Located in the wind swept plains of the high Andean desert, the architectural remains of Tiahuanaco have captivated visitors for centuries. The Incas are reported to have been so impressed by Tiahuanaco masonry that they used it as a model for their state buildings, such as the impressive granite structures at the royal estate of Machu Picchu. Unfortunately, intentional destruction of Tiahuanaco followed by centuries of neglect and decades of problematic reconstructions have hampered our ability to study Tiahuanaco design and construction. The result is that no extant buildings survive. Instead, scattered andesite and sandstone blocks mark the once prestigious urban center. In this talk, Nair will examine how small construction details on these exquisitely carved stone fragments can provide critical clues into understanding Tiahuanaco architecture and its relationship to that of the Inca. In doing so, Nair demonstrates not only how conservators can use these details to understand building heritage, but also highlights the vital need for constraint in building conservation practices, as these small but critical construction details are not only easily overlooked, but also easily destroyed during reconstruction efforts.
Stella Nair’s scholarship focuses on the built environment of indigenous communities in the Americas. Trained as an architect and architectural historian, Nair has conducted fieldwork in Bolivia, Mexico, Peru, and the United States. Nair’s publications explore a range of subjects such as the design and construction of Inca royal estates, colonial woven roofs, and Brazilian urbanism. She has published two books, At Home with the Sapa Inca: Architecture, Space, and Legacy at Chinchero, which examines the sophisticated ways in which the Inca manipulated space and architecture to impose their authority. And, with JP Protzen, The Stones of Tiahuanaco: A Study of Architecture and Construction, which explores one of the world’s most artful and sophisticated carving traditions. Nair has received numerous fellowships, such as from the American Academy in Rome, the American Philosophical Association, the National Gallery of Art, Dumbarton Oaks, the Fulbright Institute, the Getty Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the John Carter Brown Library.
Reception to follow.