Day 13 :: Peruvian Periphery

Today I DID see these projects. Images courtesy of me.

(Luckily I escaped the Ancient Incan food trap and survived what appeared to be merely food poisoning.)

I spoke with Luis Longhi before going off to sleep last night and we arranged to meet at his office this morning. I showed up at 9 and he gave me a tour of the office, showing me a number of his nearly dozen active projects and introducing me to his young staff. He offered to take me to Casa Pachacamac to see it in person and walk the site with him, to which I of course couldn’t refuse. We hopped into his red BMW with a young girl from his office and drove the 40km to Pachacamac, just south of Lima to this amazing site nestled in the small valleys in the periphery of the Andes. We drove to a spot considerably far from the entrance to the house because for him, that was the real way to experience the house – to understand it first from afar.

As a bit of background, Longhi was invited to the US to get his Masters in Sculpture from UPenn in the early 90’s. There he ended up double-majoring in Sculpture and Architecture and subsequently moved on the Harvard for a Doctorate in Design. Following his education he worked for a number of notable architects and eventually came back to his native Peru in the search for what he called “a contemporary Incan architecture” and began taking on small commissions and working in theater/stage design before formally beginning an office. His original partner tragically died only days into the formation of their office and he has worked alone ever since. He is an astute man with a serious commitment to designing through intuition and with his cultural roots in mind. He eloquently put it, “Once you begin understanding your intuition, you’ve become intelligent and will soon forget your intuition altogether.” I’m not sure if he was championing the idea that we shouldn’t completely try to understand our own will in the things it is that we design, but it somehow made sense to me at the time. Currently he is establishing a new school of architecture at the University of Peru with the philosopher Gabor.

We arrived at the house and he began explaining its coming to being – he kept saying things like, “the house is in a good mood today; sometimes it doesn’t want to show it self.” The house, although seemingly finished and published as such, has been under construction for 7 years with its workers living inside of it since then and through its completion. All of the stone work is found and moved by hand and all of its craft is done by locals. There was a young boy of four years old who was literally born in the house and whose parents live and work on it everyday. I’ve never seen architecture with such a history; of course, its clients are two elderly philosophers here in Peru who left the design completely to Longhi. Their plan was to move to the house after retiring and I couldn’t help but think that this was lesser a home than it was a coffin. There was something poetic to the way the form of the house, half landscape and half human labor, would speak to the lives of two philosophers who knew any day could be their last.

Some hours later, he said, “you know what, you have to see the other house and then compare for me which is better.” Disregarding an appointment he had at 3 o’clock (he doesn’t use a cell phone) we drove the 120km down the Pan-American highway, along the Peruvian coast to the small town of Asia. He told me about his life, about his practice, and about his mentor Juvenal Baracco – the old grumpy, irrational and childish politician of young Peruvian architects – which sounded all too familiar.

Eventually we came to Casa Lefevre and toured the grounds of this aggressive beach house. It was a great piece of architecture for what it was, but lacked the ethereal quality of the previous home that had this ineffable sense of timelessness (if that makes any sense). On the way home – now 9 hours after we met in the morning – he treated me to a traditional Peruvian meal fit for kings. I graciously said my goodbyes, unable to adequately express my appreciation and knowing I could never repay him for his time or insight. Another viciously cool man the same age as my parents who was just trying to write architecture as a way to understand life – as he put it, “Wives and children come and go; friends will betray you and the things you own will disappear, but architecture is forever.”

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