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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.86 Santiago abr. 2014 


Social Project


Patricio Mardones Hiche *

* Director Ediciones ARQ, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.

Once again, the catastrophes that take Chilean cities by surprise from time to time leave their under layer uncovered: the fragile substrate over which we have literally built our urban reality. In April, earthquakes and fires shook various regions of the country and (crudely) removed all that is accessory and perishable, perhaps reminding us of the fondness for heavy structures and the poor reputation that lightweight structures have in our culture. What remains after the fires in the hills of Valparaiso o after successive earthquakes in the north of Chile? Where is reconstruction viable? Where is it appropriate to found again? Where is it necessary to overhaul?

From this perspective, the images of neighborhoods completely destroyed by the fire in Valparaiso are strong and eloquent and raise many questions with respect to the social role of architects and their current capacity to mold the built world. One of these questions, one that appears both as pertinent as it does tragic refers to the urgent and desirable quality of our ruins. And probably (following the argument of Brinckerhoff Jackson) also appeals to the understanding of the history itself, marked by cycles and disappearances.

It is at this crossroads where as architects we would have the first task of prevention, an initial urgency that unfolds in each project and that tries to attend to the inherent social responsibility of the practice of architecture: to provide the best possible ruin. It is about bare structures capable of creating patrimony in the most prosaic sense of the world and its capacity to persist while enabling change throughout its prolonged life.

In both the ruins of the burnt hills of Valparaiso and the ruined neighborhoods of Alto Hospicio in Iquique demonstrate the key role that the urban fabric holds for the construction of a good ruin: from the form and size of the sites to the relationship between the traffic and infrastructure networks with the topography. More indelible than many buildings, after a catastrophe this outline can be the sole survivor. The precision of this outline, even it if is only a line of chalk in the ground, can make all the difference between a city capable of capitalizing the most modest of investments and one that is unable to raise itself up despite implementing the best top down welfare program.

This edition of arq seeks to condense the perspective on these decisions, the most basic of architectural form, following the notable example of Fernando Castillo Velasco in Villa La Reina and echoing the importance of those founding elements for the consolidation of cities (and societies) that are more inclusive, legitimate and equal. If there is a good ruin, not all is lost, even though that ruin may only be a distance or a direction carefully marked on the ground.

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