Starting today, “Matter @ Context: Contemporary Chilean Architecture” will feature an interesting group of Chilean practices whose work represent the new architecture of the country.
The Exhibit Organized by the Universidad Finis Terrae de Chile and the Illinois Institute of Technology will be on display at the Crown Hall, IIT, until October 22nd. A lecture, with Alberto Moletto, Ignacio Volante and Felipe Assadi, will take place on the 16th at 6PM. The book “Matter @ Contex” published by UFT will also be launched at the event.
More about the curation and images of the selected projects after the break:
Alberto Sato, arq. MSc. Dr.
Within the contemporary conditions of architectural design, one frequently begins by referring to matter and context. It is not difficult to imagine why: facing the repeated modern hypotheses that the plan and program make up the substance or content of architecture and that architecture itself has been unable to prove, it has been recognized that the continent is in fact, contained. The argument rendered obsolete, as is common in any discipline (by way of Foucault), the discipline sanctions that matter and context constitute the possibility of creating and producing meaning in architecture. The first, as a condition of construction; the second, as an installation in the world.
As such, these empirical facts that are matter and context are transformed and redefined with the creation of architecture and in this way a process of transference is established: from matter and context to the project in its reading, interpretation and transformation.
In the last two decades and, more accurately, since the celebrated Chilean Pavilion in Seville in 1992 by the architects Germán del Sol and José Cruz Ovalle, Chilean architecture aroused international attention, especially for its plasticity and virtuosity in pine wood construction, clearly nationalized in Chile, covered with sheets of copper, also Chilean. Naturally its interior showcased the landscapes and products characteristic of the country, such as lápiz lazuli stone, empanadas, wine and popular bread called “maraquetas.” To top it off, fragments of an iceberg were brought from the seas of the south. This Chilean showcase in a universal exhibition helped instill the idea in the collective imagination that Chile possessed an extraordinary geography and amazing materials that the architects could employ. The success of this Pavilion then marked a turning point in Chilean architecture and matter and context took on the role of protagonist. There are two reasons for this: the post-modern condition of architecture and the media success of the Chilean pavilion, on both a local and international stage, led to the strict legalization of these empirical facts.
Without a doubt, in that exhibition in 1992, the matter was not presented in its natural condition. On the contrary, it was industrialized, processed in detail and with clear signs of colonization. From there the transfer of empirical proof to architectural project.
There are an abundance of international publications of work by Chileans that show the attributes of Chilean geography and material: to repeat them would be unnecessary. But perhaps if is of interest to exhibit the transfer process on a second layer of analysis, that is to say, how this sensibility is acquired or more definitively how it is learned, outside of imitation, emulation or fashion. As such, the transfer that the University Finis Terrae proposes is not only that formative role of knowledge and abilities but particularly as a “sensitizer” of these empirical facts for architectural design. It is realized in such a way that the profession, the instruction, the learning, the rules and risks make up the stages of a continuous flow of transfer without necessarily having to establish differences between academia and the profession; between the exercise of building and that of designing, as stages of the same process. It often happens that university classrooms reproduce the processes and protocols that are developed in professional offices, placing the education at the extreme of professionalism. And so for example one can appreciate in the jury’s decision for the annual competition of these projects of architecture schools in Chile 2012, where the attributes that are showcased correspond to a professional project and logically do not award space for criticism nor risk hypothesis, as what would appear to establish the difference with the professional exercise.
Despite this common place between education of architecture, alternatives of interest exist that are are subtracted from this natural inclination, or are superimposed, and consist of inverting the equation, placing experiment outside of the utopia as a result of the particular contextual condition of Chilean culture. In the case we exhibit, a student project, that could easily be a professional project in the near future; and at the same time, a professional can learn to observe the proposed student ideas. This does no mean that the appeals to reality announced by the self-assigned “hard exercise of the profession” conquer the design areas to restrict decisions towards territories dominates by the economies of simplicity and austerity, synonyms generally attributed to those arising from our reality; on the contrary, precisely this sensibility towards these empirical facts of matter and context with that weight of reality of which they are carriers, will be the object of design transfer, that is, of the creative processes of architecture.
The selection of works presented here transit schools of learning, of the education and the professional practice manifesting the common preoccupation of bordering design experiments with these elements: matter and context, with the particularity of which both are assumed as colonizing elements, that is, nothing exposed indicated that it obeyed a supposed natural law, on the contrary, the context is installed with the architecture and as such is not a continuation of nature. Similarly, this occurs with material, never raw, all in reinforced concrete, treated wood, in metal and glass sheets, all in rigid geometries referring to the platonic solids and all installing the re-purposed matter by industrial processes that also modify the processes of construction. Recalling the words of Mies: “The nature of the building process will not change as long as we go one using the same construction material because they require manual labor” and so the building of projects along an extensive geography where labor is scarce.
One must note the distance between two projects located at the extremes of the country, some 2000 kilometres lie between the northern Atacama desert, where the Ruinas de Huanchaca monument is located, and Conguillio National Park to the east of Temuco and the La Baita lodge. From the northern desert to the forests, lakes and mountains of the south, there exists not only a notable physical distance, but cultural and climatic distances that have been colonized without forzamientos. Additionaly, the thematic diversity of these projects is vast. It is a reality that clarifies the doubt as to the Chilean contemporary architecture dominated by single-family dwellings and that the context is explained by the command of the landscape through its windows. In effect, museums of site, school, hotel, office of a wind park and also individual buildings put the architect in various scenarios and enrich the possibilities of visualizing the treatment of matter and context.
Nevertheless, among the architects Assadi-Pulido and the student Alexis Berczely, there is little generational difference and as such integrate a contingent of young docents, professionals and students without a solution of continuity. It is a particular characteristic that asks if the master must necessarily be senior, and so as not to alarm Academia, the answer is affirmative and can be assured that all were formed by previous generation, all are familiar with the tradition left by the architects of the first Chilean modernity, just as the docents of structural engineering of the complimentary installations and construction processes are seasoned professionals, because the practice of architecture does not spring up spontaneously, and this is a good formula for its education. But with notable exceptions, one should not the youth of the protagonists of contemporary Chilean architecture.
One can not ensure that the works shown respond to the context, on the contrary, places have been reformed just like the matter, and this is its most relevant aspect, and all the common characteristics that come with this diversity of cultural and physical geographies have been able to integrate the country with a particular identity through its architecture.
Contemporary Chilean architecture, as mentioned at the beginning of this presentation, is known around the world and what is shown here does not repeat the extraordinary and abundant list of projects: it is but a fragment, dealing with those projects produced by students, graduates and professors of the Universidad Finis Terrae that make up a part of this Chilean architecture, but especially to show the level achieved by a young center for university studies just 24 years after its founding.