New Narrative in the Architectural Landscape of the Central Valley of Chile

JOSÉ LUIS URIBE ORTIZ

A domestic landscape fashioned out of 1,700 pieces of VHS video, shaping his imagination in the manner of a cinematic exploration: this is what Ingmar Bergman was able to construct in his house on Fårö, an island adrift off the coast of Sweden, where the filmmaker spent the final days of his self-imposed exile. Bergman composed a personal territory out of cinematic associations and contradictions, in which the most diverse films share a single space. The work of an unusual director like John Landis can coexist with the early films of Zhang Yimou, just as the highly personal work of Michael Haneke with the commercial successes of John McTiernan. The arrangement of the films in the tiny projection room of the Swedish director can be associated with the way in which they unfold on the territory of the works designed, managed and built by the students of the School of Architecture of the University of Talca1 in Chile as part of the August Workshop2, and the Work of Degree3, their innovative practices academic.

natalia franco meza
all photos courtesy natalia franco meza
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viewpoint a load of truck
viewpoint a load of truck
viewpoint a load of truck
a trace on the territory, three ways to slow a fleeting landscape
a trace on the territory, three ways to slow a fleeting landscape
a trace on the territory, three ways to slow a fleeting landscape
a trace on the territory, three ways to slow a fleeting landscape
rio claro viewpoint: landscapes out of waste
rio claro viewpoint: landscapes out of waste
rio claro viewpoint: landscapes out of waste
rio claro viewpoint: landscapes out of waste
plan / rio claro viewpoint: landscapes out of waste

Similar to the territory constructed by Bergman, but composed of still images, are the scenes of everyday rural life in North Devon, in England, captured by English photographer James Ravilious. He focuses on the connection between the inhabitants of the place and the processes of agricultural production4. What is interesting about those photographs is the way that each composition records a constant transformation of the territory, which folds, cracks, and is molded as a result of each activity. The photographer reflects in the human landscape the way in which generations of inhabitants have molded their territory and surroundings. This is similar to what has happened in Chile’s Central Valley: one of the advantages of living there seems to be the possibility of exploring and discovering new landscapes, which make it possible to construct a narrative in the structure of the local landscape. A sort of montage, in which the elements that make up those landscapes have been distilled through longs days of work on the land, carried out by successive generations of inhabitants, who have unwittingly created a local identity out of productive landscapes.

Some years ago David Byrne pointed out that music is an adaptable medium that molds itself to a pre-established physical framework5. For the leader of Talking Heads, rap or hip-hop are best heard on the sound system of a car, just as punk rock has always sounded best in confined spaces with asymmetrical geometries, such at the CBGB in Manhattan6. Something similar is true of the architecture in this exhibition, to be recognized as a chapter in the lives of the young authors of the works, who descend from two and three generations of the people who forged those aforementioned productive landscapes. These architects are at the same time the first members of their families with formal educations, acquired in the same region where they are currently exercising their discipline.

The present selection of works proposes a moment of attention for the work produced in recent years by several young architects, all of them around twenty-four years of age, who have maintained their distance from what might be called the Chilean architecture scene. The selection of works does not seek to promote a new Chilean architecture: it is simply an attempt to widen the frame of reference of recent production in Chile. Added to this is the fact that it is an exhibition curated from a regional perspective, which highlights the landscapes and social and cultural elements of the Central Valley of Chile. It presents a young generation of architects who, through these modest works, probe the possibilities of the Central Valley as a support for their first efforts in the discipline, similar to the appearance of filmmakers such as Glauber Rocha, Raúl Ruiz, and Miguel Littín, who have been recognized as part of the development of a new Latin American cinema, directly influenced by the social contingencies of the age, whose cinematography has succeeded in confronting local circumstances, with a critical stance vis-à-vis the commercial productions of Hollywood. The showing consists of seven works that represent seven different typologies, including rest stops, miradors, storerooms, shelters, and plazas. The selection of works constitutes a part of the new narrative of the landscape of the Central Valley of Chile, based on the perspective formulated by Christopher Gosden, for whom it is possible to divide the world into two broad components: landscapes and artefacts. The notion has been since developed by Tim Ingold, who writes: “Thus it seems that we have human minds on the one hand, and a material world of landscape and artefacts on the other.” This allows us to identify points in common and differences, from the standpoint of material culture, between architecture, inhabitant, activity, and landscape.

