The city of El Alto isn’t just distinguished by its impressive altitude of over 13,000 feet above sea level or its self-governing status. This Bolivian municipality also sets itself apart with the distinctive architecture of Freddy Mamani Silvestre. The architect, who goes by Freddy Mamani professionally, got his start as a bricklayer and studied civil engineering in college. He completed his first building in this style in 2005 and has since created dozens more designs that incorporate circular windows, sharply angled rooflines and vibrant pink, green, and orange facades.
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The massive buildings seem to tower above their architectural neighbors, but they aren’t private mansions. Many of Mamani’s constructions are multi-use structures, filled with ground-floor rental stalls for vendors, a second floor party venue, and apartments on top. His buildings are nicknamed cholets, a portmaneau of chalet (a Swiss mountain house) and cholo (derogatory slang for indigenous person).
Though many westerners draw comparisons to Las Vegas, Mamani clarifies that the shapes, colors, and patterns he uses are drawn from Bolivia’s pre-Columbian history. In particular, the aguayo, a bright woven cloth of the Aymara, an indigenous group that Mamani is a part of, inspires the architect’s designs. Mamani shared in an interview with The Guardian, “My designs are a modern expression of our culture,” he adds. “Since Evo Morales [the country’s first indigenous president] became president, things have changed a lot. We feel proud of being Aymaran.”
Last fall, Mamani built a ballroom in Paris as the opening work in the Cartier Foundation‘s exhibition on Latin American art and architecture. You can get to know the architect in the Great Big Story video below. Photographer Peter Granser also published a book in 2016 about Mamani’s builds, which is available on the Edition Taube website. (via Quartz)