In early March, at the Presidential Palace in Chile, a never before seen event took place for Chilean architecture. Architects, government officials as well as the media gathered for the first Venice Biennale press conference to be held in Spanish.
As the first South American selected to curate the Biennale, Alejandro Aravena was excited as he delivered the latest news on “Reporting from the Front,” the XV International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, which opened its doors to the public on May 28:
“The Biennale, the invited architects, as well as the curators, did not intend to do anything other than open a debate in which architecture can be used to improve quality of life through the sharing of knowledge. This debate holds more significance since we are speaking at the Presidential Palace because it conveys the message that these issues are important. Thank you so much for the opportunity and the chance to be here.”
The President’s presence at an event like this is a symbol that consolidates a chapter of progress and achievements in Chilean architecture. In the last two decades, Chilean architecture has positioned itself in the world as a force to be recognized, and Chilean architects are now obtaining international recognition, which would have been unimaginable a few years ago.
Just when we thought that the peak of international success for Chilean architecture was the selection of Aravena as the director of the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice, he was then awarded with the highest recognition an architect can aspire to: the Pritzker Prize.
All of these successes point to Chilean architecture being at its peak, and this version of the Venice Biennale should be a barometer of the true impact that Chile is having in the world. In this article we present projects from a younger generation of architects. Thanks to their talents, use of technology and understanding of their local context as background for an international context, they have managed to stand out from the crowd through a resounding architectural discourse.
An important part of the Chilean architecture success in the world can be attributed to the possibilities the internet and specialized media have provided. David Basulto has been literally reporting “from the front line” for 10 years, when along with David Assael he founded Plataforma Arquitectura in 2006. Based in Santiago, Chile, the website later became the most viewed architectural website in the world, operating today under the name ArchDaily. Due to his views, criticisms and specializations, Basulto was invited by the Nordic countries to be the curator of their pavilion, one of the most important in the Giardini.
To Latin Americans, Finland, Sweden and Norway seem like idyllic countries, where basic needs are covered and discussions about the problems faced in Latin America seem to be non-existent. Due to this, Basulto presented “In Therapy,” an architectural reflection on where these consolidated societies are headed, but that still poses specific social and cultural complexities.
Around the corner from the Nordic countries pavilion, is the one from the United States. The curators Cynthia Davidson and Monica Ponce de Leon have selected a number of speculative proposals for a specific location in Detroit, within which the project A(n) Office, composed by V. Mitch McEwen and Chilean Marcelo López-Dinardi is displayed.
The central exhibition, “Reporting From the Front,” will be displayed in both the Giardini and the Arsenale. For the exhibition Aravena invited architecture offices from around the world to present their work and methods for contributing to improve quality of life. In the Arsenale, an architect from the University of Chile and Harvard University, Felipe Vera, is presenting his studies of the world’s largest temporary settlement, the Kumbh Mehla. Together with Indian architect Rahul Mehrotra, they will question the importance of the permanence of urbanism and architecture, through a pavilion that has been built with the same elements that are used to build a complete city every 12 years that houses 5 million people for the celebration of one of the most important religious festivals in India.
If the Chilean saying “Talca, Paris and London” originated in order to position Talca, a city in the central valley of Chile, as one of the large urban powers in architecture, the saying is not that far from reality. Thanks to the interesting teaching model developed by the School of Architecture at the University of Talca, which teaches its students self-management and the importance of finding harmony with local communities and its rural context, Talca has become a fascinating example for the world.
In Venice, we can see these unique teaching methods in “Swimming Upstream,” in the Chilean pavilion, curated by the director of the School of Talca, Juan Roman, and his academic assistant Jose Luis Uribe.
In addition, as part of the International Exhibition organized by Alejandro Aravena, Grupo Talca, an architectural firm composed of Rodrigo Sheward and Martin del Solar, will rebuild the iconic Mirador Pinohuacho. The Pinohuacho viewing point was built to save the forests of southern Chile and boost its tourism. The Vasquez family, who are dedicated to wood craft, commissioned Sheward 10 years ago to build the viewing point. That same viewpoint, which was built near Villarrica, was taken down and re-built in Venice.
In contributing to this decentralization of good architecture produced in Chile, we could say that architects Pezo Von Ellrichshausen are one of the greatest exhibitors, with an interesting production created from southern Chile, in Concepcion. Their work is recognized throughout the world and since they won the 2014 MCHAP award for Casa Poli, they divide their time between their workshop in Concepcion and classes in Chicago. The Vara pavilion is located at an important place outside the Giardini.
All of these projects are added to the proposals of architects like Cecilia Puga, Teresa Moller and the firm comprising Mirene Elton and Mauricio Léniz, who from the Giardini and the Arsenale will also be ambassadors of Chilean architecture in Venice for the next 6 months.