By contrast, the arrangement and narrative sequence present in the architecture that form part of the works of the School of Architecture of the Universidad de Talca recalls the idea of montage formulated by Sergei Eisenstein and the different takes that make up a cinematic sequence. In the works selected here, as in Eisenstein’s work, it is possible to observe the capacity for transformation by the authors of a given reality. For Andrei Tarkovsky, the “cinema image” is “basically observation of life’s facts within time, organised according to the pattern of life itself, and observing its time laws. Observations are selective…” (Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema). This selectiveness to which Tarkovsky refers allows us to enter into some of the examples that make up the exhibition, which by approaching preexisting scales and traces in the territory, succeed in lending continuity to each constructed environment through small fragments of contemporaneity. Like images in sequence, the work unfold over the territory in the manner of a generous repertory of experiments in how to integrate themselves into the social landscape of the Central Valley. An anatomy lesson in which the works give direction to everyday situations in the territory. A constant critique of the state of things stimulated the formal explorations of artist Joseph Beuys, allowing him to work freely with elements gathered from everyday life. We can list them: felt, wood, overcoats, animal hides, tubes of glue, brochures, copper, quartz, rock flours, and pigments used in Stripes from the House of the Shaman. At the same time, Beuys incorporated bodily scale into his work, which through corporal expression questions the relation between the subject and world, acknowledging the body as an art object in itself and contributing to a utopia of society as a social malleable material. Considering this perspective of Beuys we can approach these works that show the essence of the man and his fragile relationship with the subject and environment.

We also see an architecture in small formats that nevertheless has a strong impact on public life. Are architectural objects that sculpt the territory and allow inhabitants to pause and reacquaint themselves with the local landscape. They are small constructions in tension with their natural surroundings, condensing within themselves a series of everyday solutions. These projects are the very first works of their respective authors. They are works that establish a living relation with the landscape, the result of a personal way of reading the territory. A striking architecture, full of common sense, produced with limited budgets and local materials, as a living manifestation of the vernacular culture of Chile’s Central Valley. Nicolas Bourriaud has written that “art is the organization of the shared presence between objects, images and people,” but also “a live laboratory that anyone can be part of7” It is these live forms that can appreciated in the works produced by these young architects. Forms that interact with the inhabitant, the landscape, and the material, constituting a series of postcards and images that make it possible not only to sculpt in a territory but also to sculpt a landscape8.

Viewpoint a load of truck
text by Susana Sepulveda General

viewpoint a load of truck

It is not uncommon to find hosted in the landscape of the Central Valley of Chile to the various structures that manage to stay in the time, imposing their presence before the constant transformations of the territory.

The Railway Bridge of Pangue was built around 1878 and is located parallel to the road 5 south to the height of the locality of Alto Pangue, crossing the river of the same name. It extends for about sixty meters that recognize eight arches in roman style on a robust structure built of masonry, whose stonework mimics the termination of the sillar stone. The importance of this bridge currently is that it is the only of its kind that is still standing throughout the country. In 1989, it is declared a National Monument and a range of constraints prevents the realization of any action on him, with order to maintain its original composition.

Considering this last situation, a first action of the project is to define the premise of “take a distance and height to contemplate the landscape”. It is as well as the work draws to a constant action in the environment corresponding to the continuous passage of cargo trucks, that travel the highway from north to south and vice versa to get to the destination with their goods to different parts of the country. This action is present in the environment is the one that defines the scale of the work and a first formal decision by the definition of a platform of drums stabilized by filling rivers stone and the construction of a surface that it rests on the platform defines three situations: access, stand and contemplate. The materiality of this surface is concrete, which has support in the form of emptying a mesh raschel attached to a wire mesh, which by own weight to be emptied adopts the final form. The mesh is the one that defines the final texture of the mantle and its perimeter to act as a container to be emptied. Technical information:

name of the project: Viewpoint a load of truck
tutor: Susana Sepúlveda General
students: Mayra Alarcón, Michelle Richard, Arnaldo Alegría, Francisca Castillo, Josefa Leal, Roxana Poblete, Nikol Salinas, Cristóbal Soto, Carolina Valenzuela, Raúl Jaque, Oscar Miño, Carolina Núñez, Daniela Vilches, Stephania Corveleyn, José Del Canto, Paulina Farías, Felipe Martínez, Sebastián Mejías, Pía Montero, Mario Mora, Cristian Quezada, Patricio Rojas, Jonathan Torres y Gabriela Toledo
location: Alto Pangue, Región del Maule, Chile
year: 2016
materials: Concrete
built area: 23 m2
photographs: Natalia Franco
drawings: Jonathan Torres

A trace on the territory, three ways to slow a fleeting landscape

a trace on the territory, three ways to slow a fleeting landscape

Along 19 kilometers of dune, it is located a low-scale fishing enclave, where six rucos stand as an minimal expression of everyday life. Each one of them, inhabit just three fishermen between the months of September and May, with an discontinuous stay due to the natural behavior of the wind on the waves and cycles of the moon on the tides. These rucos are characterized by denying the west orientation because of the southwest wind. Its compact form has a closed sleeping space and an intermediate space which is used by the fishermen to await while the sea fills the nets, leaving the fire as the only space which is open and scattered for meeting.

The main idea points to the reconstruction of a landscape from bits or pieces of an imaginary, where each piece, distinct and recognizable, has its particular story, which together can manage to conceive a body that speaks about the minimum which is necessary to inhabit the coast, slowing their actions and revealing them on the territory. The fact of thinking which pieces to gather passed through a formal search, involving three situations: making fire, waiting and leaning.

