Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Versión en Español
"Inevitably, valuing a cultural landscape involves valuing the intangible as well as the tangible, the real as the magic, the popular as the courtly; in general, to dive into the enjoyment of life itself, rather than to have pleasure in its most enlightened and successful manifestations. "
Rubén Pesci.

Photo courtesy of Southamerica.art

The Colca Canyon is an impressive geological feature located in the department of Arequipa in southern Peru. With its 3250 meters, is two and a half times deeper than the Grand Canyon in the USA (1400 meters) and is the second deepest canyon in the world, only surpassed in depth by the Cotahuasi Canyon (3535 meters), also located in Arequipa. The condor, Andean bird whose wingspan is the longest planet, often flyes over the vast abyss, as a majestic spectator of this incredible landscape.

This extraordinary gorge houses diverse climates and ecological niches and has allowed the development of different species, which accounts for the conservationist Mauricio de Romaña (Romaña and Carlos Zeballos Barrios greatly encouraged the "rediscovery" of the Canyon, through studies and the publication of guidebooks).

Ancient cultures like the Collaguas have lived in the Colca Valley, transforming it into an impressive cultural landscape, sculpting the impossible slopes of the Andes with terraces and villages (as Carl Sauer defined in his "Morphology of Landscape" (1925), the cultural landscape is the interaction of one social group over a natural landscape. Culture is the agent, nature is the environment, the cultural landscape is the result.)

After the Spanish conquest the inhabitants of the Colca were grouped in "reducciones" to form villages that settled on both sides of the valley, establishing a spatial network and economic organization of the territory that has been studied by experts like Dr. Maria Rostworowski and the archaeologist Steve Wrenkle and CIARQ .

The churches of the Colca Valley are among the most important in South America, as host superb samples of colonial art. Ramon Gutierrez has published an interesting study of colonial architecture in the Colca and the AECI (Spanish International Cooperation Agency) has been implementing various projects of restoration and preservation in an interesting program which trains local people in the techniques for managing their own cultural heritage.


As a privileged spectator of this magnificent landscape, the Colca Lodge Hotel is located, designed by renowned Peruvian architect Álvaro Pastor.

Pastor was raised in Tucumán, Argentina and worked alongside his compatriot Henri Ciriani Paris. He has a prolific career which has been awarded nationally and internationally, including a first place in the academic competition for a Machu Picchu museum , undertaken along with architects G. Valdivia, E. Suarez, H. Perochena and R. Borda. He is a Proffessor at the Faculty of Architecture at the Catholic University of Arequipa.

Pastor owns a unique sensitivity for the material and place in which his projects are located, without losing the characteristic language of contemporary architecture. This respect for the locus has led him to desing the Colca Lodge hotel using construction methods of the inhabitants of the valley, such as stone, clay, mud bricks, wood and straw, without losing the delicacy in the detail and the warm comfort that this facility required.

The hotel is located between the villages of Coporaque and Ichupampa, settled on a small plateau in front of the Colca River, extending as an extension of the terraces that sculpt the hillsides, just as the did 1500 years ago.

The complex has taken as reference the local traditional architecture, and in fact the hotel resembles a small Andean village.

The heart of the Colca Lodge is the restaurant, a solid stone cube that overlaps another glass cube covered by a pyramid of straw.

In the opposite side is the a circular plaza, called the square of the moon, named after the old custom of observing the moon reflected in small ponds.

The rooms, by way of houses, are organized into two bars arising from this center, linked by the paved "streets". These volumes (one of them is semicircular) harmonize with the topography and surrounding terraces.

The cottages, which differ rhythmically in height, are separated from the public space by an entrance foyer. At the end of each volume there is a two-story module, corresponding to the suites.

The interior of the rooms expresses with supreme simplicity, the Andean vernacular architecture, but at the same time it offers a pleasant spatial arrangement.
As for the suites, Pastor proposes a social area located on the first level, consisting of a small lounge and kitchenette, with a expansion to a terrace and a private pool.

