Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek
Architecture

Inside Bolivia’s New Psychedelic Mansions

Freddy Mamani’s flamboyant architecture is restyling Bolivia’s El Alto.

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    In Bolivia, almost a decade after the election of Evo Morales, the country’s first indigenous president, the economy is enjoying a natural-gas-fueled boom that’s unprecedented—both in its scale and the participation of native groups. That’s on display vividly in El Alto, a city of 1 million near the border with Peru. Vibrant homes are sprouting up, expressing the good fortune and cultural pride of the Aymara people, as well as the flamboyant vision of architect Freddy Mamani. His intricately detailed buildings have injected color into this drab city, which at 13,615 feet is the highest in the world. Bolivia’s old money dismisses the towering structures as nouveau riche eyesores, but foreign critics are hailing a New Andean Architecture.

    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    Mamani’s houses are working assets. Averaging more than 29,000 square feet, they boast two-story party halls that are rented out for weddings and other functions. “I don’t have a pension,” says Angel Quisbert, the owner of a leatherwork business who commissioned Mamani to build this seven-story home in El Alto. “My wife and I think we can live on renting the space.”

    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    Mamani’s houses are working assets. Averaging more than 29,000 square feet, they boast two-story party halls that are rented out for weddings and other functions. “I don’t have a pension,” says Angel Quisbert, the owner of a leatherwork business who commissioned Mamani to build this seven-story home in El Alto. “My wife and I think we can live on renting the space.”

    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    “I started out with nothing,” says Alejandro Chino, a tailor who makes suits. “My wife and I worked long days, weekends, and holidays. That’s how we made money.” Chino and others say their Mamani-designed homes, which can cost as much as $500,000, send the message that with hard work and an enterprising spirit anyone can get ahead in Bolivia.

    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    Owners’ quarters in Mamani’s buildings are on the top floors—under construction in this house—which have sweeping views of El Alto and the snowcapped Andes. Along with party halls, the lower floors have commercial spaces and apartments, either for family members or to rent. Mamani says the geometric designs of the facades of his buildings are inspired by the nearby Tiahuanaco archeological ruins.

    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek

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    The father of New Andean Architecture, Mamani (center) has built 100-plus homes in the past 13 years. “There is this doctrine in the universities that we can’t break certain architectural norms, that we have to base our work on what already exists,” says Mamani, who is Aymaran and has degrees in architecture and engineering. “I believe we have to innovate.”

    Photographer: Livia Corona Benjamin for Bloomberg Businessweek