Picchu; or completes as in Porto, Lisbon, Istanbul, Tangier, Rio, Cartagena, Mompox, Villa de Leyva, Santa Fe de Antioquia, Popayán, Caloto, or San Antonio in Cali, with an architecture that does not cover or destroy the landscape, but takes advantage of it.
But strangely enough in Cali, the very beautiful Andean landscape of hills, mountain ranges with rocky outcroppings, the extensive valley at its feet, crossed by what were rapid-running rivers (now coarsely confined as the Cali River) all of this is ignored. And in this enviable landscape, they insist on building purely commercial architecture − no longer with art − which hides the landscape little by little and eliminates its varied vegetation, clinging to techniques of building that are not always the most sustainable.
Benjamin Barney Caldas is an Architect at the University of the Andes, holds a Master’s degree in History from the University del Valle. He is professor and researcher at the University of Los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia), University del Valle (Cali, Colombia), Instituto Superior of Architecture and Design ISAD (Chihuahua, México), University of Gran Colombia (Armenia, Colombia), School of Architecture and Design of Latin America and the Caribbean (Isthmus, Panamá), and the University of San Buenaventura USB (Cali, Colombia). He has participated in national and international competitions, both public and by invitation. His work has received national and international distinctions and has been published in books and magazines. He is the author of several books and research on urban heritage, and he is a columnist for the El País newspaper (Cali) and has worked independently in Cali since 1972.