It’s not surprising that Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” lived in a house that resembled a fairy-tale castle; that Thomas Jefferson, lover of Roman law, lived in a Roman-style house; or that the front porch of the home of Mark Twain, who used to be a riverboat pilot, took on that look.
Neither is it unexpected that contemporary Bolivian architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre painted the town of El Alto red, not to mention other high intensity colors. Historically, the stonework on buildings in his native land is a kind of Andes Baroque or Indian Ornate – the result of influence from the country’s Inca culture. That inherent decorative strain seems to call to Mamami. A recent edition of the New Yorker magazine featured his architecture of many colors and it’s dazzling.
You might call what he does a shout from the rooftops against modern architecture’s spotless palette of gray or white and its penchant for spare, stark, sterile straight-lined uniformity. Adolph Loos, the Austrian architect who pioneered modernism, wrote at length about why white is the color of choice for buildings and why a world bent on variety is wrong. In a collection of essays titled “Ornament and Crime,” he proclaimed this:
“To me, and to all the cultivated people, ornament does not increase the pleasures of life. If I want to eat a piece of gingerbread I will choose one that is completely plain and not a piece which represents a baby in arms of a horserider, a piece which is covered over and over with decoration. The man of the fifteenth century would not understand me. But modern people will. The supporter of ornament believes that the urge for simplicity is equivalent to self-denial. No, dear professor from the College of Applied Arts, I am not denying myself! To me, it tastes better this way.”
Mamani’s buildings emblazoned with ice cream berry shades seem a clear “so you say, Adolph!” He also had a lot of world history for support. Egyptian palaces, Greek and Hindu temples, and medieval cathedrals all were highly colored. Then there are historic San Francisco’s Victorian houses awash in rainbow hues known as the “Painted Ladies” and the visually eventful facades in Miami known as Art Deco.
But there’s a bigger reason to rouge up the complexion of buildings than history or personal taste. The primary colors of red blue and yellow are those of the sun, the sky and plant life, all of which give life to a manmade environment paved over in concrete. Mamani puts nature back in the street.