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A Landmark Acquisition for MoMA’s Architecture and Design Department

November 4, 2011

The procurement of three pieces by Colombian architect Giancarlo Mazzanti signals a new direction for the Museum of Modern Art.

By Beth Broome

Parque Biblioteca España, Medellín, Colombia.
Parque Biblioteca España, Medellín, Colombia.
Photo by Sergio Gómez

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Grand Opening for Viñoly's Controversial U.K. Arts Center, Firstsite
Photo courtesy Mazzanti Arquitectos
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The Department of Architecture and Design at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has acquired three architectural models of recent projects by Colombian architect, Giancarlo Mazzanti. The selection represents two firsts: These are the first Colombian buildings to enter the department’s holdings, and Mazzanti is the first Colombian architect to have his work included in the venerable collection.

“It’s shocking how little Latin American material we have in the architecture and design department,” says Barry Bergdoll, MoMA’s Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design. “We have a lot of catch-up work to do.” The department, which was founded in 1932, currently consists of 28,000 pieces, from large-scale design objects to works on paper and architectural models. Noting the 2008 acquisition of important work from Brazilian architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha, Bergdoll points out that Mazzanti is in a select group. “But,” he says, “I hope that he’s a pioneer in our extension of our representation of the creative fervor that is going on in Latin America right now.”

On an even broader scale, news of the selection is indicative of the Department of Architecture and Design’s efforts to reach out to largely overlooked corners of the globe. “What the initiative is not about is looking to starchitects practicing around the world,” says Bergdoll, “but, rather, globalizing by finding these people practicing in their own milieu.” In these cases, the work is not only connected to regional architectural tradition, but also to the social and political stakes in their particular locales. “I’m more interested in discovering what’s homegrown of global significance,” Bergdoll says.

The Mazzanti works include a white cardboard presentation model of the architect’s Parque Biblioteca España [Record, November 2008, page 138], a community center in Medellín’s infamously violent Santo Domingo Savio barrio. The project, which received the 2008 Iberoamerican Architecture Biennial award, among other honors, has become a symbol of the city’s radical transformation through architecture.

The two other pieces relate to El Porvenir kindergarten (2009), a small compound of adaptable classroom modules enclosed within a circular gated structure in a marginalized district of Bogotá. The MoMA acquisitions comprise a study model made of white cardboard, children's wooden beads, and plastic cord over tracing paper, and a presentation model in white cardboard. Bergdoll says the pieces have added value for the museum because they further the goal of including more process materials in the collection, in addition to finished projects.

“It is an honor to be the first Colombian team to be featured in the MoMA collection,” says Mazzanti. “But above all, the selection shows an appreciation for Colombian architecture, which in these past years has been known for its quality and—through the construction of public cultural, educational, and sports facilities—as a vehicle for urban transformation and social inclusion in difficult contexts.”

Indeed, the acquisition signals the department’s increasing interest in high design with a conscience. “People are looking now to Colombia and, in particular, Medellín,” notes Bergdoll, “toward that socially transformative capacity of architecture, which has a real connection to some of the Modernists in that it is much more egalitarian. It reaches out to all social classes—it is not just a luxury for wealthy people.”

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