The Canadian Centre for Architecture presents Alturas de Macchu Picchu: Martn Chambi – Alvaro Siza at Work

On view in the CCA’s Octagonal Gallery from January 26 until 22 April 22, 2012, this exhibition displays sketches from Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza’s 1995 trip to Macchu Picchu alongside 1920s photographs from the CCA Collection by Peruvian photographer Martín Chambi.

The dialogue between these materials explores the appropriation of reality by two different authors. Supplemented by documentation of Siza’s landmark social housing project in Évora, Portugal, the exhibition furthermore investigates the Pritzker Prize architect’s use of sketching both to record reality and as a design tool.

Álvaro Siza and Martín Chambi visited Macchu Picchu more than a half century apart from each other, but with a similar approach of active participation. Siza’s voyage to Peru in 1995 was undertaken with a single, inexpensive notebook and a few books of poetry. While not related to any particular professional activity, the images he created would evidence an attention to material culture that has characterized his architectural work since the 1950s. Chambi, on the other hand, photographed Macchu Picchu on several trips between 1927 and 1950, often carrying his photographic equipment by donkey. Chambi’s landscapes, a selection of which are part of the CCA Collection, would become the defining postcard images of Macchu Picchu. However, they also reappropriated the ancient Inca site, affirming the ownership of indigenous Peruvians in the face of Western claims.

A third component of the exhibition is documentation of Álvaro Siza’s Quinta da Malagueira social housing complex on the outskirts of Évora, Portugal. The project, started in 1977, was the first for which Siza used the simple black notebooks that he continues to sketch in to this day. The housing at Quinta da Malagueira displays typological features and an interest in the vernacular reminiscent of what Siza later draws at Macchu Picchu.

Selected photographs by Gabriele Basilico, Giovanni Chiaramonte, Roberto Collová and Jean-Louis Schoellkopf, depict the complex through the lens of contemporary observers – a final representational layer. The images shown in the exhibition are, on one hand, accurate site documentations. However, they are nonetheless filtered through the aesthetic and political inclinations of their creators. Ultimately, both Siza and Chambi present Macchu Picchu as a landscape of their invention.

Alturas de Macchu Picchu continues an ongoing investigation into the conception and representation of architecture. Initiated with the Devices of Design colloquium (2004), this research was pursued through the exhibition Palladio at Work (2011). CCA Executive Director and Chief Curator Mirko Zardini states, “At the CCA, we are interested in the working process, and the way that architectural ideas are shaped, as well as the relationship of architecture with cultural, political and social environments.”

The exhibition displays 35 sketches by Álvaro Siza, and includes the original notebook #399 from his travels to Macchu Picchu in 1995. The architect’s social housing complex at Évora, developed using sketching as a primary design tool, is presented through original documents from Siza’s office along with photographs by Gabriele Basilico, Giovanni Chiaramonte, Roberto Collová and Jean-Louis Schoellkopf. A selection of prints from Martín Chambi’s 1927 photographic series held in the CCA Collection are displayed as well as his panorama from a 1940 trip.

The exhibition is complemented by a selection of poetry books suggested by Álvaro Siza. Included is Pablo Neruda’s Alturas de Macchu Picchu, the second part of his Canto General of 1945, from which the exhibition borrows its name.

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