HOUSE OF THE PEOPLE

26 Aug, 2015 | Walker Adams

Urban living and History & Politics

Will a new, 30-story government palace make room for Bolivia’s citizens?

Inspired by the Tiwanaku, an ancient Andean civilization, Bolivian architects loaded the building’s design with cultural symbolism. A virtual tour of the building, available via La Razón, shows Mount Illimani and coca-leaf-themed rooms. Even the rooftop helicopter pad synthesizes the union of the three Andean worlds, the Alaxpacha, the Akapacha and the Manqhapacha – the world above, the world we live on and the world below, respectively.

In news reports, Morales has said the current palace of government, built between 1845 and 1852, is ‘full of European symbols and feels as small as a mouse hole.’ It was inspired by the palaces of the Roman Renaissance, and, despite having twice fallen victim to arsonists, remains elegant inside and out. With three floors and less than 6,000 square meters, it is about one-fifth the size of the forthcoming palace, which boasts 30 stories and over 30,000 square meters.

The Bolivian government does not just want to build a skyscraper for an episode of Home Makeover: Edición El Estado Multinacional de Bolivia. In simple terms, the Morales administration believes the building will make for more democratic governance, with the authorisation law vaguely stating that it will be ‘open and the property of the Bolivian people.’

In practical terms, Gómez says, ‘The Great House of the People will provide the physical and technical conditions, as well as the equipment required, for the active and ongoing participation of Bolivians in the design of public policies. The new infrastructure possesses rooms for social coordination…[which are] complemented by furnished offices, video conference rooms, internet and all of the conditions for the work of social organisations.’

As for events, Gómez says, ‘[The building] will hold meetings with social organisations, social events of an official nature, official presentations, ancestral and inter-religious ceremonies, cultural presentations, high-level governmental meetings and other recurring official meetings.’

Of course the new palace has its detractors. Some criticise the project for siphoning resources from underfunded programs. La Paz’s Mayor Luis Revilla has cited concerns about added traffic, building code violations and illegal construction practices. In a more profound sense, architect Carlos Villagómez told Pagina Siete, ‘The essence of architecture is not the result of a simple decoration or dressing,’ and has called it a conceptual absurdity to try to reflect the three existential levels of the Andean world in a building.

The government estimates the project will cost over 252 million bolivianos, or more than US$36 million. If, as the Morales administration says, it can give Bolivians better access to government, the investment has priceless potential. However, if the building is rarely open to the public, it will be criticised as a lavish clubhouse for politicians.

The Great House of the People is already faltering on one promise: originally touted for completion in January 2016, that date has been delayed by a year. Although the building site is still just a gaping hole, it aims to provide a democratic meeting place for all Bolivians by early 2017.

Photo: Image courtesy of the Press Office of the Palace of Government


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