Travels in Chile — Part 4 of 4
In 1970 several faculty members from the Catholic University of Valparaiso established an architectural laboratory just north on the coast near the town of Ritoque. It was to be an open-ended inquiry in design based not upon the commonly accepted vocabulary of formal geometry, but upon poetic invention. David Walker, Josefina Guilisasti, Cecilia Puga and I were guided around a small portion of the site by the sculptor José Balcells. There is no master plan, no model-making, just growth premised on absolute consensus of the residents. The results are far from utopian, yet aspirational, not at all pragmatic, yet practical. And stunning.
The site extends from the dunes and wetlands of the coastline up through meadows and into the hills. The structures range from shared residencies to amphitheaters using wood, concrete, brick, and stone. Every kind of material seems to be deployed. So is every type of process, from bricklaying to the automatic writing exercises of the Surrealist poets. The portion of the property that José takes us through is devoted to a series of agorae (open meeting spaces where all decisions are debated and made), an amphitheater, the community cemetery, and ritual enclosures, all built in brick and connected by running water. For a cooperative within which no project can more forward if so much as a single person votes no, it’s remarkable how extensive and cohesive are the architectural interventions.
What I noticed was how vibrant a country Chile has become. Despite the social and economic challenges, no one seems to be saying “we can’t do this,” but instead takes on projects with great verve. South America’s tallest building, a 60-story skyscraper by Cesar Pelli, is going up in Santiago among a welter of construction cranes around the city, and contemporary art spaces are taking over old industrial buildings. Everywhere we looked we found a mixture of pre-Columbian, Colonial, and contemporary life that is unique in the world.
The Open City has long been admired by architectural theorists and students worldwide (and if you want to find out more, Road that is not a Road and the Open City (http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?tid=5661&ttype=2) from MIT Press is a great place to start). Created to be an experiment without end, La Cuidad Abierta is also, as José says, “a way to learn how to live in an unfinished work.” If ever there were a goal for what art + environment could teach us, that might be it.
Travels in Chile — Part 3 of 4
On our last day in Chile, David Walker, the architect Cecilia Puga, and I – along with our host, artist Josefina Guilisasti (http://www.josefinaguilisasti.cl/biography/), drove two hours north of Santiago to Bahía Azul (http://coolboom.net/architecture/bahia-azul-house-by-cecilia-puga/), a small collection of houses perched above the rocky coastline. Cecilia has designed one of the most remarkable residencies that can be seen anywhere, a family retreat named “Casa Larrain.” The house, consisting of three sheds, is constructed out of concrete. Although a relatively expensive material to use initially, over time its cost is justified by how well it withstands the fierce storms and salt air from the ocean.
The great trick of the house is that the central third of its three shed shapes is nestled upside down between the other two, a pun on the weight of the material, but also a cost-effective and handsome solution to using repeated forms in an unexpected way. Indeed, what could have had the heavy-footed appearance of a coastal defense bunker is instead a structure that opens itself to the light and air.
Travels in Chile — Part 2 of 4
Josefina Guilisasti, an internationally renowned Chilean painter, introduced David Walker, CEO Nevada Museum of Art, and Irene Abujatum, the director of Galleria AFA (http://www.galeriaafa.com/). The gallery is housed in a suite of rooms on the second floor of an older building in the downtown area near the national museums. Irene is one of the country’s leading contemporary art dealers, and while in her gallery we met Cristián Salineros (http://www.cristiansalineros.cl/), a sculptor who has been working around both Europe and South America. His series on transmission towers, an ever-present figuration up and down the length of the world’s longest country, changes the viewer’s sense of scale and orientation in the landscape by rotating an element of exterior infrastructure inside the gallery – a neat perceptual trick as well as a handsome sculpture.
Sachiyo Nishimura (http://www.snishimura.com/), a Santiago-born artist living in London who also shows at Galleria AFA, has been photographing another segment of the electrical grid, the wires above railroad yards. She then superimposes a grid of her own, which fragments the aerial fabric into discrete units. The resulting works, black-and-white photographs that show how we subdivide sky as well as ground, are striking.
Travels in Chile — Part 1 of 4
David Walker, the director of the Museum, and I flew to Santiago, Chile a couple of weeks ago to work on an upcoming CA+E exhibition, The Fog Garden.
The structures of the ironically titled “garden,” are being developed by architect Rodrigio Perez de Arce and his students at the Catholic University of Santiago. They are based on field в studies in the Atacama Desert, where scientists have been conducting research on fog collection in the world’s driest desert since the 1950s. The structures are designed to wring moisture out of clouds as a source of potable water.
The research site is Alto Patache, a steep and dramatic ridge that rises 2600 feet above the narrow coastal flats below. The only source of moisture in the region is the fog that rolls in nightly from the Pacific Ocean, and centuries ago native people walked up from the shore to collect water dripping down the uppermost cliffs. Today, Rodrigo and his students are designing sculptural forms that will both irrigate small gardens at the site, and collect enough water for piping to other locations.
Working on The Fog Garden was just the beginning of a series of extraordinary encounters with art and architecture in what is one of the most prosperous nations in South America