FYI: Narcotecture

N stands for narcotic

But it could just as easily stand for narcissistic. Narcotecture refers to a style of domestic architecture preferred by drug and gun lords.

Where are these buildings?

The word was first used to refer to Colombian cocaine cartel leader Pablo Escobar’s extravagant residences, and to the fact he was changing the landscape of his hometown Medellin by building homes for the poor in order to win their favour. Since Escobar’s death in 1993, controversial buildings in Medellin are most often publicly funded projects such as libraries and museums (the current mayor is the son of an architect). But the less salubrious citizens of Afghanistan have taken up the challenge: Monocle magazine gave the term narcotecture fresh currency this year to describe the elaborate houses that drug lords in Herat are building as monuments to their wealth.

What makes these buildings unique?

Nouveau riche homemakers worldwide favour sprawling mansions but the buildings in Herat have a look all their own: a mash-up of Persian, Italian, Baroque and Arabic influences. Common features include pastel paint schemes (echoing the colours of grapes, melons and pistachios grown nearby), miles of marble, forests of columns, mirrored glass, and an outlandish number of bedrooms and bathrooms. After the staples it’s up for garish grabs: wildly expensive chandeliers, ceiling mosaics, and enough curves to make Antonio Gaudi look restrained. The citizens of the Gold Coast and Miami will find these buildings inspirational. Others may find them a little excessive. Escobar’s trailblazing 2000-hectare ranch in Puerto Triunfo, once home to elephants and llamas, a bullring, airstrip, and wooden surveillance towers, lies in ruins. (Plans are afoot for a combined prison and theme park.)

Why would an architect do this?

These clients must be the bane of an architect’s life. They have the money to make their most hideous fantasies come true and they take an active interest in stamping a personal touch on their homes.

What do the locals think?

In Herat, mansions are increasingly lining dirt roads in suburbs where the old (silk markets, mud-brick homes, mosques and minarets) is being elbowed out by the new. Some people think the modernisation is wonderful, especially when jobs are created, but others worry development will destroy Herat. Mind you, this city has survived the Mongols, Genghis Khan, the Soviets, the Taliban and the United States, and still boasts a citadel built in the time of Alexander the Great.


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