Chilean architecture, having long stood in the shadow of more established design traditions in Europe and North America, has been catapulted to the forefront of global attention with the news that architect Alejandro Aravena has been named the 41st Pritzker Prize Laureate – the first Chilean to receive the award. He is also the director of this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, which focuses on the role of architects in improving the living conditions of people across the globe, especially in cases where scarce resources and the “inertia of reality” stand in the way of progress.
Of course, Aravena isn’t the only architect from his country to receive international acclaim in recent years. In 2013, the famed Aedes Gallery in Berlin curated an exhibition of selected works by Mathias Klotz, one of Chile’s most renowned international architects. The Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize for Emerging Architecture was awarded to Pezo von Ellrichshausen in 2014, the same year in which Smiljan Radic was chosen to design the latest iteration of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London. As with Aravena, both were the first Chilean architects to achieve those respective honors. 2014 also saw the Chilean Pavilion win a Silver Lion at the Venice Biennale with its 'Monolith Controversies'.
It is somewhat surprising to see so much notable architecture arise from a nation struggling with the rapid growth and urbanization that has prevailed in Latin America for the past several years. Historically, most notable buildings in the region have been Modernist transplants with little relation to local cultures or climates; however, since the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship at the end of the 1980’s, a new wave of Chilean designers has chosen to use the particular conditions and shortages of their homeland to create a new architectural identity.
Last year, a group of Editors from Plataforma Arquitectura contributed to an issue of World Architecture Magazine focusing on the particular qualities of contemporary Chilean architectural practice, with several projects chosen to represent those qualities. A selection of these and other projects can be found below, a testament to Chile’s growing prominence in the global architectural scene.
Taltal Public Library / Murúa-Valenzuela Arguitectos
Murúa-Valenzuela Arguitectos took a narrow strip of land—40 meters deep, but only 7 meters wide—and created this landmark civic structure in the small northern town of Taltal. As the three-story structure rises above most of the surrounding urban fabric, the architects placed great emphasis on the aesthetic qualities of each façade, even those butting against the neighboring buildings. The design ensures the library’s prominence in Taltal’s low skyline and links it visually with the nearby Alhambra Theater, a symbol of the cultural network the two facilities are intended to create.
The dried-out bed of the Copiapó River, formerly used as the dumping ground for garbage and mining waste, has since been transformed into an attractive public greenspace. The new park makes extensive use of local flora, reclaiming the landscape and highlighting the new facilities included for recreational and sports programs. The project also developed the riverbed as a channel for flood control – one that ultimately prevented significant destruction and loss of life less than a year after the park opened.
Dinamarca 399 / Joaquín Velasco Rubio
Tasked with turning the former home of the Danish Consul into a multi-use office and workshop structure, Joaquín Velasco Rubio sought to preserve the traditional character of the house while simultaneously introducing elements of modern technology to form an architectural conversation between the two. This was accomplished through the use of geometric carbon steel panels, introducing new light and spaces to the preexisting brick house.
Ruca Dwellings / Undurraga Devés Arquitectos
The Ruca Dwellings were created to allow a Mapuche community to participate in modern society without compromising their own traditions and beliefs. What emerged from this dictate was a series of similar—but not identical—houses, with interiors left bare so that each family could create finishes according to their own tastes. The structure and layout of each unit pays respect to traditional precedents, while giving the Machupe people the chance to remain connected to a rapidly evolving global way of life.
When a fire ravaged a midcentury government building in Santiago, the Chilean government called for an international competition to bring new life to the site. The winning proposal counteracted the monumental proportions of the former structure by separating the three components of the program at ground level, providing several covered spaces for public egress and gathering. This openness, combined with the transparency of the “containers” that house the cultural programs of the center, transforms the modernist grandeur of the former design into a new benchmark for public space in Santiago.