Thus, the architect favors the location of the bedroom on the second floor, offering guests a spectacular view of the valley.

The hotel takes advantage of the many hot springs located in the vicinity, product of volcanic activity in the area. However, they have been carefully designed not to interfere with the natural environment, as the architect used a system of canals similar to those that the Collaguas used in the past.

The design of the suites include private pools, ideal for enjoying the hot springs in the moonlight or at dawn, due to the thin, unpolluted air.

For the construction of this hotel Alvaro Pastor had the support of Berolatti Marcello , who is also a Peruvian architect who has been experimenting with traditional construction methods for several years.
The Colca Lodge redefines the syntax of and vernacular architectural re-composed in a contemporary and comfortable organization, humbly and masterfully integrating itself to the landscape.

Friday, August 19, 2011



Once upon a time there was a fisherman in Buryo, East China, who was fishing by a stream in the mountains and accidentally found a wonderful orchard full of peach trees in bloom. Impressed by the beauty of this springtime scene, he continued paddling to the end of the grove, where he noticed a ray of light coming from a small cave at the foot of a mountain. He jumped out of his boat and entered the cave that, through a narrow road, led him into a splendid town with a beautiful countryside and hospitable people who welcomed him for several days.

This is the beginning of the popular "The Tale of Peach Blossom Spring " a very famous folk story from the Jin Dynasty in China. Taking this tale into account the renowned Chinese-American architect I.M. Pei designed the museum Miho, in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, an hour from Kyoto. Pei, a Pritzker Prize laureate in 1983 and internationally famous for his pyramidal entrance to the Grand Louvre and the singular Bank of China in Hong Kong, has projected the Miho Museum (1997) with humility but impressive mastery, and produced a jewel of contemporary architecture embedded in the landscape.

Similarly to the story, the visitor arrives to a square surrounded by peach trees preceded by a triangular building: the Reception Hall, which also contains a restaurant and library. From there, we followed a winding path of smooth pavement, which crosses the mountain, becoming a tunnel bridge and then a bridge, suddenly opening the view to the museum, and arriving to a circular plaza in front of it. The bridge itself is a piece of art, forming a stainless steel structure with a span of 220 m., whose tensors seem to radiate from the mountain like rays of light.

Bridge accessing to the Museum

The museum is located on top of a mountain forest in a naturally protected area of the prefecture of Shiga. Instead of becoming a dominant structure overlooking the valleys down –like in the case of Richard Meier’s Getty Center, for instance- Pei’s more humble proposal is embedded into the ground, or more specifically speaking, removing the earth, building the museum and covering it again. In this way, he pays homage to nature, which in Japanese culture has had a symbolic, sometimes religious character.

The building, almost embedded in the forest, presents a noticeable difference to the traditional European attitude with respect to the nature-architecture relationship

Perspective and plan of the museum. Courtesy of Miho Museum

Another of the principles followed by Pei is the respect for Chinese-Japanese tradition, despite the use of modern architecture. The entrance to the museum, for instance, -a group of staircases- gives the visitor almost a processional experience, as if it one would be entering a Buddhist temple.

Then, one is greeted by a sliding glass and metal door, which shape forms a perfect circle when closed: the gate of China Moon.

Upon entering, the geometric structure clearly evokes the wooden roof of a traditional minka,
or Japanese farmhouse.

In the main hall, the architect uses an old Asian design principle that the Japanese call Shakkei or "borrowed landscape", incorporating views of a pine tree and the distant mountains into the building that provides the scenic framework to reach peace and spirituality.

The inner circulation leads to a Zen gardens. The light and the arrangement of rooms, subtly suggest a sensual intimacy that evokes the delicate grace of the Japanese house.

The finishing is exquisite. The stone lanterns on the entrance stairs contain Spanish alabaster. The soft beige French limestone evokes warmth and harmony, in contrast with the metallic structure of tetrahedral carbon steel tubes. Furthermore, the incidence is controlled by solar aluminum blinds painted in sepia, which imitate wood.