A concrete cone as a point of origin, sinking into a concave space with the aim to bring the work of the inhabitants around the fire. The bottom of an old autobus as a resting point and a secure location from the hits of the Pacific. Two leaning tree trunks rising to safeguard the caught fish from the presence of sea lions.

architects: Natalia Franco Meza
advisor professor: Juan Román Pérez
location: Punchema, Chanco Commune, Cauquenes, Chile
commissioned by: the project presented to Talca University Architecture Faculty
client: pescadores de Punchema
construction and materials: collected materials; concrete, steel, cypress
area: 1.625 m2
construction site: 54 m2
design year: 2015
constrcution date: 2016
photos and plans: Natalia Franco Meza

Rio Claro viewpoint: Landscapes out of waste
text by Eduardo Aguirre León

rio claro viewpoint: landscapes out of waste

Rio Claro viewpoint is an experimental work placed on top of a transformed landscape: the new topography that spans over several hectares as a result of the process of piling up rubbish out of nearly ten thousand adobe houses that were turned down by the big earthquake of 2010. All of it was left on the shore of Rio Claro; at the border were both the city and the river meet.

A detour along the riverside shows a landscape of waste that coexists with crops and popular river beaches. It looks like a careless hand drew it. Nothing but a few vestiges say about the importance that the river have had for Talca since its inception, used both for resources and recreational purposes.

What to do there? How to design with waste? Those were the questions that drove the explorations for this project that was developed within an on-site studio at the School of Architecture of the University of Talca in 2016. There are some key words to describe the process to realize the project: touring, selecting, gathering, piling, raising, covering, and placing. After three weeks of research through design focused on material exploration, understanding of socio-spatial context, and the definition of a fast assembling process, the structure was erected in place.

The result is a structure composed by a ring of two hundred old tires, piled and tied together, sustained by a wooden scaffold that resembles both the expression of buildings under construction, and some agricultural constructions.

Three old, rickety, discarded sofas collected along the riverside were repaired and covered by a concrete shell, providing a place to seat under the shadow of the structure. The whole creates a situation to observe a quite shore flanked by willows. Looking east, through the brook, the gaze of the observer will find the curtain of the Andes in the back.

It is still a question whether the work will last for a few months or a year, or even more. Since its experimental condition lies not only in the materials and durability, but also on the way neighbours would use the place and claim it. So far, often people go there to spend time in front of the river and move the sofas according to their needs.

name of the project: Rio Claro viewpoint: Landscapes out of waste
tutor: Eduardo Aguirre León
students: Valentina Ceballos, Noel Avendaño, Antonio Recabal, Nicolás Sánchez, Carolina Illanes, Muriel Oyarzún, Bárbara Acevedo, Paulina Arancibia, Carolina Dorador, Darío Bueno, Paulina Muñoz, Eduardo Mardones, Matías Jáuregui, Karla Castillo, Felipe Burgos, Felipe Contardo, Francisca Morales, Antonio Chaparro, Fabián Peña, Francisco Campano, Pablo Leiva, Alexsandra Andrade, Javiera Orellana, Catalina Salazar, Rodrigo Carrasco, Sergio Molina
location: Riverside of Rio Claro, Talca, Chile
year: 2016
materials: Discarded tires, recoverd wood, discarded sofas, concrete shell
built area: 30 m2
text: Eduardo Aguirre León
photographs: Natalia Franco
drawings: Fabian Peña, Paulina Muñoz, Carolina Dorador, Matías Jáuregui.

Notes:
1 Currently, the permanently employed teaching staff of the School of Architecture at the University of Talca is composed of architects Eduardo Aguirre, Diego Espinoza, Natalia Franco, Kenneth Gleiser, Andrés Maragaño, Felipe Miño, Juan Román , Susana Sepulveda, Edgard Torres, José Luis Uribe, Germán Valenzuela and Blanca Zuniga.
2 The August Workshop also know as the Building Workshop is an opportunity to experiment off-campus, usually held in August. Students and faculty work as a team, engaging with local communities to build plazas and viewpoints. They create devices that can be put together in the school workshop and neatly inserted in the landscape, like an installation, regardless of the issue of permanence or ephemerality. These devices open up fields of study, in¬voke projects with potential, and generate prototypes that focus on the process, rather than on the built object.
3 The students to obtain the degree of architects should Design, Manage and Construct a Work of Architecture. One of the approaches of the School is that the student must be able to cope with the difficult working environment in which it is inserted. To do this you must be able to innovate in the search of opportunities, in different areas to those in that has traditionally officiated the architect.
4 James Ravilious, Down the Deep Lanes (Oxford: Bardwell Press, 2008).
5 David Byrne, “How Architecture Helped Music Evolve”: https://www.ted.com/talks/david_byrne_how_architecture_helped_music_evolve?language=es.
6 The CBGB was New York City’s most emblematic punk rock club, where bands such as Talking Heads, The Ramones, Patti Smith, Blondie, The B-52’s, and The Misfits performed.
7 Nicolas Bourriaud, Estética relacional (Buenos Aires: Editorial Adriana Hidalgo, 2007).
8 To paraphrase the title of Andrei Tarkovsky’s book Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema.