Starchitecture for Venezuela

Bolivarian Icons


It is often said that politics makes unexpected travel companions; an aphorism all the more true for architects in the shadow of power, especially when they aspire to meaty State commissions. For their part, politicians demonstrate an innate preference for monuments, particularly monuments to their persons or their achievements, so sooner or later they end up working with the inevitable architects.

This all too familiar story is now being written in Venezuela, with Nicolás Maduro seeking the company of two unquestionable figures of the international star system so that they can take on the projects for a pair of iconic works. On one hand, the Hugo Chávez park – 800 hectares featuring a university and sport facilities – has been assigned to Richard Rogers, an architect of left-wing sympathies who was first put in touch with the late Chávez by London’s first Labour mayor, Ken Livingstone. The other commission has gone to Frank Gehry: two large concert halls forming the home, in Barquisimeto, of one of Chavism’s pet projects: Venezuela’s National Network of Youth and Children’s Orchestras and Choirs, an efficient socially-oriented program for teaching and disseminating high-culture music. Apparently it was its young media-savvy director, Gustavo Dudamel – who also currently directs the Los Angeles Philharmonic, for which Gehry built the Walt Disney Concert Hall –, who introduced the latter to President Maduro. The three men – the Venezuelan leader wearing his usual Bolivarian scarf – recently presented the design in public.

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