| Georg Ismar |
El Alto, Bolivia (dpa) – The wind blows past monotonous brick buildings lining the desolate streets of El Alto, 4,000 metres up in the Bolivian Andes.
One building in this rapidly growing city of a million inhabitants catches the eye with its bright colours and fantastic patterns, recalling the art of the Incas.
Salón de Eventos Principe Alexander reads the sign outside. A stairway lined with mirrors leads up to a huge hall with a profusion of colours and magnificent chandeliers.
The hall of ceremonies can hold up to 1,500 people. The building cost a mere million dollars – a bargain by Western standards. And the owner, clothing manufacturer Alejandro Chino Quispe, lives upstairs in it.
The chandeliers imported from China light up, with Freddy Mamani standing admiring his own work. The ceiling is decorated with a huge butterfly, and the yellow, red and green columns reveal up to 10 different shades of each colour.
The green everywhere symbolises the link between Bolivia’s indigenous peoples and nature – they worship Madre Tierra, Mother Earth.
“When you’re dancing here at night, you’re in another world,” Mamani says, describing how the brightly coloured dresses merge with the decor.
Much of his work involves creating large ballrooms in a country that loves to celebrate in large numbers.
The 42-year-old architect terms his highly individual style New Andean, describing it as influenced by the pre-Inca buildings of Tiwanaku, an archaeological site near Lake Titicaca dating back more than 1,000 years.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is characterised by its strong geometric lines – its most famous structure is the Gate of the Sun.
Mamani has drawn on the shapes, but it is primarily the colours that make his buildings special. They are oriented to the colours of the indigenous Aymara, whose clothing to this day is extremely colourful.
“Like [Antoni] Gaudí in Barcelona or [Oscar] Niemeyer in Brasília, Freddy Mamani has the chance to shape the aesthetics of an entire city,” London’s Guardian newspaper has said.
Mamani, who intends to take his style to the United States, has built 60 colourful New Andean buildings, working at his style for the past 13 years.
The architect, who has passed through three courses of study, has also decorated his own apartment in colourful style.
While El Alto, mostly populated by indigenous Indian people, remains his home, he is now taking on foreign commissions.
For years, the local populace led a meagre existence, but since President Evo Morales came to power in 2006, more money has been poured into this city above the bowl in which the capital La Paz is located.
While some say the source of the funds for the construction boom lies in the illicit drugs trade, Mamani describes his clients as “businessmen who earn their money abroad,” as he sets about changing the face of Bolivia’s youngest city.
He is currently busy with 15 projects. From one of them where his trademark colours are already showing through, there is a clear view over the city to the snow-covered mountains of the Cordillera Real.
Enjoying the view, Mamani believes he is only just beginning. To date his commissions have been largely from private clients, but he aims to leave his mark on public buildings of El Alto, like bus stations.
“I want to be part of designing the future,” he says.