Published on November 28, 2014
The Intern Group offers architecture internships in Latin America in the vibrant city of Medellín, Colombia. Here students can be inspired by the surrounding natural and architectural beauty and work with local architects and larger international companies.
Architecture has always played an important part in the cultural heritage of Latin America. One can appreciate its significance when looking at the breathtaking monuments built by indigenous architects, unbelievably advanced in their technique, given the tools and resources available during that time.
The historic sanctuary of Machu Picchu in Peru, the pre-hispanic city El Castillo of Chichen Itza in Mexico, the fortresses and monuments of Cartagena in Colombia - they are only a few examples of the ancient architecture from the pre-Columbian times. Every year these architectural wonders attract thousands tourists from different parts of the world who readily go on exhausting hikes and adventures, just for a chance to experience the moment of awe when seeing the wonders with their own eyes.
The history of Latin American architecture starts with the foundation laid by native Indian civilizations. Perhaps, one of the most well-known societies, the Maya, were known for their city-states most of which are now popular areas for archaeological and anthropological studies. The Mayan architects used stones as the primary resource to build everything - pyramids, statues, temples, palaces and residential homes - in their cities. The city-states shared a common layout, best described as plaza-groups or clusters, with the main plaza serving as a center point for buildings to be established around. The Maya kings lived in palaces built close to the central plaza.
The 16th-19th centuries are marked by the Spanish and Portuguese occupation of Latin American territories. As the result of this invasion, numerous cultural landmarks and ancient temples were destroyed and replaced by Spanish and Portuguese churches. Many churches, however, managed to preserve the inherently pagan features while serving as the Christian place of worship. One example of the architectural work of this period is the Church of San Augustín in Acolman, Mexico.
The next period, the 17th-18th centuries, is a baroque period inspired by the European style with its typical pompous decorations and dramatic vibe. The architects were severely challenged with the environmental unpredictability of the New World and had to make adjustments accordingly - to keep the buildings safe from natural disasters, such as frequent earthquakes in Chile and Peru. Indigenous builders already knew how to adapt to mother nature’s wonders, so the new architects had to follow ancient techniques when establishing the foundations. Only after that they could confidently add any sophisticated baroque embellishments onto the humidity, flood and earthquake-proof buildings.
The first half of the 1800s was a significant period for Latin America, because it was the time when many colonies successfully gained their independence. The design of most buildings at that time was inspired by that of ancient Rome and Greece and thus, is best described as neoclassical.
The century after, the 1900s, was flooded by various modernist trends, one of which was muralism. This style is best known for large-scale frescoes depicting the significant political events, such as the Mexican revolution.
The modern architecture of the 20th century transformed further, giving preference to simplified and functional forms to fulfil the society’s industrial and economic shifts. The most influential figure of that time was the Swiss architect Le Corbusier who actively promoted the idea of the new urbanism which he called the International Style. It tried to offer design solutions to any type of social, environmental and economic condition in the world and became very popular in Latin America. Le Corbusier implemented his ideas during his frequent trips to South America where he supervised and supported several projects, including the building of the government tower in Rio de Janeiro.
This brief overview of the Latin American history has hopefully shed some light on the region’s eclectic style of the architecture. Latin America holds many architectural conferences and symposiums gathering professionals from different corners of the world and many universities in the region provide programs in urban design, engineering and architecture. Whether you work in the architecture-related field or not, Latin America will inspire and amaze you with its diverse works of architecture each with their unique cultural and historical background behind them.
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