The Ochoalcubo project, a pioneering experiment led by the entrepreneur and architecture lover Eduardo Godoy that seeks to unite leading Chilean and Japanese architecture practices with ground-breaking architecture, has started a new phase. Made up of 8 phases which involve 8 different architects, the first stage of this architecture laboratory took place in Marbella and included work from Christian de Groote, Mathias Klotz, Cristián Valdés, José Cruz, Teodoro Fernández, Cecilia Puga, Smiljan Radic and Sebastián Irarrázabal. Toyo Ito was the first international figure to participate in the project with the construction of the White O House in 2009.
Following the magnitude 8.8 earthquake that hit Chile in 2010, and the subsequent disasters that hit Japan in 2011, the second stage of the Ochoalcubo project in Marbella was halted, and replaced by two new stages that would establish a bridge to connect the culture and architecture of these two countries. Eight Japanese and eight Chilean architects of international renown joined the project to create interventions on the coast of Ochoquebradas, located close to Los Vilos, in the Chilean region of Coquimbo.
The team for this phase is made up of Akihisa Hirata, Atelier Bow-Wow, Junya Ishigami, Kazuyo Sejima, Kengo Kuma, Onishi + Hyakuda, Ryue Nishizawa, and Sou Fujimoto from Japan, along with Guillermo Acuña, Alejandro Aravena, Felipe Assadi, HLPS, Izquierdo & Lehmann, Máx Nuñez, Cristián Undurraga, and WMR from Chile. Currently, houses by Alejandro Aravena (Elemental) and Ryue Nishizawa, two recent winners of the Pritzker Prize, are under construction.
We decided to check in on the progress of the Nishizawa House in Ochoquebradas, after Eduardo Godoy and the architect Sarah Bosch showed us photos of the work. We could not believe the size of the beams that held up the wavy concrete slab proposed by the Japanese architect and the molding work that was shaped like a wooden snake. The artisanal beauty of the process was something that we had to witness with our own eyes. Weeks later, we set out on the road to Los Vilos to find Eric Meinardus, the Chilean Architect responsible for making Ryue Nishizawa's dreams come true.
When we arrived, we were first able to walk around the nearly-completed ELEMENTAL project, which was also entrusted to the control of Meinardus. The house is formed of three monolithic blocks that seem to have always been there, like rocky remains that have emerged from the waves. The terrain on which this new series of works is sited is of the highest natural value, so each intervention has been meticulously developed according to its environment.
As we approach Nishizawa's work, we witness a great number of busy workers. The design is a true structural challenge and, the day after our visit, the workers would face a milestone in its development: the pouring of the undulating concrete slab 30 centimeters thick and 50 meters in length, which meets the ground at just three key points.
As in the Teshima Art Museum, Nishizawa seeks to achieve harmony with the landscape through the use of curves and free forms. The undulating forms are directed this time towards the sea, marking an axis under which a free rectangular floor rests, elongated and narrow, slightly curved at its longitudinal ends. This interior space, delimited by the concrete shell which covers it, was outlined by a 40 x 60-centimeter grid of formwork. This virtual mass, which presents us with what could be the negative form of a sculpture, sustains the moldings and the dense fabric of steel reinforcement, which together will form the edges and the heart of the concrete slab.
Meinardus explains how his role has been focused, in large part, on adapting the 3-dimensional models that are sent to them from the office in Japan to the reality of Chilean construction. The central axis that crosses the house from east to west serves as a reference point to create section cuts that indicate the location and height of each of the scaffolding supports. Through a coordinate system, which translates into hundreds of cuts, the complex curving geometry of the project has been achieved. The plans are combined with these technical drawings to know how the supports for the moldings must be arranged to give the precise geometry of each point of the slab. Sheets and sheets of schematics, cuts, and details become the constructive route that Meinardus and his team are carefully following to successfully achieve the mission which they have been given.
The first third of the slab, which also corresponds to the first curve of the project, is already concreted and presents us with a sample of what the final result will be. Meinardus tells us that it was not possible to pour the whole slab at once because of the length of the project and the difficulty of reaching the whole area with the truck's telescopic pump. For this reason, the first part of the slab, near to the sea, had to be poured before constructing the whole structure.
The scaffolding system will be removed from the concrete after approximately a month and will be replaced by struts that will be installed for 2 months for additional safety. After removing the molds, the team will face a new challenge: to install the window panes such that they fit the curvature of their profiles. Since the slab has very few support points, a seismic deformation has been calculated that forces the windows to have sufficient tolerance to expansion. For this purpose, a coupling system, connecting an embedded profile in the slab and another one that holds the glass, will be used to allow the required movement.
In order to achieve maximum transparency, it was decided to use large sheets of laminated glass instead of double glazing, using fixed panes without any frames, in order to fill the least amount of the perimeter walls.
Eric Meinardus' goal is to have the house closed and to be able to start the final finishings, such as installing furniture, by the end of the year. According to what we have seen, this part of the project should be one of the least complex, but that does not mean it won't be completed with the same care and attention to detail. In fact, a couple of months ago one of the architects from the Nishizawa office traveled to Chile to see the progress of the work and to gather information about suppliers. Through this process, from Japan Nishizawa will be able to see to the selection of furniture and use of materials that will occupy the interior of the firm's first house built in South America.