During the last decades, the informal economy has been labeled as a non-productive sector. However, on this occasion, this label is counteracted through the Andean infrastructure of the Cholets located in the city of El Alto, Bolivia. They are symbols of the success and wealth of the informal sector, composed mostly of the Aymara community and migrants from the countryside to the city. The Cholet architecture is characterized by its brightly colored facades typical of the Tiahuanacota culture. Its multi-story buildings house different economic activities, such as commercial stores, dance halls and apartments for rent. Another characteristic of the Cholets is the top floor, where the Châlet style apartments are located. In this context, the name Cholets is conceived, combining “Chola” and “Châlet”, which in recent years has echoed not only in the national territory but also internationally.
Freddy Mamani, father of the New Andean Architecture transforms Bolivia with his indigenous-inspired architecture. Mamani, a self-taught architect, gives color to the arid landscape of the altiplano through his buildings called Cholets. Mamani began playing as a child with the sand of the field where he was born, making stone constructions. Later, at age 15, Mamani worked as a bricklayer in the city to help support his five siblings. “I was the oldest, my father was a teacher in a distant province and there was no other option, but my dream was to be a civil engineer” indicates Mamani. Later, he graduated as an architect and set out to make a different kind of architecture. “I saw that there was a void at the university: they only taught us to replicate what came from outside and to build monochromatic houses. I wanted to recover the color of the Tiahuanaco culture… and the geometry of the awayos (textiles) with which the cholas (indigenous women in Bolivia) carry their babies on their backs.” “My architecture is polemic and a bit rebellious. It is born from anger, from wanting to show that we can also do it our way” points out Mamani (Narro, 2019; Ybarra, 2019).
Mamani’s works are mainly reflected in the city of El Alto, located at 4,000 meters above sea level. Mamani made his first work in 2005, with vivid colors and Andean forms; and since then, his works have marked a milestone in Bolivian architecture. The Cholets are characterized by being buildings of 6 to 7 floors, the ground floor represents the commercial stores. The second floor shows the attractive dance halls, a key element in the Aymara culture. They are spacious double-height rooms with a dance floor and platforms for musical bands. They abound in mirrors located on the columns, walls and ceilings, which also display chandeliers and teardrops. The decorative forms are reminiscent of Andean art textiles and ceramics. Above the ballrooms are one or two floors of apartments for rent. The top floor is characterized as the owner’s dwelling, which is distinguished from the rest of the building by being a replica of the peasant house, Châlet style.
A Cholet in Paris
Andean architecture, characterized by its vivid colors and traditions, broke international barriers. Mamani was invited by the Cartier Foundation of Paris for Contemporary Art to build a Cholet in Paris. In 2019 he carried out the work showing the colorful, extravagant and typical Tiahuanacota details. Mamani exhibited his work inside the building of the Cartier Foundation in Paris, where important art exhibitions are held. “I feel with a lot of responsibility to carry high all Bolivia and transmit all our culture, our identity to the world,” said Mamani (Salazar, 2018). Mamani’s work called the attention of locals and strangers, with calls and visits from journalists, architects and sociologists from various parts of the world, trying to enter and learn more about the monumental architecture of Mamani, which carries a lot of history about the Aymara community and the Tiahuanacota.
The Cholet in Paris is an unprecedented work. It is located in an area of 250m2 on a height of 7 meters. Mamani’s architecture shows details such as the characteristic chandelier, the chacana or Andean Cross, the Puma Punku, the Condor, the pillars of bright colors such as red, orange and shades of green. Likewise, on the main wall is projected the film detailing the life and work of Mamani, how the room was built and the comments of several experts on the urban phenomenon of the Cholet (Maclean K. and Towler L., 2019).
More than a building: A reflection of prosperity
Cholets identify the flourishing Aymara bourgeoisie, as they are synonymous with success. This Andean architecture reflects the prestige and economic power of the owners of the buildings, who are usually indigenous Aymara or who migrated to the cities from rural areas (Salazar, 2018). This segment of the population is prosperous because of their ability to cooperate and compete. They compete in the final goods market, but cooperate by sharing input costs (Morales and Salinas, 2018).
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