Even the concrete in used additives in order to look harmonize with the sepia tones of the environment. To further emphasize the feeling of warmth and using the double-height space, Pei included a tree in the interior, and a set of balconies to the west.

Just as the museum itself is remarkable for its architectural quality, the collection that it houses is also notable. Owned by the multu-millionaire Koyama family, founders of the religious sect Sinji Shumeikai (a religion who preaches God through the contemplation of beauty and fine arts), the museum contains about 250 pieces of fine quality including some unique pieces of Persian, Egyptian, Roman, Indian and Chinese art.

Imposing figure of Arsinoe II, ca. 250 BC, made in black granodiorite.

A rare and ancient representation of Buddha with Hellenic characters, from the 2nd century AD, found in Pakistan.

To the world of art and architecture, the Miho Museum provides a breathtaking instance of circumspection, a building erected with character, but with no intention of imposing any style. It fits to the site physically and visually, and its elements follow the contour of the mountain. It nests on the ground, consistent with the ancient Japanese tradition that nature cannot be separated from human beings. Both are parts of an integral whole.

Click here to see a video of the Miho Museum

Monday, August 8, 2011



This article has two parts: the first one was devoted to urban planning architecture of Machu Picchu and its relationship with the landscape . This post reviews aspects of its engineering, geological, construction and agricultural and hydraulic planning .


Federico Kauffman Doig has argued in a series of papers about the difficulties that the ancient Peruvians had to overcome in order to get to cover the share of food that their population growth demanded. Indeed, to the unfavorable conditions for agriculture in Peruvian territory (an arid coast, rough highlands and an almost impregnable jungle) frequent phenomena experienced in the Peruvian territory were added : earthquakes, droughts, El Niño, landslides, etc. Perhaps, suggests Kauffman, that was the reason for the higher-cultural development in this part of the continent, as the ancient Peruvians had to develop complex technologies and organized socio-religious societies that allowed a maximum benefit from the land, even in such adverse conditions.

Machu Piccu terraces. Step down into the abyss?. Photo courtesy of Bird on a Wire.

Understanding agricultural expansion as a key objective for the Incas, Kauffman suggests that Machu Picchu was "an important center of agricultural production management", based on the need to expand the agricultural frontier into the Amazon Andes. But the analysis performed by Kenneth R. paleohydrological Wright, would have led to the conclusion that the arable areas in Machu Picchu supplied only 55 people, so that food would have been brought from elsewhere. Kauffmann, based on studies of Ann Kendal, suggests that Machu Picchu would have been part of a series of agro-cultist centers such as Huiñayhuina or Intipata, located in the same region.

Throughout the city there are over 600 andenes or terraces, which were not only for agriculture but mainly served as wedges to prevent landslides. On average, the terraces were between 2 meters wide and 3.5 meters high, defined by a stone wall. Inside, layers of dirt and stone ensured a good runoff during heavy rainfall in the Amazon rainforest. The lower base was a stone fill that provided stability and easy flow of water. Above it was a layer of smaller stones, gravel and a layer of sand. Finally they were covered by fertile soil, which often reaches a thickness of one meter, and was probably brought from the valley at the bottom of the ravine.

3D Model of Machu Picchu


Located at the beginning of the citadel, in the southeast, the agricultural area is a group of terraces bordering the dry moat. According to archaeologist Luis Lumbreras, "more than a simple agricultural space, the agricultural sector submitted the provision of food to the demands of aesthetic values. Together with corn or coca, which the Incas very likely planted on those platforms, they also grew orchids and other colors and flavorings. "

Structure of a platform or terrace. Image courtesy of History Channel.

In the agricultural area there are some constructions:


The roofs of these staggered storehouses or colcas have been reconstructed by archaeologists to give an idea of how to Machu Picchu would have originally look like.

Colcas or warehouses to the income of the agricultural area. Photo courtesy of Fotolobo

Corrals for llamas
As many organic remains of llamas have been found around, it is believed that these were rectangular enclosures with narrow inlets where the animals were confined.

