In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Modern Architecture in Latin America

  • Introduction
  • Multicountry Regional Surveys of Urbanism
  • Transnationalism, Regionalism, and Theory
  • Architecture, Design, and the Other Arts
  • Perceptions and Images of Latin American Architecture by Foreigners
  • Latin America and Le Corbusier
  • Argentina
  • Central America
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Mexico–US Border and Northern Mexico
  • Peru
  • Uruguay

Architecture Planning and Preservation Modern Architecture in Latin America
Kathryn O'Rourke
  • LAST REVIEWED: 13 March 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0021


The definitions of “Latin America” and “modern architecture” have long been debated, are routinely contested, and are increasingly inclusive. For the purposes of this bibliography, “Latin America” refers to the geographical area south from the US–Mexico border region to the southern tip of the Americas in Chile and Argentina. It includes Brazil and the Spanish-speaking parts of the Caribbean. “Modern architecture” refers to buildings built beginning around 1900 through approximately 1975. The unevenness of architectural production across, and scholarship on, Latin American countries generally tracks their relative size and wealth, with Mexico and Brazil having the greatest volume of buildings and books. The cultural, economic, ecological, and political diversity of Latin America, along with the sheer size of the territory and the different historical experiences of people within the region rightly cause scholars to venture generalizations with considerable caution. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify some formal patterns and recurring themes. Formally, architecture here followed roughly the same trajectory as it did in western Europe and the United States: historicist styles dominated early in the century, with some art nouveau influence; stripped rationalism and Art Deco, often with pronounced classicist characteristics, followed. The expansion of modernist idioms at mid-century, particularly in Mexico, Brazil, and Venezuela and often in ways that prominently incorporated murals, mosaics, sculpture, and landscape design drew international attention. The trend toward large-scale, visually massive works and an increased use of exposed concrete and brick defined later decades. Internationalism—borne in the formal and theoretical influences of European architecture, supported by study of foreign developments via journals, nurtured in architects’ travels and professional exchanges, and vitalized through European emigration to the region—frequently mixed with consideration of the particularities of regional or national cultures and conditions. Three major themes dominated architecture: history, social concern and underdevelopment, and the relationship of cosmopolitan urban centers (most often capital cities) to rural areas and vernacular typologies. These themes were frequently bound up with debates about race, class, national culture, and modernization. Internal migration and rapid urbanization in the mid- and late twentieth century fueled new planning schemes and much new building. Although private patronage was important, many of modern Latin America’s major works were publicly funded. Politics underlay numerous commissions, while explicit political aims shaped others. In many instances modernist forms functioned as aspirational expressions of states’ modernizing ambitions rather than as aesthetic responses to industrialization.

Multicountry Regional Surveys of Architecture

The seeming impossibility of adequately conveying the diversity and complexity of Latin American modernism has shaped the contours of much scholarship that takes a regional view. Within such texts, Mexico and Brazil tend to receive the greatest attention, while Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Colombia, and Cuba are often well represented. Research on Latin American architecture has increased dramatically since the start of the twenty-first century and is increasingly narrow in focus, but earlier texts remain important sources. Coverage of the various countries is uneven and varied in focus and methodology. Enormous numbers of buildings, architects, patrons, and histories remain to be rediscovered and analyzed. Archival holdings tend to be spotty. Architectural and even trade journals can be significant sources of basic information as well as serving as troves of primary material; Gutiérrez 2001 is a good guide to these. Carranza and Lara 2015 succeeds in covering much ground and many major buildings, figures, and ideas with tightly focused, object-oriented introductions to major works. Bullrich 1969 is much narrower in scope, while still covering multiple countries and architects. Reference work-like Arquitectura Latinoamericana en el siglo XX attempted to survey the field in very broad terms.

  • Bullrich, Francisco. New Directions in Latin American Architecture. New York: George Brazilier, 1969.

    Brief but detailed and illustrated account of developments chiefly in South America from the 1940s to the 1960s. Significant in reintroducing English-language audiences to Latin American modernism.

  • Carranza, Luis E., and Fernando Luiz Lara. Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2015.

    The major text on 20th-century architecture in Latin America. Rather than attempting to shape a unified narrative, the authors deal with the diversity within their topic by organizing material chronologically and thematically and treating major buildings, theoretical texts, and events as singular, but related cases. The approach makes visible historical parallels and the interpenetration of aesthetic, technological, and social concerns across borders. Includes excerpts of important primary sources.

  • Gutiérrez, Ramón. Revistas de arquitectura de América Latina, 1900–2000. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Nueva Escuela de Arquitectura Universidad Politécnica, 2001.

    Valuable guide to 20th-century architectural journals published throughout Latin America. Entries include names of publishers and publication dates. Includes Central America and the Caribbean; organized by country.

  • Gutiérrez, Ramón, ed. Arquitectura Latinoamericana en el siglo XX. Barcelona: Lunwerg, 1998.

    Part survey of styles, themes, influences, and central concerns; part reference work in the manner of dictionary with entries on major architects, institutions, terms, and journals. Includes essays on broad themes of technology, architects, housing, and social concern in Latin American architecture.

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