In Ecuador, Homes That Are Part of the Mountains

In Ecuador, Homes That Are Part of the Mountains

Later, the discovery of Amazonian oil reserves generated an economic boom beginning in the 1970s that helped establish Ecuador as a beacon of relative peace on a troubled continent. But two decades of rampant inflation followed, leading in 2000 to the center-right government’s replacement of the national currency with the American dollar. Between 1998, as the economy neared collapse, and 2006, the year before the leftist economist Rafael Correa ascended to the presidency, hundreds of thousands of Ecuadoreans fled to Spain and the United States. In May 2023, the conservative president Guillermo Lasso dissolved the National Assembly to avoid impeachment proceedings based on charges of embezzlement, which he has denied, triggering a flash election three months later. By the time Ecuador’s current president, Daniel Noboa, was elected in a runoff, the country had suffered months of political turmoil, including the assassination of a presidential candidate in broad daylight on the streets of central Quito. Noboa has since tightened security measures across the nation in the wake of prison uprisings and a homicide rate that nearly doubled last year. In August, Ecuador became the first country to pass a localized moratorium on oil exploration by national referendum, a victory for Indigenous and environmental activists.

In the shadow of all those upheavals, Quito has become an unexpected locus for a group of architects who argue, perhaps unsurprisingly, for added transparency, community and sustainability. All close friends, all under the age of 50, all guided by the imperative — repeated among them as a mantra — to “do more with less,” these practitioners, organized in collectives, build with materials like recycled wood and earth and share their resources and knowledge freely. “Their architecture is part of the land,” says Ana María Durán Calisto, 52, a Quito-born architect and scholar at Yale. “They’re neither Modernist architects of Latin American socialism nor neoliberal architects of Latin American corporatism,” she says. “They are architects of the minga.”

THE FIRST AND most influential of Quito’s contemporary firms, called Al Borde (To the Edge), emerged from the economic and political turmoil of the early 2000s. Al Borde’s founding partners, David Barragán, 42, and Pascual Gangotena, 46, met months before Ecuador’s dollarization, on their first day of classes at the esteemed Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. While there, they studied under Sáez, one of Casa Pitaya’s architects, who had moved to Ecuador from his native Spain in 1994. Sáez, 61, a founding member of the new architecture school at P.U.C.E. that year, infused the curriculum with an ethos of intellectual openness; existential questions of identity also permeated the institution, says Handel Guayasamín, 72, another influential architect and former P.U.C.E. professor: “What do we do with our culture? Our way of being? Our materials and local resources?”

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