The ambitious state-owned project sought to create a "distinctive and iconic infrastructure that is necessary to consolidate the position of Chile as an Antarctic country and Punta Arenas as the main gateway city to West Antarctica."
Take an in-depth look at the winning proposal, described by its authors as a hybrid building, organized "formally and programmatically from strata or superimposed layers, materially varied to host diverse program elements, each with its own character." Here, the architects tell their story.
Men Wanted: For hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long month of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honour and recognition in case of success.
My first trip to Punta Arenas was by boat. From the Strait of Magellan, I could see a distant volume, light and ethereal, floating over the city’s edge. The sinuous edges of the volume made it difficult to understand its geometry from a distance, revealing a body pierced by the passage of time. Quickly coming to mind was the image of a drifting iceberg and the first sailors to navigate the Magellan straight catching sight of the far-off lights of the native inhabitants. With this last image in mind, I could see the starting point of the city.
Once in Punta Arena, I went to visit the International Antarctica Center and realized it was the building I had seen from afar, organized in strata. The first layer was a dark, stony base containing the programmatic elements for the traffic of goods and vehicles. In turn, this dense volume sustained a lighter, translucent volume for the inhabitable programs used by scientists and visitors.
The main floor, three stories above the ground and linearly organized, had a large void that opened up to an image of the city from afar by means of a linear, perimeter path that also became a balcony to contemplate the Magellan Strait. This perimeter space was dominated by a calm, homogenous light that contrasted the unstable climate of the exterior to construct a more abstract space, allowing for a more intimate connection with the activities taking place on this level. The main access to the public exhibition hall was located in the center of the plan and following this perimeter space, finished with an auditorium featuring views of the landscape that dominates Punta Arenosa. The programming located at the building’s center varied in height depending on the volume of air needed by each. On the exterior, on this same level, there was a platform like a dock where one could have a more direct contact with the Magellan Strait and the views to the city as well as a establish a direct relationship with the power of the Patagonian Climate.
In the upper part of the building, parallel to the main floor and floating over the double-height volumes generated by the public spaces, the laboratories dominate the totality of the space. From above, I could see how this program had independent entrances that connected to the vaulted floor level and the nearby urban surroundings designated for the scientists’ activities without interfering with those of us visiting but which at the same time allowed for a spatial interaction between the different users and activities in the International Antarctic Center.
Upon finishing my visit, I understood that the IAC was conceived not only as building independent of the city but that part of its program related directly with Punta Arenas and thus formed a building of an urban character situated in and out of the landscape.
The International Antarctic Center Project is a particular example of a hybrid building where the intersection of elements of very different natures are joined to create a single enclave that gives a new particular sense to the place where it is found: Punta Arenas.
The projects are formally and programmatically organized by superimposed strata or layers, materially varied to host diverse program elements, each with its own character.
The project appropriates all the threads that make up the fabric of Punta Arenosa, building an antechamber to the CAI. In this way and despite the fact that the building is located on an urban plot, a project is built in the landscape, both from its location and its relationship to the Strait of Magellan.
The CAI completes the coastal edge of Punta Arenas from the construction of a lighthouse building, backlit that assumes its edge condition to be seen, operate as a guide and at the same time be an observation platform.
To avoid excavating on sandy terrain, the project is elevated to leave the ground floor for vehicular and pedestrian access and to transport the different users, samples, and goods.
Parking, mechanical spaces, and part of the auditorium are located on the second level, crossed by the entrances and the Millenial Forest to connect to the rest of the building.
The public program is located on the main floor. This third level has the auditorium on one end that looks out over the landscape. Its strategic location allows for the auditorium to have an independent entrance so that it can act as an autonomous space independent from the rest of the building.
The smaller exhibition rooms, the upper galleries of the auditorium and the upper volumes of the main halls are located on the fourth floor.
The laboratories on the fifth floor finish the building and are laid out along the whole length of the plan, giving the scientists total control of the inhabitable space and entrances separate from visitors.
The main strategy of the building is to create a large transitional space from which all the required program elements will be generated. The envelope is created through the use of low-emission, translucent panels which help to control the loss of heat and the overall environment of the building.
LocationPunta Arenas, Magallanes and Chilean Antartica Region, Chile
TeamJosé Tomas Rodríguez
CollaboratorsJuan Ramón Samaniego, Joaquín Bustamante, Sebastián Paredes, Bettina Kagelmacher
ImagesCourtesy of Equipo Primer Lugar