Architecture in Bogota
"This is the kind of architecture that should be built around the world. This is what buildings dream of being."
Zack - San Diego, CA, USA
Recognizing the fact that Bogota is one of the oldest and most important urban centers in the New World, it becomes painfully evident that architectural historians have committed a grave error in not sufficiently cataloging and recording more of the city’s architectural patrimony and progression.
Local historians share a great part of the blame for this unconscious wantonness, as many eminent Colombian architects and historians have travelled abroad, commencing with the post-colonial period to the present, searching for architectural knowledge and trends in the celebrated cities of Europe and North America, while too often neglecting to emulate or record domestic achievements.
The great art and architecture treasures of Bogota and of Colombia are not well known at home, much less abroad. Bogota Brilliance is certain that this will soon be a matter of the past, as every small and large Colombian town aches to be discovered, studied and appreciated.
While you can certainly find a great plethora of books about architecture in Colombian and in Bogota, you will be hard-pressed to find them adequately promulgated at home or abroad.
Nevertheless, Colombia has an extraordinarily rich architectural heritage, and its beautiful capital, Bogota, is a splendid monument to this vibrant past, present and future.
The architectural morphology of post colonial Bogota, with its cool temperatures, strong European mores and traditions, where imposing colonial homes continued to reflect the staid middle-class, became locked in its own “Republican Architecture” identity, resisting external change, almost echoing the remoteness of this capital city well into the late nineteenth century. One could easily confuse the Bogota of the 1700s and 1800s with its narrow streets, balconies and balustrades, with a city in Spain or Italy. Today, much of neighborhoods such as La Candelaria and Usaquen (in the city’s North) have been preserved as showcases of Bogota’s colonial past and have become main tourist destinations.
Inspired by the designs exhibited at the Chicago World Fair of 1883 and the Paris World Fair of 1889/1900, a global architectural reawakening occurred and Bogota’s leaders embarked upon several notable constructions projects, and the city began to shine with its own architectural identity and style.
In 1912, the neoclassical Hotel Atlantico was one of the first full-cement structures in the city, and the luxurious precursor to the Hotels Regina and Granada. Parisian-styled Passages, such as the Bazzar Veracrus and new boulevards dotted the city, as Bogota ever strived to compete with the architectural trends of European cities.
The most emblematic building, reflecting the city’s (and nation’s) progressive architectural style is reflected in the Capitolio Nacional de Colombia –or Colombia’s National Capitol building, which is displayed on our Home Page. Commencing in 1847, and through its 78 years of construction, this important building designed to house the nation’s congress, became the epitome of Colombia’s Republican Architecture. Located on the city’s main square, the Plaza Bolivar, the Capitol was initially designed by Danish architect Thomas Reed, the construction was then managed by the Florentine Pietro Cantini, followed by French-born Gaston Lelarge, and concluded by the prolific Colombian architect Alberto Manrique Martin. Other notable buildings designed by this architect can be found to this day throughout Colombia and Argentina. Unfortunately, one of his most important buildings, the Belle-Epoque Hotel Granada, was demolished in 1951.
Not only is the Colombian Capitol building a singular architectural achievement in the New World, but many believe the Colombia’s neo-classical presidential palace to be the most beautiful of its type.
Other notable structures of Bogota’s past include at least three castles, many palaces (in various styles), the oldest observatory in Latin America, and many astonishing chapels, churches and Cathedrals (Gothic, Byzantine, modern, etc).
The central district called La Candelaria, where many of its patrician homes have survived to this day –some now as museums– is the main repository of Bogota’s architectural past. However, there are many other stunning neighborhoods that have been almost hidden from foreign visitors, such as Sante Fe, Egipto, Martires, all of which despite their destructive patinas (and impoverished conditions), have shockingly beautiful buildings.
Still, there is nothing more beautiful, opulent or elegant as Bogota’s Opera House, the Teatro Colon. Not only is it one of the oldest opera houses in the New World, it is by far the most baroque –and true to the Italian and French architectural traditions of the time. The Teatro Cristobal Colon (which had replaced the Teatro Maldonado), is most often referred to as “el Teatro Colon.” It is a masterpiece of Baroque architecture and interior art, designed Pietro Cantini, and inspired by Milan’s Teatro l’Scala and Paris’ Opera Garnier, complete with a grand Murano Crystal (Venetian) chandelier. Though already functioning in 1892, the opera hall was officially inaugurated in 1895 with Giuseppe Verdi’s Hernani. In the new world, the Teatro Colon opened its doors only nine years after New York’s Metropolitan Opera (Association), yet it is older than the Teatro Colon of Buenos Aires by 13 years, and older than the San Francisco Opera by nearly 30 years.
Today, Bogota is made up by 20 Localidades, or Districts, and first time visitors will be surprised to find them to be fascinating and beautiful.
For example, while many travelers have visited Buenos Aires and have been able to compare that city’s magnificent 20th century architecture to that of Baron Haussmann’s Paris, too few have visited Bogota to record not only the Baron’s influence here, but the fact that much of Bogota’s architecture from the 1930s through the 1950s resemble London! Despite the virtual anonymity of Bogota’s urban watermark upon the world’s history of architecture, Bogota was probably the city with the most Tudor style residences outside of London.
