The revaluation of an icon of modernism in the Latino American architecture, the Military Circle of Caracas.
The State as a modernizer. Expression of the oil boom and intention of structural change and of the Venezuelan lifestyle.
Venezuela entered the 20th century late and impoverished; among other reasons, due to the delay imposed by the dictator Juan Vicente Gómez (1908/1935) and its condition as an agricultural scarse producer country. However, the arrival of oil, mainly from the year 1914 through the explosion of “Pozo Zumaque I”, generated an economic boom that led to the migration of thousands of people to Caracas and major cities, disorganised the capital abruptly becomes what the renowned American-Croatian architect, Francis Violich, called “an instant metropolis.”
The desire for “modernity” is established in the collective ideology; and, also, in the State, which promotes the construction of great works; through the use of the immense amount of resources derived from oil exploitation (it has been called “the oil lever”), which generates a whole space planning movement; and, later, of urban planning (with a more social character), which today make up iconic elements of our cities.
In particular, during the dictatorial government of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez (1952/1958); and, its claim to grandeur, universality, order, stability; above all, expression of power; and, in addition, the search for permanence in time, there is a lot of infrastructure in which the State acts as a moderniser, generating great structural changes, not only in the cities, but in the lifestyle of Venezuelans. This, together with the new needs, which arose from the arrival of the international oil companies, which were creating their own urban infrastructure in the cities and oil fields.
In addition to the above, they also want to generate social changes through the construction of buildings and spaces. Such is the case of the need to build, for city dwellers, not only hospitals and service areas; but also, meeting areas for exchange, which would favor the formation of a true social conglomerate. The private ones built; for such purposes, the social clubs (Club Táchira, Club Valle Arriba, Country Club, Casa de Italia, etc.); and, the State, directed by a military government, did it, for the members of the Armed Forces and their Academies.
This is how, the renowned Venezuelan architect Luis Raimundo Malaussena (1900/1963) was entrusted with the design and execution of the Military Circle of Caracas, which should be adjacent to the “Paseo de la Nacionalidad”, a huge corridor (“promenade”) to the style of the French Elysian Fields, destined as a Monument to the Venezuelan Heroes.
For the development of such an important work, the architect summons three other internationally renowned colleagues, who accompany him in the task: Federico Beckoff, Klaus Heuffer and K.P. Jebens.
In such a way that, along 25 hectares of the “Farm Conejo Blanco”, the Military Circle of Caracas was built, which today integrates a whole set, as an ensamble, the so-called “Circuit of the Nationality”, formed; also, by “Los Próceres Promenade”, and close to the largest Military Barracks in the country, “Fuerte Tiuna”.
The Military Circle responds mostly to the architectural style of modernism, prevailing in the world from 1936 to 1958, which is characterised by its knowledge of tradition (for this purpose, see the Venezuelan Pavilion at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris), designed by Luis Malaussena), with international elements. It expresses an intention of change united with tradition.
Modernism in its three most common expressions: neocolonial, “art deco” and eclecticism, was very present in our cities.
The neocolonial influence reaches us, due to the delay in the independence of countries like Cuba in Latin America and the existence of colonies (like Puerto Rico); the “art deco”, due to the incidence of the International Fair of Paris in 1937; and, in particular, of the “Spring Pavilion”, from the Gallic country (as we discussed in our article on the “Spring House”); and, eclecticism, represented; mainly due to the works of Carlos Raúl Villanueva (1900/1975), (architect of the Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, UNESCO World Heritage since 2000), who brought new ideas from abroad, which he complemented with his dazzling by the light and color of the tropics, which he sought to incorporate into them.
Eclecticism, also called “historicism” by some, is a style that brings together elements of previous trends and is characterised by its variety, derived from the need to satisfy a multiplicity of different needs. It leaves behind neoclassicism, which establishes uniformity in its canons and expressions.
This is how the Military Circle of Caracas is a manifestation of a series of expressions that, in a complementary way, make up a work of great simplicity; sometimes in their lines; and, very majestic in its formal halls, while combining with tradition, in spaces such as “Las Caballerizas” (the stables).
The foregoing, highlights the importance of rehabilitating the great heritage that constitutes the Military Circle; that, already at the beginning of our work, showed serious signs of deterioration.
In 2008, in my capacity as Founding President of the then La Estancia Art Center (today PDVSA La Estancia), a special purpose entity of the Venezuelan oil industry, with functions of a patrimonial, cultural and social nature; Hand in hand with the renowned restorative architect Carmen Daly, a member of organisations specialised in the conservation of world cultural heritage, such as ICCROM and founder of the same in Venezuela, we developed a beautiful Extraordinary Maintenance Project for the main official and protocol spaces of the Military Circle.