Photo courtesy of kepguru.hu


Located high in the agricultural zone, it enjoys great views of the citadel. Nearby is a cemetery and a ceremonial rock.
Watchhouse. Photo courtesy of Lall


Renowned Brazilian geologist Rualdo Menegat offers an interesting interpretation of the role of faults in structuring the location and construction of the Inca cities in the landscape . Menegat based his hypothesis on the fact that faults are important sources of building material, they made easier to model the terrain and they contain plenty of aquifers.

Photo courtesy of Rualdo Menegat

Indeed, Machu Picchu has many faults and abundant rock fractures. The two main faults are called Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu, which form a wedge-shaped block upon which the citadel sits on. This fault system determines that the topography of the sanctuary and its orientation can be identified by aligning the nearly vertical northeast side of Machu Picchu with linear sections of the Urubamba River along the southeast flank of the Putucusi mountain.

Topography and fault lines in the industry.
Source: K.Wright

Menegat suggests that the Incas had a wide knowledge of the geological and geomorphological elements of the landscape, both at a macro scale (in order to put cities in the safe areas at the top of the mountains, to analyze the runoff, and to organize the city according to topographical areas) and a micro scale (the stone carving understanding the direction of the same geological fractures).
He further suggests that instead of using a Euclidean geometry, the Incas used a "petrometry" ie, following the logic of the stone. For example, in the Temple of the 3 Windows, the stones of the base have more irregular patterns on top.

Temple of the Three Windows (the two lateral niches were filled later). Note how the arrangement of stone blocks is due to their tectonics and not to a particular geometry.


The Apus or mountain gods were deeply worshipped by the Incas, especially if they had any figurative reference that evoked some divine being (such is the case of Pinkuylluna mountain in Ollantaytambo ). In that sense, the Huayna Picchu outline has been associated to a human profile, but honestly I found this reference only in popular tradition rather than among the studies of researchers.

Inca Profile at Machu Picchu, where the nose would be the Huayna Picchu and the chin would be Uña Huayna Picchu. I have often found that image, artistically distorted for tourists, so this is a real photo, taken at dawn, when shadows more clearly contrast the profile of the mountain. Photo courtesy of Eugene.

However I think the references to the surrounding mountains during Machu Picchu's planning, form a more complex system that encompasses the snowcapped mountain ranges and the surrounding countryside. In that sense, the researcher Lee Anne Hurt, Assistant in charge of the American Art Gallery of Old Museum of Fine Arts in Virginia, in his doctoral thesis carried out an interesting study about the meaning of the huacas as links between the mountains or apus and the city, used as an important element in the planning of Machu Picchu. Hurt documented, in a comprehensive and systematic way, 122 huacas in the various sectors of the citadel, demonstrating the sacred character as well as the builders meticulous planning.

Sacred rock showing its alignment with Mount Yanantin. Photo courtesy LAHurt

Huacas or sacred rocks, were understood as metaphysical connections between the supernatural world and humans, and they have been documented by various writers and authors, among them, the late 15th century graphs by Guaman Poma de Ayala and the Huarochiri Manuscript.

Inca knees, adoring a huaca.Image by Huaman Poma de Ayala

Based on these sources and a detailed field work, Hurt examined the role that huacas had as references in the mountain environment, studying the relationship between observer-huaca-landscape from different positions: standing, sitting and kneeling, discovering different visual relationships in each of them. In that sense, the huacas define a sacred place (the site at that they point) a profane place (the place they turn their backs at) and a ritual, which is in between the two of them.

Different perceptions of the same huaca with the landscape: A) Standing B) on one's knees. The visual relationship and mimicry of the Putucusi mountain is clearer at kneeling. Photos courtesy of L.A. Hurt

Hurt categorizes huacas as "Mark" (when they have some alignment with a landscape element), "Chamber" (an enclosure), "Repository" (where it was stored or deposited something) "Embedded", "Locked" and "Autonomous "(when they were isolated).In some cases a huaca may belong to more than one category.
Hurt's merit is to understand Machu Picchu as part of a much larger landscape and also to account for subtleties and even choreographed rituals of local inhabitants. Moreover, her research provides a greater understanding of the role of huacas in Inca cosmology and emphasizes the sacred character of the citadel.


