Latin America reappears on the global map of architecture. The recent crisis which has made economies in the whole world vacillate have contributed to distract attention from the American subcontinent, but many cities which have succeeded in launching community projects are now earning a place in the limelight. This is true of Curitiba, Medellin and Rosario, whose urban transformation projects are part of larger political and civil strategies and others, as Santiago del Chile, Bogota or Mexico City, where many of the most singular projects are concentrated.
As far as our century is concerned it would be to the point to stress the case of Chile, which has burst upon the scene after years on the sidelines, with the most interesting and original architecture in the whole American continent. The country stands out in the Latin American architectural scenario due to the creative impulse of the youngest generations; in fact, we may speak of a generational style that is the product of a stable economy and a solid academic structure.
Architects as José Cruz, Germán del Sol, Mathías Klotz, Smijan Radic, Alejandro Aravena, Sebastian Irarrázaval, Assadi+Pulido and Pezo von Ellrichshausen are among the leading figures in a multifaceted and lively reality, which in its turn represents the spearhead of a solid architecture culture which is more closely related to the pragmatism and functional efficiency of late Modernism than to the formal tricks of the international starchitects of the late 20th century.
It is a matter of a period which began with the Chilean Pavilion at the Expo of Seville of 1992, as symbol of a country which presents its new identity, casting off past modes and styles (dictatorship and postmodernism) and confidently vaunting its potentials: indeed, it is in the last twenty years that Chilean architecture has given its best fruits.
With the Seville Pavilion José Cruz Ovalle and Germán del Sol emerged forcefully, succeeding in identifying a place with their organic forms and almost exclusive use of wood. The Pavilion has represented a recognition of the strong and archaic object with sinuous and free forms, at a time when international architecture was oriented towards a prismatic abstraction of mute objects and chameleonic facades. Cruz has continued to study the formal potential of wood in his own combined home and study, and many others have followed in his footsteps.
José Cruz Ovalle asserted himself as a highly original architect with the organic composition of his buildings and the complexity of his fragmented and “Piranesian” itineraries.
Germán del Sol, on the contrary, preferred the force of the concepts to the sequential narrative of the forms, developing an architecture that dialogues with art and with the land. Designing hotels in remote parts of the country, he began a series of architectural objects which may be interpreted as works of land art.
But it has been a modest wooden box designed by Mathias Klotz that has blazed the path for the boldest generation. Houses are boxes that respond to a blunt, consistent idea, which do not lose their composure in the face of the smallest detail, on the contrary yielding to the primordial and platonic idea. Clear and precise lines, concise volumes which avoid the merits of geometric intersections, the sensuality of a reduced repertory of materials, absence of details, space. His boxes are topographic appendixes; Klotz conceives architecture as part and counterpart of the landscape. The relationship with nature is not mimetic; there are no organic references. On the contrary, the abstraction of the object suggests the relationship with the space. The building does not alter the land; it respects and interprets the topographic gestures to define the relationship between natural and artificial and the points of contact between them.
His exploration of the potentials of essential forms and incessant research of variations enables Klotz to make the most of his results with few minimal gestures and to design with fundamental lines, with signs present in the territory that hover between natural and artificial, between rural and technological, between contemporary and timeless.
With Klotz a new generation of architects have burst upon the Chilean end-of-century scene with professional rigour, adapting to the laws of the market and the rules of the international media debate. Smiljan Radic, Alejandro Aravena, Sebastián Irarrázaval and Felipe Assadi belong to this generation.
Radic is characterized by the way he “analyses his experience in his use of materials, his so-called structural logic, his exploitation of environmental conditions and economic use of resources, as well as the architectural associations and references, descriptions and adjectives. His work is somewhat bizarre; it is positioned at the outer reaches of prediction, not excluding some incursions into the unknown”. Apart from their indisputable charm, his works are enigmatic and complex. Even his early works transcend their function with cryptographic solutions.
Alejandro Aravena received his education in the halls of the Catholic University, where also Klotz studied. In spite of this he has always focused on two objectives in his work, a formal and a strategic one. The former has led him to an experimental exploration and a stylistic approach that has led him along different paths, all of which have revealed his talent. But it has been his work with Elemental that has made him focus on minimal dwellings from a more strategic point of view. The simplification of the basic elements, which has made it possible to appropriate the virtues of self-building, has resulted in a basic structure that contains the hard and damp areas, the systems and the walls, on which one may live only by closing or expanding the structure in different phases. The open character of his proposal thus enables the user to realize the potentials of his dwelling according to his possibilities.
Sebastian Irarrázaval stands out by virtue of his formal plasticity fluid spaces, in which he incorporates the dynamism of Le Corbusier’s architectural promenades.
The architects Assadi + Pulido have emerged from Mathias Klotz’ firm. Their work pursues the indispensable minimum and is, in its turn, a distillation of strong ideas based on a simple geometry formed of juxtaposed parallelepipeds. Perhaps one of their greatest virtues is precisely the almost schematic immediacy. Louis Kahn’s “served and servant spaces” are literally reflected in solid or transparent and in concrete or wood; in many of the works they establish a dichotomy between opposites, between nature and artificial, functional radicalness and expression of the materials.
To these architects to design means to define, with uncontaminated clarity, a concept on which to base their work. It is to enter into a dialogue with the place. The strong point of their works is their freedom from theoretical superstructures, the clarity of the prototypes inspired by the “modern” heritage. Despite of the freshness of their projects, which distinguish them from others of the same generation who have in some cases wagered on certain spatial sophistications, as Mathias Klotz, or opted for greater conceptual density transformed into more complex proposals, as Smiljan Radic, Assadi + Pulido belong to a new trend in Chilean architecture, of designers who have not only reached such a high level of quality that they are unlikely to be outdone in the Latin American architectural scenario, but which also maintain the flavour and identity of their place of origin.
The linearity characterizing many projects should perhaps not come as a surprise, considering that their context of origin is a country whose form is similarly linear, pressed between the Andes and the Ocean. Perhaps also the relationship, even if distant, with the territory is rooted in the relationship formed by a people formed of relatively recent migrations, which up to a certain point prevents a contact that could harm the land located at the world’s end.
Many architects have distinguished themselves in this rich nursery: from the business headquarters of Borja Huidobro, the works of Alberto Cruz’ disciples as the “Wanderer’s guesthouse” by Manuel Casanueva or the Box en Ritoque by Miguel Eyquem, Martin Hurtado’s detached homes or Guillermo Hevia’s industrial buildings, to the most audacious proposals of the new generation as the Alberto Mozo’s BIP or wooden building, Teresa Moller’s landscape development at Punta Pite, or the experimental nature of the Wall House by FAR (Marc Frohn and Mario Rojas), just to mention a few in the rich scenario of recent Chilean architecture.
Among all of them, it may perhaps be the works of Pezo von Ellrichshausen that stand out most in terms of originality. So far Mauricio Pezo and Sofia von Ellrichshausen have only built a few houses and experimented with as many installations. To them architectural projects are dynamic systems of formal determination, and their houses are variations on the same germinal idea, based on successive attempts of trial and error. From this system they formulate open and versatile structures which challenge the disciplinary borders between art and architecture.
Chilean architecture is born and developed in the landscape. The works define the horizontal line that represents the demarcation between the construction and its scenic territory. Contemporary Chilean architecture re-elaborates the prototypes of the Modern Movement, and many of its architects have succeeded in converting into their own language precisely the construction of a discourse based on the geometric clarity of the prism on which the architectural programs are decomposed.