Our action was aimed at enhancing the value of modern architecture, emphasising the recognition of construction and decorative systems, the updating of its facilities, respecting its physical and historical integrity and promoting its permanence over time.
The intervened areas were: the main Lobby, the Presidency Office and Lobby, the Junín and Ayacucho Protocol Rooms; and, the dance called Salón Venezuela; as well as the open corridors and their ceilings, the water mirrors and the landscaping.
We now list the main works carried out:
1: Restoration of wood in the Venezuela Room.
2: Restoration of marble flooring in Salón Venezuela floors 1, 2 and 3.
3: Restoration of pavements in the accesses of Salón Venezuela. Includes white glass mosaic and black marble.
4: Restoration of bronzes in lights, plates and drains.
5: Restoration of handrails.
6: Remodelling of the interior planter of the Venezuela Room.
7: Remodelling Water mirror Venezuela Room.
8: Restoration of exterior columns access Venezuela Hall.
9: Restoration of bronzes in access covers Venezuela Room.
10: Restoration of wood finishes in entrances to Salón Venezuela.
11: Presidency lobby remodelling.
12: Remodelling public restrooms of the Presidency.
13: Remodelling of the Ayacucho Hall annex.
14: Replacement of carpets and basic sanitation of Carabobo and Ayacucho.
15: Construction of a new electrical connection for Espejo de Agua.
16: Comprehensive Remodelling Office of the Presidency.
17: Comprehensive Remodelling Office of the Vice President and Public Relations.
18: Removal of pavement with replacement of glass mosaic, Restaurant Terrace of Bar Caribe.
19: Restoration of the Main Lobby.
20: Preliminary security works (Glass Doors).
21: Roof waterproofing.
The important thing about our rehabilitation was that it was possible to value each patrimonial element of the work; and, also, update its public services and benefits.
Our dedication was intense, to the point that an office and work center was set up for our chief architect and his team, who, in an archaeological way of work, identified needs; and even making discoveries.
In this sense, it is worth narrating the experience of the Lobby of the “Hotel del Círculo Militar”, in whose restoration, a very modern internal fountain appeared for the time, in the style of a water curtain, which, including its pumps and pipes, had been cover (missing) in previous works.
We also understood the need to leave the effects of time on the floors, because the restoration precisely implies the improvement of the object, without affecting its original essence.
We went retouching glass mosaic pavements; recovering, one by one, the bronze handrails of the Halls (especially those of the Venezuela Hall); working the immense marble areas of the floors; restoring the wooden slats of the corrugated ceilings of the external corridors; recovering, one by one, the small ceiling lamps and the large chandeliers; replacing old carpets; updating the pumping systems of the internal and external water mirrors; valuing the great murals located in the Halls, such as those of the costumbrista artist, painter of the Heroes of Independence, Pedro Centeno Vallenilla.
Finally, the rehabilitated spaces were redecorated maintaining the style of their time; and, the original furniture of Danish design that was maintained; it could be recovered, chromed where necessary and reupholstered, following the exact images in the archives of the Círculo Militar. In the Venezuela Room or dance area, characterised by the sequence of its “Roman” style glass windows, placed in series, one after the other, we proceeded to carry out a very important high-tech structural- seismic study, to determine the possibility; then, denied, to install air conditioners, suitable for the new temperature in Caracas.
Now, one of the situations that I remember the most was the degree of difficulty in placing the curtains and their “doppio veil” in the Ballroom, which was very difficult to deal with, because it involved, among other things, the introduction in the place; nothing more and nothing less, of a large lifting crane used to change street lighting headlights, due to the length of the windows, which were more than 11 meters high, plus the area of the borders for the skirting board.
Later, we also worked on the preparation of a project for the new headquarters of the Hotel del Círculo Militar, required, by virtue of its use as a venue, not only for activities for the military and their families, but also for the celebration of Major International Summits. ; among others, those of UNASUR, those of OPEC, those of ALBA, those of PETROCARIBE, etc., which construction was postponed by the Venezuelan State, although we left it as a contribution and improved some areas of the current hotel.
The Military Circle of Caracas is an architectural jewel that expresses an era and a style, oil modernism; that identifies a feeling, that of identity; that defends a principle, that of sovereignty; that recalls our Emancipatory Deed, that of Simón Bolívar, his Battles and heroes; that highlights the greatness of a country, Venezuela, whose true values must be transmitted to our young people, who are amazed at their magnificence to take comfort in their patriotism.
Congratulations that we have been able to carry out its recovery, and have had a privileged instrument for it; now, let us all work for its care and maintenance!