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Emilio Villanueva

Emilio Villanueva

Emilio Villanueva was a famous Bolivian architect who helped define the urban landscape of La Paz with masterworks. Learn more about him.

Biography and Principal Works of Emilio Villanueva

Emilio Villanueva was a Bolivian architect who helped define the urban landscape of La Paz with masterworks such as the city hall building, the university mayor, and the urban development of Miraflores. His bold visions, inspired by a unique blend of influences from French academic theory to art deco and indigenous designs, all captured the distinctive flavor of this dynamic city.

Villanueva studied engineering and architecture in Santiago, Chile and graduated in 1907. After earning his degree, he returned to La Paz to begin his career in a time when architectural theory was virtually non-existent in Bolivia. Two years later, a young Villanueva submitted a design in an international competition for the project of a new general hospital building. His design was selected along with the design of French architect Paul Demoiny. Villanueva would later go on to play an instrumental role in the urban planning of La Paz as the head municipal engineer of the local government. During his post, he carried out works such as the 1919 opening of the Avenida de Camacho, a main traffic artery connecting the downtown area with the neighborhood of Miraflores. He also designed the Central Bank of Bolivia and City Hall in 1925.

In 1926, he traveled to Paris to study urban planning, where modern architectural styles made a strong impact on Villanueva and inspired in him an exciting new vision of the possibilities for designing cityscapes far removed from the eclecticism that characterized his earlier work. He spent two years in France, a period marked by intense study, discovery, and a new sense of direction that favored architectural rationalism and included celebrating the rich ornamental traditions of Bolivia’s indigenous cultures, particularly the Tiwanaku.

Villanueva returned to La Paz in 1928 and went to work transforming Miraflores into a ciudad jardin (garden city). As the name of the project suggests, plans for the new development placed a special importance on parks, taking a new attitude on the vital role parks play in the community. While parks at the time were considered extravagant attractions of luxury, Villanueva insisted that la ciudad jardin was the model for the neighborhood of the future, stating that the garden city is “the flowery chain that links the past with the future, it’s the marriage of the city with the countryside that will give birth to a much greater, much more human civilization”. The center piece of the garden city was Hernando Siles Stadium, a work that introduced neo-tiwanakota style, modern design with pre-Colombian embellishment. In 1974 the historic stadium was torn down to make room for a new stadium that is double in size. In 1937, Emilio Villanueva also designed the neighborhood of Calacoto drawing from many of the elements he had used to plan Miraflores.

Around this same time, in 1929, the architect was named rector of the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés. The following year he was named secretary of public instruction, where he passed legislation that promoted literacy and education within indigenous communities.

In 1947, work concluded on the university building known as Monoblock. As La Paz’s first tall building, the thirteen story skyscraper received some criticism when it was inaugurated. Monoblock stands as one of Villanueva’s signature works, displaying art deco and Tiwanaku elements.