Modernity for the Masses



The decisive weight of coloniality in the constitution of the European paradigm of modernity/rationality is clearly revealed in the actual crisis of that cultural complex.

Aníbal Quijano
Throughout the early twentieth century, waves of migration brought working-class people to the outskirts of Buenos Aires. This prompted a dilemma: Where should these restive populations be situated 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.


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