An annual commission for a young architect in Santiago de Chile has produced a fabric canopy and a water cathedral, two very different pavilions with an equally dynamic effect
Summer is cause for celebration in Santiago de Chile: three months of clear skies and dry heat when the smog lifts to reveal the spectacular backdrop of the Andes. The city begins to empty out and February can appear as quiet as August in Paris. The next best thing to the beach is a shady pavilion in which to gather with friends, and Santiago hosts its own version of the social condenser that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has installed each year since 1999 at its PS1 satellite gallery in the New York borough of Queens.
This is a product of the Young Architects Program, which challenges emerging architects to create an outdoor installation providing shade, seating and water while using recycled materials and showing a high level of sustainability. Some 25 architects are nominated and a jury chooses a winner from five finalists. Now MoMA and MoMA PS1 are establishing an international network intheir partnership with the European institution MAXXI in Rome, and collaboration with a Young Architects Program in Santiago. In Santiago, this initiative is organised by CONSTRUCTO − a partnership of Jeannette Plaut and Marcelo Sarovic.
Water Cathedral by GUN Arquitectos
For this summer’s presentation, GUN Arquitectos was selected to create the Water Cathedral, a dynamic cluster of tapered white fabric bags, suspended from steel frames and gently oozing water. Depending on the play of light and time of day, it evokes the appearance of stalactites in a cave or the arches of a Gothic nave. As you stroll through and gaze upwards, the elements shift
in kaleidoscopic patterns.
Truncated pyramids provide seating and spotlights transform the installation into a spectral grove after dark. It is located in the walled forecourt of Matucana 100, a cultural centre that Martin Hurtado Arquitectos Asociados created a decade ago in the shell of a century-old brick warehouse. Jorge Godoy founded GUN Arquitectos in 2009 in partnership with Lene Nettelbeck from Berlin.
He graduated from the Valparaíso campus of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (PUC), a radical sibling of the main school in Santiago, and did his postgraduate work at the Architectural Association, staying for seven years in London to teach, work and conduct research. Back in Chile, he and his partner continued to experiment, creating a pavilion of woven green bamboo and developing an irrigation project in the desert.
Currently, they are masterplanning a self-sufficient community near the Tongoy Peninsula in north-central Chile, designing the infrastructure, energy systems and housing typologies for an area that is shifting from farming to tourism. ‘Water Cathedral is a laboratory to test structural and material principles that might be employed on a larger scale for permanent structures,’ says Godoy.
The apparent simplicity of the installation is deceptive; it is the product of intensive research into the dynamics of water and the stalactites that grow from the sediment in moisture that filters down through the roof of a cave. The architects considered many possibilities before selecting fabric bags filled with sand. A hydraulic network atop the grid of triangular steel frames provides measured amounts of irrigation.
This gathers within the plastic-lined bags and travels upwards by capillary action,dripping out through the seams. Puddles appear and evaporation cools the air. This is the second edition of the Young Architects Program in Santiago.
Colour Shadows by Eduardo Castillo
The first was designed by Eduardo Castillo, a long-time associate of Smiljan Radic, whose practice is enjoying a renewed surge of activity. They recently won a competition for a mobile theatre in the southern city of Concepción, a project that draws on new technologies of lightweight construction as well as the wood vernacular.
Castillo, who first worked as a carpenter with his father, made his debut with a wooden chapel in southern Chile. For the Young Architects Program, he created a loose canopy of woven fabric supported on angled wooden poles. Entitled Color Shadows, it was inspired by the temporary shelters created for spring celebrations in the Central Valley of Concepción.
Faceted wooden benches offered seating, children could splash in a raised pool and a lateral wall recalled theagricultural buildings of the region. The Young Architects Program provides opportunities for a fledgling firm to test its ideas in a public space, and be actively engaged by a young audience. Chile is a country that enjoyed a flowering of creativity as General Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship weakened in the late 1980s and a long tradition of democratic government was restored.
Today, a new generation is vying with its seniors for important commissions. ‘Change is moving in our direction,’ says Godoy. ‘There is so much space and freedom to do all kinds of things.’ Jeannette Plaut, who, in collaboration with Sarovic, edits Trace magazine as a forum for adventurous architecture, shares Godoy’s optimism.
‘Chile is stable and foreign investment has led to a growth in middle-class incomes,’ she says. ‘Architects under 40 are winning many of the competitions, whereas before almost all the prizes went to established firms.’ Winning does not guarantee building, even though Chile has been spared the recession that has crippled construction in Europe. But there is a palpable sense of optimism among architects of different generations, and they are looking forward to even better opportunities, at home and abroad.
Photos: Cristóbel Palma