In particular, the beautiful District called Teusaquillo, is lauded to this day by many architects and residents for its singular aesthete and elegance. Though many of these lovely homes have been converted into colleges and businesses, many have been restored to their original splendor and the neighborhood is finally enjoying its well deserved renaissance. An adjacent District called La Soledad, with its magnificent Art Deco residences and lush “Parkway” (boulevard), has become one of the most sought-after and vibrant neighborhoods for Bogota’s cultured bohemians. While La Candelaria is also home to many of the city’s cultural events, foreigners visiting Bogota are often not informed of the cultural importance of neighborhoods such as Teusaquillo, La Soledad and Chapinero, where the majority of the city’s theatres, specialty-craft stores and art schools are actually located.
Movie theatres have also given Bogota a great urban distinction. Commencing with the Salon Olimpia, built in 1912 as Colombia’s first movie house, this important building was erected by the Italian immigrant Francisco Di Domenico, the man who brought the first films to Colombia in 1897 –a premiere event in the New World. Other great movie houses were also built, such as El Cid and the Faenza, an Art Noveau masterpiece which has recently been restored.
But one of the most important projects that began to better define the city’s architectural modern identity was the construction of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. The prestigious faculties of this institution needed to be consolidated into one principal campus, and the Colombian government engaged a prominent German architect who had just immigrated to Colombia. German and Jewish, Leopoldo Rother was forced to flee Nazi Germany, along with prominent architects such as Ernesto Blumenthal –all of whom, like many other Jews from around the world, found a welcoming refuge in democratic-loving Colombia. Shortly after his arrival in 1936, Leopoldo Rother began designing this mammoth project which would come to be more affectionately called “La Ciudad Blanca,” or the White City. Other notable architects that collaborated on the project were Ernesto Blumenthal, Erik Lange and Alberto Wills Ferro. With Rother’s strong knowledge and participation in the Bauhaus movement, the construction of the university finally gave 1930s Bogota much deserved international recognition for its progressive penchant for design, as this was the most important construction project of the Bauhaus school in the New World, preceding the arrival of Mies van der Rohe’s work in the United States. But there were other Bauhaus style buildings also built during the late 1930s and into the 1940s, most notably along the Avenida Jimenez, as can still be seen in buildings such as the Monserrate Building (not the church) and the Lerner Building.
Today, the Universidad Nacional, with over 170 buildings, located on over 1,221,000 Square Meters is Colombia’s largest university, and one of the largest in the world. But there are so many other major universities in Bogota built with such astonishing beauty and aesthete, such as the country-club-like Universidad de la Sabana, that we can only say; come and see for yourself.
In 1948, a tragic event occurred that would alter Bogota’s history and architectural course for ever. A popular presidential candidate, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was assassinated, and the city was thrust into several days of violent chaos. This sad period came to be known as “the Bogotazo,” brutal days which saw many storefronts and central buildings damaged or destroyed.
However, this unfortunate event actually accelerated this fast-growing city’s program for urban renewal and progressive urban planning.
Swiss-French born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris, better known as Le Corbusier happened to have been commissioned the year before the Bogotazo, in 1947, to design the Bogota of the future. This ambitious and expensive project saw Le Corbusier shuttling between Paris and Bogota for over four years –culminating with his voluminous urban design presentation called “Plan Director.”
The implementation of Le Corbusier’s plans took-on an unexpected urgency, and despite the high costs of realizing all of his vision, Bogota metamorphosed into a beautiful, park-filled metropolis with wide boulevards, which honors the topography of the fabled “Sabana” on which Bogota sits.
But the crowning glory of Bogota’s modern architectural identity was given by the magnificent achievements of French-born –but proud to be Colombian architect, Rogelio Salmona.
Salmona’s masterful fusion of modernism and red brick has become the unmistakable signature of Bogota’s landscape and building aesthete. Apartment building complexes such as the Torres del Parque which harmoniously circumnavigate the red-brick Moorish style bullfighting ring are a rare treasure, and have become an architectural world icon. And the stunning Virgilio Barco Library –so ethereally placed inside Bogota’s largest city park, el Parque Simon Bolivar, is regarded by many as perhaps the most beautiful and functional mega-library in the world. While some may now criticize the architectural harmony and counterpoint created by the massive use of red bricks, we believe that it is Bogota’s singular glory. Since mere size alone, Bogota now outshines France’s beautiful city of Toulouse, or “Ville Rose" (also mostly built with red Brick), who would dare criticize Toulouse for its appearance, or Paris for its Haussmannian use of limestone?
A tour of Bogota’s wondrous architectural treasures are just too numerous to correctly illustrate here. But it is should be mentioned that Bogota continues to grow and evolve, and a new 66 story skyscraper called BD Bacata, designed by Spain’s famous architect Alonso Balaguer will soon be built.
This tower will restore Bogota’s tradition of having the most preeminent tall structures in Latin America, where skyscrapers such as the Torre Avianca and Colpatria have in the past held the title of tallest buildings in Latin America.
For the rest, we simply invite our readers to come see the unexpected architectural glory that the city of Bogota has created.