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The City in Latin America

Republican And Contemporary Latin America

Latin-American countries, with the exception of Cuba and Puerto Rico, won their political independence from Spain and Portugal between 1808 and 1826. As newly independent countries, they sought to express national identity, progress, and modernity and take their place among the metropolises of the Western world. To do so and to refashion its capital cities, Latin America looked to Paris, which was itself undergoing modern transformation under the direction of Georges-Eugène Haussmann. France's economic connections to Latin America and its position as a champion of independence and republicanism and a center of the arts and urbanity made it a natural model for the new Latin-American republics. Large public parks and grand, tree-lined, diagonal boulevards (such as the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City) followed the Haussmann model and reshaped Latin-American cities, freeing them from the colonial grid.

From metropolis to megalopolis.

In the second half of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, many urban populations grew exponentially as foreign investments and overseas immigrants poured into Latin America. Capitals were enlarged to accommodate their growing populations, and the ideas of the early-twentieth-century Swiss architect and planner, Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, and his followers in the Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) became influential. Le Corbusier's ideas focused on high-rise buildings to increase living density and relieve overcrowding, new highways to relieve traffic congestion, and urban space zoned according to function; in short, an attempt to bring order and efficiency to cities that had grown rapidly. Although Brasília, the new, disembedded capital city of Brazil planned by Lúcio Costa and inaugurated in 1960, incorporated some of Le Corbusier's ideas, his urban plans and those of his followers were rarely implemented. Le Corbusier's legacy is more clearly to be seen in high-rise buildings of cement, glass, and steel and in the peripheral highways encircling many of Latin America's major cities.


Almandoz, Arturo, ed. Planning Latin America's Capital Cities, 1850–1950. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

Fraser, Valerie. Building the New World: Studies in the Modern Architecture of Latin America, 1930–1960. London: Verso, 2000.

Hardoy, Jorge E. "Theory and Practice of Urban Planning in Europe, 1850–1930: Its Transfer to Latin America." In Rethinking the Latin American City, edited by Richard M. Morse and Jorge E. Hardoy, 20–49. Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1992.

Schaedel, Richard P., Jorge E. Hardoy, and Nora Scott Kinzer, eds. Urbanization in the Americas from Its Beginnings to the Present. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton, 1978.

Smith, Monica L., ed. The Social Construction of Ancient Cities. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 2003.

Townsend, Richard F., ed. Ancient Americas: Art from Sacred Landscapes. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 1992.

Ellen T. Baird

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterThe City in Latin America - Ancient Indigenous America: Mesoamerican And Andean Civilization, Colonial Spanish America, Republican And Contemporary Latin America