Reflections about Tiles and Reflective Glass in Andahuaylillas

While driving from the Cusco Airport to Andahuaylillas, a historic town 41 kilometers south of the former capital of the Inca Empire, I observed several buildings clad in shiny bathroom tiles spelling Celima-Trebol with large letters. At first sight, I believed such buildings were stores or warehouses belonging to the ceramic tile manufacturer, but soon realized they were private buildings acting as advertisements for the brand, most likely in exchange for free tiles or cash. This realization brought to mind the hundreds of similar buildings I have encountered in Peru, where the colorful tile is complemented by blue or green reflective “Ray Ban” glass windows. Furthermore, to make the kitsch (chichi in Peruvian slang) scenario even more perfect, many of those buildings are crowned by forests of steel reinforcing bars, which sit exposed waiting to support another floor. This anticipated expansion, to be built when money becomes available, usually takes years if not decades and has been referred to by a fellow architect as the “architecture of hope.”

Once in Andahuaylillas, the scenery reverted to quaint adobe buildings and red tile roofs, the typical vernacular architecture of the region before money and “progress” came along and brought concrete and brick, which are considered “noble materials.” This classification raises a question: Is adobe not “noble”? It is cheap and relatively easy to make, and has been the construction material of choice for thousands of years in Peru and many other parts of the world, so why is it undervalued here? Why indeed, when concrete and glass structures are cold in the winter and hot in the summer in a region where heating and air conditioning are not available, while adobe has excellent thermal qualities? The seismic factor has been unfairly blamed because the thick adobe walls, if properly constructed and maintained, are more seismically resistant than many concrete structures, as has been demonstrated in recent earthquakes.

In 2010, Andahuaylillas became a National Historic Monument protected by the Ministry of Culture of Peru, and as a result construction within the historic center is regulated. Or, at least, it should be. The problem is that the existing regulation is not fully enforced. Despite the advocating and policing efforts of the Grupo Patrimonio Qoriorqo—a group of youngsters trained by WMF as preservation stewards—recent construction, although comparatively minimal, is starting to affect the historic integrity of the town. During my recent visit I observed with great concern a few concrete, glass, and reinforcing bars specimens not far from the main square, near the magnificent San Pedro Apóstol church, a baroque jewel recently restored by WMF with local partners. Is this the beginning of the end? Not necessarily so. However, if left unchecked, this type of new construction eventually will change the character of the town, diminish the quality of life of its people, and kill Andahuaylillas’ prospects of becoming a tourism destination where visitors stay longer than the current one-hour average visit.

When confronted with this situation, the newly appointed Director of the Cusco office of the Ministry of Culture agreed that the best deterrent to prevent further illegal construction was to enforce the law by ordering the demolition of one offending structure. Just one well-advertised instance of such enforcement may be enough to deter future infractions, because as we all know, a good way to make people follow the law is by hitting them where it hurts: their pockets.