Monument to the Summit of the Americas: The Story Behind Mario Botta's Work in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

Santa Cruz de la Sierra is located on the eastern plains of Bolivia, on the banks of the Pirai River. Being the most populous city in the country, it reveals an extreme social and cultural complexity surrounded by extensive pampas and plains. Additionally, it represents one of the most developed cities in Bolivia, with a high municipal indicator of sustainable development. Delving into the importance of community architecture, popular appropriation, the character of urbanity, and other concepts, this article explores the history behind the Summit of the Americas Monument through a series of narratives, documentations, drawings, and images captured by Pino Musi.

For years now in the West and the East, the consolidation of community sense within urban centers has been based on images that are accepted by the community in general, which can be classified as material, cultural, or character-based. In the absence of common architectural, artistic, heritage, or landscape elements, the sense of belonging, which is fundamental in the construction of any society, begins to dissolve, and thus, the collective commitment of citizens to their city also diminishes. In fact, it is believed that one of Santa Cruz’s most concerning cultural weaknesses lies in the absence of a solid urban reference element due, for example, among several reasons, to its “new city” character, which, although founded in the 16th century, only acquired a real urban scale after 1960, beginning to be recognized as a city in the ’90s.

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Inaugurated on December 6, 1996, the Summit of the Americas Monument was built in just three months to celebrate the Summit on Sustainable Development. This inter-American presidential meeting, held in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, sought to establish a common vision for the future in line with sustainable development concepts, emphasizing health, education, sustainable agriculture and forestry, sustainable cities and communities, water resources and coastal areas, energy, and minerals. The most important achievement was the inclusion of economic, social, and environmental aspects in sustainable development, as well as consensus on financial resources, technology transfer, responsibilities, cooperation, biodiversity, and more.

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Facing such a heterogeneous and dynamic cruceña community, it would be difficult, from some perspectives, for their aspirations to be represented by the slender religious bell towers, the republican houses of the rubber boom, the corporate headquarters of the ’80s, or the neoliberal shopping centers. However, the Summit of the Americas Monument seemed to concentrate the conditions to become the representative element of cruceña urbanity. Swiss architect Mario Botta in association with Luis Fernández de Córdova and Roda S.R.L led the construction of these two volumes that would come to gather 2300 m3 per tower.

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Located towards the west sector of the Central Urban Park of Santa Cruz, surrounded by adjacent avenues and streets, the Monument sought to create an entrance to the existing park, which would function as a vital green space within the historic city. Consolidating the two corners of the park facing the city, the implementation of two multi-level towers would allow identifying an inside and an outside of the same park, delimiting it and serving as a virtual portal open to the city. This idea was reinforced with the connection of the volumes from two dynamic strokes: a channel of 23 water fountains and an aerial laser beam as a transom or lintel. In addition, the orientation of these volumes towards the east allowed their use as observation points while enriching their symbolism.

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Without representing any specific organization and being massively appropriated by various sectors of the community, the Monument highlights universal and regional values through symbols that do not appeal to the anecdotal. The conceptual proposal involves the presentation of two isolated volumes or towers representing the two Americas: north and south. From the beginning, Botta understands America as a unity, which is why both elements are symmetrical. The volumes and their virtual connections present the subtle expression of a continental reality of “separate coexistence” between the north and the south. Metaphorically speaking, it is referred to that the “union” of the Americas depends on something as fragile as an electrical switch and a hydraulic shut-off valve.

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Through horizontal connections, the aim is to enhance the strength of the plains landscape surrounding the city, while a series of interior stairs allow access to terraces that open up as viewpoints offering great views of both the city and the park. The presence of architectural details allows the recognition of different elements of Santa Cruz’s traditional architecture such as Mudejar lattices, galleries, etc. The perforations in the volumes evoke colonial balconies with wooden lattices and the diagonal terraces reaffirm cruceña confidence in a better future after recovering the spatial and experiential strength of the octagonal corners of the modified colonial layout in the historic center.

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In the words of Victor Hugo Limpias Ortiz, Mario Botta recognizes that an abyss separates both Americas, and goes beyond creating a stimulating and welcoming political and architectural allegory. His critical vision is expressed in the laser beam oculi, recalling the curiosity of both Americas to observe each other, and in its lateral opening showing the distrust of that constant observation.

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The towers, which are identical and separated by about 100 meters, show an anthropomorphic image. Towards the upper part and next to the technical spaces, they resemble heads united by night from that laser beam of light. On the ground floor, two round columns are exposed, manifesting a sense of lightness to the structures and new perspectives on the park. At ground level, the towers are connected by a paved path where 23 water fountains are distributed with a series of regular intervals. The envelope of the towers is resolved with red bricks accompanied by a visible reinforced concrete structure, as an act of material honesty between both elements.

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Source:
– Aportes de la Comunicación y la Cultura Magazine. “Summit Monument”. The sophistication of a “popular allegory”, Víctor Hugo Limpias Ortiz.
– The unresolved development of exposed concrete in the Bolivian east, Mauricio Ricardo Ruiz Garvia. Universitat Politècnica de Valencia.

This article is part of an ArchDaily series titled AD Narratives, where we share the story behind a selected project, delving into its particularities. Each month, we explore new constructions from around the world, highlighting their history and how they came to be what they are. We also speak with architects, builders, and the community to underline their personal experience. As always, at ArchDaily, we greatly appreciate the contributions of our readers. If you think we should highlight a particular project, send us your suggestions.

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