Day 9 :: AJI Movement

A variety of styles from around Quito.

Today I set out unsure of what Quito really had to offer: the skyline was repetitive and dull and no icons stood out anywhere I looked but I went out in search for what the city could tell me about itself. I took a taxi to the old city center and hopped from one square to the next, peaked in one church to the other. In lieu of seeing anything contemporary I settled on what I understand as a transatlantic mimicry of a colonized European styles. Regardless, the old city center is amazing in its Baroque quality – from the public spaces to the twisted composite columns that structure and order the famous churches, it took me back to my earlier days romping around Europe.

I ducked in somewhere and had lunch and then called Adrian Moreno, an architect I had contacted weeks ago with the hopes of finding good conversation. We agreed to meet for lunch and take it from there. I was sipping my cafe tinto under the looming presence of the Andes and up comes Adrian – more of a Cuban gangster than the lanky hipster dweeb draped in black. We shook hands and sat down to have lunch and talk. Adrian explained the state of architecture in Quit, Ecuador, and Latin America at large, explaining its ties to Modernism, its (longer than typical) lapse with Post Modernism, and the problems it faces today outside of the Euro-American sphere. I asked about his pracitce, when he began, what he has problematized in both his work and the studios he teaches. A pack of cigarettes later I had the answers to my questions; in short, Moreno and a group of about 5 of his colleagues have begun what is known as the AJI Movement here in Quito and around the major cities of Ecuador. Ultimately unsatisfied with a historiography of form here that is too limited to a blind conception of the “vernacular” and weighed down by the baggage of its own misunderstood history – not to mention a lack of a critical voice within the discipline – they have begun a series of lectures, curated several exhibits, participated in a number of artistic + architectural biennials, and began a few branches of publications to give themselves and newer generations the venue they seek. It was promising to see such activism, when back in the West (I can not equate the architectural culture seen to date to that of what I left behind) us young architects leave school only to take refuge in the shadows of our iconic ‘leaders.’ Better yet, axiomatic to this movement is that critics have no voice within the discussion of architecture – similar to the aesthetic tropes of the Italian Autonomia (or Operaismo) – and if you want to write about, discuss and criticize built and theoretic work, you have to be an active participant.

We then took a cab to another part of town and Adrian took me around to see some otherwise impossible to know about projects, mostly from the oevre of his friends. Hours later we parted and made plans for tomorrow – he invited me to his house for a late lunch (the infamous CASA X – an insanely well done project just outside of the Eastern Plains of Quito). This is hopefully the beginning to a longer running discussion with a new friend in the uncertain pursuit for architecture.

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