Álvaro Barrera is a Columbian architect born in 1945. Focussing his working ground in the country of Columbia and other Latin American countries, Barrera has completed a host of architectural and restoration works, and his particular focus lies in the field of architectural restoration of historically important monuments, archaeological sites, and structures.
As one of the first students of the transnational University of America (Universidad de América) at Willem, Curacao, Álvaro has gained experience in restoration work through projects in several Latin American cities and countries, like Cartagena, Bogota, Tunja, Popayan, and Panama. Álvaro’s career peaked as a restoration architect when he was awarded the responsibility of the conservation of the old city of Cartagena in Columbia towards the end of the 20th century. Today, he runs a firm along with his son, Alvaro Andres Barrera Tamayo, by the name of ‘Barrera Y Barrera’, and is based in Cartagena.
Design & Restoration Philosophy
The city of Cartagena has remained one of the wealthiest cities in the world since the 16th century and thus boasts several important, highly elaborate, and expensive historic buildings and houses. Half of these 17th-century two-story houses lying within the fortified walls of the city have been restored by Architect Álvaro Barrera.
Álvaro Barrera’s design-based restoration style has a special stamp. He focuses on the usability of the old structures that have been placed under the banner of renovation or rebuilding. Respecting the essence of each of the venerable monuments, majorly of Spanish origin, Álvaro Barrera has turned them into beautiful public buildings, hotels, and restaurants, or in case of private use, luxurious homes with state-of-the-art modern conveniences – without jeopardizing their historic value. With every project, Ar. Barrera ensures that the monument’s façade retains its original language in built form and architecture, while interiors are sufficiently tweaked to be adapted for use in the 21st century. Using a vast material palette ranging from adobe to metal, Barrera has adopted a methodology of on-site structural invention and additions in the same architectural language, such as arches and vaults, to support the new uses of the building he restores. His great experience in the field has also rendered him the title of specialized UNESCO consultant.
The Casa Pestagua
Let’s consider the example of Casa Pestagua in Cartagena, Columbia, which was redeveloped by Barrera in 2007, to understand the architect’s design philosophy. Constructed originally for a rich and powerful Count in 18th-century colonial style, this mansion, which was then known as ‘the most beautiful house in Cartagena,’ had seen severe decay and ruin due to years of neglect. In 2007, Casa Pestagua was bought by the famed constructor Pedro Gomez, who then commissioned Ar. Barrera for the restoration project. The later republic aura of the building was maintained by the meticulous restoration of the statues and frescoes, as mandated by the architect. Since the number of rooms within the house was limited, the hotel was designed as a boutique, premium institution with world-class amenities and rich experiences.
The entrance hall became the reception hall for the hotel, and the central courtyard of the original house turned into the patio, which opened into an expansive backyard where Barrera placed the pool and lounge area. A long corridor that opened through an archway into the central courtyard became a semi-covered dining room for larger group banquets. Smaller tables were placed within the central patio to allow a pool-facing dining experience.
A sitting bar has been designed in a small room adjacent to the pool area, which possibly used to be an outhouse, storage, or a servant’s room in its original use. A large archway opens the bar to the pool area. Another space in the underbelly of the rooms above has been converted into a mezzanine-split-level indoor spa of the hotel. The rooftop terrace also consists of a jacuzzi and an additional private dining space, accessible to guests only. The entire setup is set against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea and the historic Cartagena City.
The 11 rooms of the hotel are each designed in one of three different art styles – Colonial, Republican, or Art Deco. Ranging from the ‘Superior’ rooms (smallest size) to the ‘Grand Suite’ sized, each room is laid in a circular formation on the first floor of the building, in typical mansion format. The largest suite room boasts a separate dining room and a large open bedroom with a balcony, while the room with a mezzanine loft has been converted into a Junior Suite. The natural sloping roof in some parts of the house provides the smaller rooms with a unique double-height ceiling.
The colossal drawing room has been converted into an indoor banquet hall for around 80 guests, while the pool and courtyard areas together are rented out for weddings and events of the sizes upwards of 250 patrons. Architect Álvaro Barrera has taken great care to include all possible services that a boutique hotel can provide to its guests without having to transform much of the mansion’s architectural design and decorations.
Architect Barrera is one of the few designers of today’s time that recognizes the importance of context and history in architecture. Focussing on the historical city of Cartagena, Álvaro has been able to maintain the majesty of the old streets and the buildings that sit in tandem next to each other – he has identified the necessity of keeping these monumental styles of architecture alive while still repurposing the structures to be used in today’s time. Copying or replicating statue-making techniques, fresco designs, capital and cornice decorations, woodwork, and several other elements in 18th and 19th-century buildings keeps art alive. Over the past 35 years, Álvaro Barrera has dedicated his life to making these festive and monumental structures habitable and visually pleasing.
- Álvaro Barrera, Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%81lvaro_Barrera)
- Barrera and Barrera, Official Website (http://barreraybarrera.com/)
- Álvaro Barrera Herrera, LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/alvaro-barrera-herrera-44274a64/)
- Álvaro Barrera, WikiWand (https://www.wikiwand.com/en/%C3%81lvaro_Barrera)
- Casa Pestagua Website (http://www.casapestagua.com/en/the-hotel.php)
- Barrera-Herrera, Alvaro, WorldCat Identities (http://worldcat.org/identities/lccn-no2004011417/)