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Modernity for the Masses

Modernity for the Masses
Antonio Bonet's Dreams for Buenos Aires

A provocative examination of how the discourse and practice of modern architecture was transformed by its encounter with large populations and the volatile politics of twentieth-century Argentina.

Series: Lateral Exchanges

March 2021
Not yet published
$50.00

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This book will be available in February 2021.
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328 pages | 7 x 10 | 60 b&w photos |
ISBN: 
978-1-4773-2178-2
Description: 

Throughout the early twentieth century, waves of migration brought working-class people to the outskirts of Buenos Aires. This prompted a dilemma: Where to situate these restive populations relative to the city’s spatial politics? Might housing serve as a tool to discipline their behavior?

Enter Antonio Bonet, a Catalan architect inspired by the transatlantic modernist and surrealist movements. Ana María León follows Bonet's decades-long, state-backed quest to house Buenos Aires's diverse and fractious population. Working with totalitarian and populist regimes, Bonet developed three large-scale housing plans, each scuttled as a new government took over. Yet these incomplete plans—Bonet's dreams—teach us much about the relationship between modernism and state power.

Modernity for the Masses finds in Bonet's projects the disconnect between modern architecture’s discourse of emancipation and the reality of its rationalizing control. Although he and his patrons constantly glorified the people and depicted them in housing plans, Bonet never consulted them. Instead he succumbed to official and elite fears of the people's latent political power. In careful readings of Bonet's work, León discovers the progressive erasure of surrealism's psychological sensitivity, replaced with an impulse, realized in modernist design, to contain the increasingly empowered population.

Author: 

Ana María León is an architect and a historian of objects, buildings, and landscapes. An assistant professor at the University of Michigan, León has cofounded several collaborations laboring to broaden the reach of architectural history, including the Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative, the Settler Colonial City Project, and Nuestro Norte es el Sur. She sits on the board of the Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative, the Architecture Lobby, and Anales de Arquitectura, and is an editor-at-large at The Avery Review.