I knew I was going to enjoy Rodolfo Agrella’s Elevating Stories talk because of our common Venezuelan backgrounds and my appreciation for his work. But what surprised me was the pride I felt seeing him showcase so many home-country inspirations to our non-Venezuelan team. It made me nostalgic for the days when I had more reasons to think about architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva’s iconic Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV). And I realized that the accumulation of time and distance has left me with fewer opportunities to celebrate these cultural influences—with the countless other Venezuelans who have left, and with those who remain.
While telling us about some of the influences on his creative journey, Agrella gave us a quick tour of UCV, which he attended as an architecture student. He shared photographs of outdoor passageways edged by seemingly simple, perforated, cinderblock walls where the strong tropical sun passes through to create an astonishing play of light and shadow. Villanueva’s vision was that the walls would deliver a shifting environment for passersby. Agrella harvested the playful details created by the shadows as a jumping off point for his work.
In a small moment of happenstance, Agrella shared a portrait of Villanueva taken by a friend of mine—the celebrated Venezuelan photographer Paolo Gasparini. The photograph depicts the architect proudly standing in the concert hall he designed with Alexander Calder. What he didn’t show was a beautiful series of photographs Gasparini created decades earlier of the same shadow-and-light passageways at the university. I wrote to Agrella afterward to share the series, and of course he was familiar with them.
In some ways, we are still connected.