Time is Life

Atoll Blog article uploaded 1st March 2008 on the life and work of Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona. Click on link or below to open:

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Rogelio Salmona (1929 – 2007)

In attempting to rationalise, his intuitive sense of place, time and architectural history, the esteemed Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona once told his interviewer from the Agence France-Presse that he felt inspired by the indigenous cultural sentiments from the pre-Columbian Aztec codices. He illustrated his point by quoting a memorised line of its poetry: “When I enter my home I enter the Earth and when I leave my home I ascend to heaven”. By his own admission, his own sense of architecture, as well as that of his own life, was continually influenced by multiple synthesise: These were drawn from both direct personal and cultural experiences, as well as more obtuse passions and nostalgia.

In October 2017 at the age of 78, Rogelio Salmona sadly passed away and left behind for good his beloved Colombian home, to ascend to his own piece of heaven. Here he also joined an elite pantheon of other architect greats, drawn from both South American and world architecture.

Just fourteen years earlier in 2003, he had been the first Latin American to receive the highly prestigious Alvar Aalto Medal, being recognised as Colombia’s most significant living architect. His great life work was recognised as a labour of love. It was a passion that also showed immense empathy and loyalty towards his adopted home of Bogotá. Here it was, over a long career, that he came to add a new modern slant to Colombian city architecture. His style was for a new urbane vernacular, that crafted humanist city spaces and places, and expounded a more unique and Latin American way of living.

Salmona was born in Paris in 1929 to a Spanish father and a French mother but moved to Teusaquillo in Bogotá with his parents as a child. However, despite being educated in French schools, he always identified himself as Colombian.

In 1948 with his Colombian studies interrupted by political upheaval, he had to return as a young man to the Paris of his birth. Here, over the next nine years, as well as completing his professional and cultural education, he also collaborated at various eminent studios, including those of Le Corbusier and Jean Prouvé. Notable projects included working with Le Corbusier on his masterplan for the state capital of Chandigarh, created as part of Nehru’s vision for India, post-independence.

Whilst still in Paris, Salmona also joined the Sociology of Art program directed by Pierre Froncastel at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes at the Sorbonne. As a subfield of sociology, this subject concerned itself with the social worlds of art, technology, as well as other shared aesthetics, drawn from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. Fed by his experiences and influential mentors, Salmona’s education was further informed by his travels around France, Mediterranean Europe and North Africa. Here it was that the seeds of a passion for the materialism and spatial richness of Romanesque, pre-Hispanic and Moorish architecture were sowed.

From 1957, following Salmona’s return to Colombia, he then spent the next 60 years as advocate for developing a new type of design language, one with a much stronger sense of cultural belonging and interaction among neighbours. Whilst also teaching architectural history at the University de Los Andes, he also set about confronting head-on urban planning conventions and advocating for social responsibility, and a revival of the more traditional arts and craft of brick construction. The use of brick became a signature style and made far better use of Bogotá’s local builder skills. It helped shape his whole new Latin American vernacular, that also included Islamic references to such elements as surface relief, pierced screens, walled gardens and water channels. All these gains made to a new local urbanism and architecture transcended the grim backdrop developing simultaneously. This was linked to the growing drug and crime syndicates of Colombia, and which was related in part to the turbulent conflict known locally as La Violencia.

From the 1970’s onwards, Salmona lived in Torres del Parque (1970), his remarkable residential complex design, which is still today seen as a key part of Bogotá’s modern cityscape. His vision presented to the city a series of jagged sandy escarpments and ledges, constructed from his much-loved brickwork detail, but contrasted on plan by softer embracing curves and landscaping, as well as by the classic brick drum of the adjacent Santamaria bullring. Other notable public works in Bogotá include his Museum of Modern Art (1988); General Archive of the Nation (1992); National University Human Sciences Postgraduate Centre (2000); Virgilio Barca Public Library (2001); and Gabriel Carcia Marquez Cultural Centre (2008).

Rogelio Salmona once said that the test of time would tell if he had held any validity as an architect. “Good architecture will become ruins. Bad architecture disappears…” he also said, “…but for you to know it is a ruin, you have to wait a lot of time”.  His expressed hope, was that his monumental towers of Torres del Parque would not become ruins just yet, but in a thousand years from now. If so, it would be nice to think it might befall the same fate as the romantic ruins of Colombia’s ancient ‘lost city’ of Teyuna. This was only rediscovered, after laying forgotten on the lower slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta for hundreds of years, in 1976.

In the present tense, Salmona believed that an architects ‘time’ should not be unduly coveted or saved as some form of precious ‘gold’. It should he felt, be used, employed and enjoyed in equal measure. “Time is Life. I am interested in living it” he concluded. Architects he maintained should memorise the scale, resonance and echoes that characterize any place, and drawn from their collective subliminal experiences, then set about creating an architecture of amazing places tor gathering an entire city together.


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