Long before rendering two-dimensional designs into three-dimensional models became standard architectural procedure, the indigenous peoples of Latin America represented buildings in small-scale forms to much different ends. Andean and Mesoamerican cultures crafted replicas of temples and houses for funerary and burial rites, and to honor loved ones at shrines.
This ritualistic use of the architectural model is the focus of Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas, a compact and enlightening exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that opened Monday and runs through Sept. 18, 2016. The first such show in the United States, it’s tucked into its own sort of tiny shrine and comprises artifacts from multiple ancient American cultures, including the Mayas, Aztecs, Recuay, and Nayarit, with objects dating back to the first millennium B.C. The items range from 5-inch-tall stone Mezcalan temples to the breathtakingly detailed, 12-inch-tall, two-story Nayarit house model. Together, the objects form an architectural record of civilizations whose structures — and customs — are mostly vanished.