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 makes me 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 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 brought up in this regard, which is unfair because the thick adobe walls, if properly constructed and maintained, are more seismic resistant than many concrete structures, as has been demonstrated in recent disasters, such as the devastating earthquake that killed over a quarter of a million people in Haiti.
In 2010, the town of 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 young professionals trained by the World Monuments Fund and the Parish of Andahuaylillas as preservation stewards, recent construction, although comparatively minimal, is starting to affect the historic integrity of the town. During my visit, I observed with great concern, a few concrete and glass specimens, crowned with reinforcing bars, located nor far from the main square and near the magnificent San Pedro Apóstol church, a Baroque jewel recently restored by World Monuments Fund.
While driving from the Cusco airport to Andahuaylillas, a historic town located 41 Km south of the former capital of the Inca Empire, I observed several buildings clad in shiny bathroom tiles spelling Celima -Trebol in large letters. At first, I believed such buildings were stores or warehouses belonging to the ceramic tile manufacturer, but soon realized they were private residences 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 tiles are complemented by blue or green reflective “Ray Ban” glass windows. Furthermore, to make the kitsch (or chicha 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, which usually takes years if not decades has been referred to by a fellow architect as the “architecture of hope.”
Is this the beginning of the end? Not necessarily so. However, if left unchecked, this type of new construction will eventually change the character of the town, diminish the quality of life of its people, and kill Andahuaylillas’ prospects of becoming a world-class tourism destination, where visitors stay longer than the current one-hour average visit, courtesy of a pit stop by tourist buses on their way to Puno.
When confronted with this situation, the then 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. However, this is easier said than done because Peruvian law makes it almost impossible to execute this regulation.
But a preservationist can only dream… 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.