The Colorful Architecture of El Alto, Bolivia’s Fastest Growing City

Neo-Andean Architecture in El Alto

The streets of Bolivia's second-largest city, El Alto, are dotted with unique architecture that was born from local Indigenous culture. Italian photographer Yuri Segalerba traveled to El Alto, located high on the Andean plateau, to see this Neo-Andean architecture. The style, created by local bricklayer turned star architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre, has completely transformed the city since buildings began appearing in 2005. During his time in El Alto, Segalerba was able to document the many cholets—or small mansions—and dancehalls that give the city its unique character.

The colorful architecture is a pure expression of the Aymara, an Indigenous ethnic group that makes up 25% of Bolivia's population. Most of El Alto's population is Ayamara—as is Mamani Silvestre—and the architecture is a visual representation of their success. El Alto, which was founded in 1985, sits adjacent to La Paz and was, for many years, considered a slum. However, an economic explosion has greatly benefited the city and its residents. Today, it is one of Bolivia's fastest-growing urban centers.

With a population that is 76% Aymara, it's the largest city in Latin America with a mainly Indigenous population. The city's Neo-Andrean architecture reflects this. Mamani Silvestre takes influence from Indigenous textiles and proudly displays this heritage on a large scale. Segalerba's photographs of these cholets and dance halls are particularly interesting for their context.

Not only focused on the colorful, geometric architecture, Segalerba's photographs paint a picture of the entire city. Mamani Silvestre's message of confidence in one's culture is all the more striking when viewing the surrounding buildings, many of which are unfinished. Viewed in this manner, the architecture becomes a powerful symbol of change and a reminder that there is always room to grow.

If you want to see more of the Neo-Andean architecture photographed by Segalerba, see the full portfolio on his website. The images are also available for sale as NFTs.

Photographer Yuri Segalerba traveled to El Alto, Bolivia, to photograph the city's colorful architecture.

Cholet Architecture in Bolivia by Yuri Segalerba

New Andean Architecture in El Alto

Called Neo-Andean architecture, the style was created by architect Freddy Mamani Silvestre.

Interior of Dancehall in El Alto, Bolivia

The architecture takes influence from Indigenous textiles and is an expression of pride in Indigenous Aymara culture.

Freddy Mamani Silvestre Architecture

Architecture in El Alto

Yuri Segalerba: Website | Facebook | Instagram

My Modern Met granted permission to feature photos by Yuri Segalerba.

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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