Innovation Center UC / Elemental
The Innovation Center stands as Elemental’s rejection of the idea that a contemporary building must be sheathed entirely in glass. Noting the excessive amounts of energy needed to air condition such structures in the local desert climate, the firm reversed the typical structural typology of contemporary office towers by placing the opaque structural core at the perimeter, while keeping the interior open and clear. By placing emphasis on practical design choices instead of aesthetic trends, the architects hope that the Innovation Center will prove itself to be not just contemporary, but ultimately timeless.
The Carozzi Production and Research Food Center comprises pasta and cereal factories, offices, and a public plaza for the gathering of the staff. Various elements of the reconstructed complex, built after a fire ravaged the factory in 2010, pay visual homage to their surroundings: undulating roof lines refer to the Andes Mountains on the horizon, while the geometric constructions of metal and glass pay tribute to the modernist flour mill built on the site in 1964. The inclusion of ample public gathering space and several passive environmental strategies rounds out the project, making the center a role model in thoroughly conscientious design.
Alianza Francesca Jean Mermoz School and Pavilion / Corporación Educacional Alianza Francesca
This project called for the renovation of a preexisting school building and the construction of a new addition, with the aim of modernizing both infrastructure and aesthetics. The renovation of the existing structure places perforated metal screens over the windows to improve the privacy of the classrooms, while new skylights above compensate for the reduced daylighting. An interest in human scale and specifically programmed public space characterizes the new pavilion and the school’s four courtyards, generating “warm feelings” for the students within despite the simplified modernist aesthetic.
An earthquake and the ensuing tsunami destroyed the vast majority of the southern city of Constitución in February 2010. Thus, the reconstruction of Santa Rosa de Constitución was utilized not only to provide a new school building, but to help create a better urban fabric for the ravaged city. The result is a locally-sourced pinewood structure with generous public plazas, one which could be built quickly in the post-emergency environment yet last as a durable and practical public resource.
Manuel Anabolon School / Gubbins Arquitectos
The Manuel Anabolon School was conceived as a synthesis of traditional southern Chilean forms and international contemporary aesthetics. The four school buildings are scattered in a way meant to reflect the informal arrangement of rural settlements, with each independent building oriented to take best advantage of program-appropriate natural lighting and views. The geometric tectonics of the design refer to the features typically found in south Chilean barns and country houses, ensuring adequate protection from rough weather and establishing a link with the Chilean architectural canon.
Chiloé Leisure Centre / Jonás Retamal Arquitectos
The Chiloé Leisure Centre occupies an enviable site, nestled between trees on a forested hillside by the ocean. Built using native woods and construction techniques, the resort comprises seven total volumes, with a reception building and several secluded hotel rooms with views to the natural surroundings. The ultimate goal is to provide a means by which visitors can learn, and participate in, Chiloé local customs and traditions.
The conflicting goals of creating noteworthy architecture and minimizing disturbance of the landscape led to Smiljan Radic's design for the Winery at VIK. The primary architectural feature is the white fabric roof, which allows filtered sunlight to permeate the winery during the day. Visitors enter the winery via pathways that crisscross a large plane of water, which both provides a monumental entrance and a natural cooling effect for the space.
Church(ita) / Supersudaka
Taking its cue from the informal arrangement of its neighborhood, the Church(ita) comprises several irregular faces, each of which is clad in similarly variegated mosaics. Budgetary restraints meant the construction had to be cheap; a system of layered steel panels enabled the chapel to satisfy the budget while still allowing the interior to be free of any columns. In plan, the church takes the shape of a star – a "light in the darkness."
Physics Department Building / Marsino Arquitectura
Both environmental regulation and local textiles inspired the idea of wrapping the Physics Department Building at the Universidad de Tarpacá with a fabric mesh. The spaces enclosed by the textiles retain moisture from morning dew and are shielded from excess solar radiation during midday, protecting both students and their delicate research equipment. The concrete structure within the mesh is conceived as a “promenade architecturale,” offering dynamic circulatory perspectives that encourage encounters between occupants and allow for a clear understanding of the building’s program.