Before creating any settlement, it was essential to ensure a supply of drinking water. Fortunately, the geological fault system also favored that a spring would emerge on the northern side of the mountain at 2458 m, as the permeability allows the infiltration of rainwater, which arise in this spring, providing a source of perennial water for the city.

With this purpose the Incas created a system of collectors consisting of a 14.6 m long and 1.4 m high stone wall. Water seeps through the wall and flows into a stone trench about 0.8 m wide. A fountain flows into the canal about 80 m east of the main fountain. Water runs along a 749 m long, 10 to 12 cm wide , 10 to 16 cm deep canal with a 3% slope and a capacity of 300 l-min. According to the Peruvian archaeologist Alfredo Valencia and the American engineer Kenneth Wright, the design of the canal determined the location of the residence of the emperor and the general layout of the city.

But the fountains were not only utilitarian but also had a ceremonial role, since water was considered a deity given its importance in agriculture. 16 liturgical fountains or Pakcha form a sacred street located between the Temple of the Sun and the Royal Palace.

Detail of one of the fountains.Photo C. Zeballos


Wright and Valencia suggest that the secret of the citadel's longevity lies in its drainage system. They even state that this is the most important element of the city, even if it is underground, here is where the Incas put around 60% ​​of their efforts.

The researchers propose eight major components in the drainage system:
1. A central main drain, called Dry Moat and that separates the agricultural zone from the urban area.
2. The drainage of the terraces has good longitudinal gradients that lead to the longitudinal drainage.
3. Underground drainage terraces, consisting of pieces of rocks of low quality, with overlapping layers of gravel and sand (see picture).
4. The drainage surface in areas with grass was used to drain water from the sloping roofs and plazas.
5. The drainage channels were combined with ladders, walkways or interior of temples.
6. A deep layer of chunks of rock beneath the plazas allows the runoff from tributary areas.
7. A good system consisting of 129 drain outlets distributed in retaining walls.
8. Strategically underground caves used to discharge sewage.

Typical surface drainage outlets in the walls of Machu Picchu
Image courtesy WaterHistory.org


In 2001, a team of geologists from the Institute of Disaster Prevention Research at Kyoto University led by Professor Kyoji Sassa, conducted a series of studies determining that the ground beneath the citadel of Machu Picchu is moving. According to the Japanese scientists, who buried instruments on the slopes around the citadel, there are alarming signs that would risk a slide of the mountain, as even some of the pieces of Inca masonry are separating. Click here to see the report in English.

Landslide prone areas the team at Kyoto University. Photo courtesy of H. Shuzui

However, several scientists as Gary R.Ziegler have labeled these studies as alarmists. Ziegler says that while there is movement in the area, is a "gradual collapse" involving several million years. Indeed, comparing the photos of Bingham nearly a century ago, no major change in the structures (except in the area of ​​the hotel). In addition, there are few examples of solid granite mountains Huayna Picchu Machu Picchu have collapsed in the period leading human history. Finally, the area seems out of the zone of earthquakes that shook Cuzco and other areas and away from active volcanoes.

Comparison shows that the separation of the stones in some areas is practically the same after 41 years. Photos courtesy of G. Ziegler.

With some irony, Ziegler concludes, "We respectfully suggest that the magnificent work of engineering at Machu Picchu will remain intact for much longer than Cassandric Japanese team that predicts its imminent destruction. "

For the sake of the ruins, I hope Ziegler is right, however it would be advisable for the relevant authorities to be alert, especially because after having been chosen as one of the 7 New Wonders, Machu Picchu is expected that more will receive lots of tourists.


The archaeological complex of Machu Picchu and Tipon were recently honored by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) for their "Civil Engineering excellence".