Geography and climate are two important conditions that determine how people can live in a certain environment. When we add to this the cultural characteristics of a region, what appears, as Carl Sauer would say, is a "cultural landscape," a result of humankind’s settlement and adaptation to the territory. When architecture adopts a sensitivity to these conditions, and concerns itself with what the environment offers, living conditions take on a quality of lasting comfort.
For October’s Project of the Month we want to highlight the Casino and Hotel Ovalle by Turner Arquitectos, which adopts an aesthetic pertinent to the geography and cultural landscape of its location. ArchDaily en Español spoke with the project’s architects to find out more about their design.
The project’s site seems like a very powerful location. We would like to know more about how you translated the cultural context of the area into the design—what comfort strategies did you use in the face of the extreme climate?
On the numerous trips that we made during the process of design and construction of the project, from Santiago to the Limarí Valley, we went North via Route 5. On this 400-kilometer journey, you can observe how the landscape of Mediterranean climate in the central zone becomes more and more arid and radical as one moves towards the North. Turning eastwards towards Ovalle, the geographical features are accentuated, forming impressive arid plateaus and gorges, where human beings have sought shelter for centuries.
The geographical and cultural context that characterizes the Limarí Valley is so powerful that, however commercial the program included the commission, the design should communicate with its surroundings and form a "settlement"—where its visitors are protected from the arid climate and Northern landscape, but at the same time where they can understand the local culture and topography while inside the building.
The description of the building in formal terms is simple because it imitates the geographical location of the city of Ovalle and the surrounding villages. Just as water, by means of erosion, once formed the ravines and gullies of the place, we wanted to propose a large regular volume, into which we carved a diagonal gully which the building’s functional spaces open toward. The openings in the outer faces of this volume, on the other hand, are small and precise, thus protecting the inhabitant from the extreme climate.
Is this proposed hermeticism a response to the programmatic requirements of security and traffic control within the complex? What were the requirements and restrictions regarding the hotel and casino program?
A casino by definition needs high standards of security to improve its games, so the volume that housed this program had to be quite closed. To design the hotel, spa and the rest of the enclosures we had complete freedom when proposing orientation, degrees of openness and materials. Despite this we repeated the concept of closedness for the rest of the programs, although to a lesser extent, because we believed it was the best way to guard visitors and make them feel as if they are inside a series of caves carved into the edges of the main ravine.
The way to unify the multiplicity of programs was, on the one hand, to choose common materials for all volumes; the stone, concrete and metal seen are present in all the buildings, in both the facades and the interiors. On the other hand, there is the central ravine that constitutes the main pedestrian walkway and meeting point of the project.
Respect for the surrounding material environment seems to be an important part of your formal approach. Could you delve deeper into how the indigenous culture influenced the realization of the envelope and how the building was constructed?
Looking at the palette of colors and materials present in the surroundings, we decided to use the most characteristic ones. The predominant use of low stone walls to delimit plantations, stables and other terrains led us to think of a large stony base from which the different volumes emerged. On the other hand, we wanted to recover the positive side of the aridity and coarseness of the northern landscape, using materials and coatings with thick textures and ocher and gray tones which, used correctly, give warmth to the spaces. That's why we kept all the concrete visible and textured it using rough wood moldings.
We also did some research on the geometric patterns present in the impressive ceramics of the Diaguita indigenous population. We did several facade studies looking for a way of imprinting these patterns on the envelope, trying not to fall into exact reproduction but instead to use these patterns to deconstruct and to disorganize the openings resulting from the hotel rooms, which generally produce motionless, monotonous facades. Therefore, the zigzag shapes of the chosen Diaguita pattern allow the reading of an entire volume, which is not marked externally by walls or slabs.