Built to heal the wounds of the country’s recent violent past, this is a landmark project in the contemporary cultural history of Peru
After 12 years of military dictatorship in Peru, the return to democracy in the 1980s did not run smoothly. Political and social reforms and new economic initiatives were not sufficient to reverse the impoverishment of the nation. By mid-decade, widespread poverty in Peru sent migrants flooding into Lima, creating an undercurrent of violence that fuelled terrorist groups.
Shining Path and MRTA, two terrorist organisations, wanted to destroy all political institutions and replace them with a Communist revolutionary regime that would lead a cultural revolution. These groups used violence to prevent citizens from participating in local government, thus undermining democratic rule and dismantling Peru’s economic and political systems. Alan García, then President of Peru (1985-1990), drove the country further into crisis. Under his leadership, the number of Peruvians living in poverty increased by 13 points to 55 per cent, while bouts of hyper-inflation as high as 7,649 per cent meant a cumulative total inflation of 2.2m per cent over five years. The worsening socio-economic climate empowered the terrorist groups, who targeted civilians and official leaders with attacks.
‘It is a landmark project in the contemporary cultural history of Peru, not only for its influence on local architects where it has inspired a new architecture, but for its impact on the collective imaginary of the city’
In 1992, after an autogolpe (coup-d’état) led by President Alberto Fujimori (1990-2001), the government dismantled the terrorist groups and stabilised the economy. But corruption scandals and accusations of human rights abuses caught up with the quasi-military regime which led Fujimori to flee Peru for Japan in 2001. The former president is now in prison, sentenced to 25 years for his role in death squad killings and kidnappings during the government’s crackdown on guerrillas.
The idea for a ‘place’ dedicated to the nearly 70,000 victims of this internal conflict over two decades sprang from the work of the Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Commission for Truth and Reconciliation) from 2001 to 2004. With Peru having achieved economic and political stability, a group of intellectuals conceived of a place that would help to prevent a return to violence. A competition was organised for a donated site, with a brief that included an exhibition space, research and administration offices, conference facilities and ‘open public spaces that create environments for commemoration’. The brief also called for a building that would encourage social interaction and integration, and induce ‘feelings of absence and reminiscence’. Launched in early February 2010, there were 97 entries to the competition, from which the jury selected Barclay & Crousse, a French architecture practice run by Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse.
The completed Lugar de la Memoria (Place of Memory) offers three key secular experiences: the descent, the promenade and the roof, which guide visitors through the exhibition to a view over the sea. Although the exhibition is not in place yet, it is easy to imagine how the gallery and outdoor spaces will mediate between the horror of the past and hope in building the future. Its jagged bold prism (roughly 90x20x20m) negotiates the topographic differences of the coastal cliff with a monumental entrance to the building that projects an oblique ascending journey.
Inside, the building offers a continuous sectional space that starts in the main lobby and ends in an artificial belvedere pointing to the ocean’s horizon; outside, there is a monumental descent into an architectural ravine on the cliff side, as well as a civic plaza that mediates between the city and the ocean.
In this way, the building constructs a new landscape on its roof which melds with the arid coastal surroundings. The walk through the building provides a smooth transition from the hectic urbanity of Lima to the solace of the landscape. Unfortunately, the project is not completely open to the city fabric, being cut off by a delicate fence, like all public buildings in Peru.
Through a modestly traditional, yet modern, construction technique of rough reinforced exposed concrete, the powerful expression of the materiality of the building is coherent all over the intervention, from exterior walkways to the plaza pavement, to the elusive brutalism of the interior architectural details. The building’s material austerity avoids unnecessary visual and sensorial distractions, and is appropriate for the local environmental conditions.
Finally, Lugar de la Memoria is a place for thinking about the present. It is a landmark project in the contemporary cultural history of Peru, not only for its influence on local architects where it has inspired a new architecture, but for its impact on the collective imaginary of the city. The tectonics of the building reinforce this idea of construction as a form of reconciliation, while the project mediates between the horror of the past and hope in building the future.
Lugar de la Memoria
Architect: Barclay and Crousse
Photographs: Cristobal Palma