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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.90 Santiago ago. 2015 


A Panel’s Trajectories


Pedro Alonso *(1), Hugo Palmarola*(2)

* Professor, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.
** Professor, Escuela de Diseño, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


A concrete panel, manufactured to be transported from an industry to the work-site, ends up travelling from Chile to Venice to become the symbol of a modern constructive system of global scope. Its trajectories however, began when the cement was still wet, initiating a unique story of conceptual assembly and disassembly, where a prefabricated panel for the construction of housing units ends up becoming the cornerstone of a truly historiographical project.

Keywords: Architecture, Chile, Venice Biennale, prefabrication, modernity.

Panel before departing to Venice, inner face.
© Omar Faúndez, Diseña

A prefabricated concrete panel was the main piece we presented in Monolith Controversies, Chile’s pavilion at the 14th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale, 2014.(1) This piece was produced in the city of Quilpué in 1972, by a factory donated to Chile by the Soviet Union for the development of the social housing programme of the Unidad Popular’s administration. The system was known as KPD , derived from the Russian acronym кпд, which means "large constructive panel" (krupnopanelnoye domostroyenie). On November 22nd that year, this panel was signed onto the wet cement by president Salvador Allende to then be installed as a commemorative monument at the facilities´ main entrance. After the 1973 coup d´etat, the plant´s new administration, led by the Chilean Navy, covered the signature and painted the panel, adding an altarpiece of the Virgin Mary and child instead of a window and two neocolonial lamps at each side (Alonso and Palmarola, 2014a). The panel also follows an international genealogy of large concrete panel prefabrication industries, initiated with the French Camus system (1948) later redesigned in the Soviet Union as the I-464 system (1955), the donation of this system to Cuba and its adaptation into the Large Soviet Panel (1963), arriving then to Chile, where the system was assimilated in two antagonistic stages of the country’s transformation, both in the socialist project as in the neoliberal, systems called KPD and VEP respectively (Alonso and Palmarola, 2014b).

Rem Koolhaas, curator of the 2014 Venice Biennale, titled his proposal Fundamentals, dividing it in three parts: Elements of Architecture (reviewing 15 universal architectural elements), Monditalia (regarding the emblematic and global duality of contemporary Italy), and Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014 (with 64 national participations reflecting on the last 100 years of international architecture). Thus, Chile’s pavilion was inserted within a dense and ambitious Biennale, discussing the absorption of modernity proposed by Koolhaas with only one gesture: a single concrete block. In this sense, Pippo Ciorra’s comment "sharp, short, straight to the point"(2) –published in Il Manifesto newspaper– was probably the most accurate analysis of Chile´s curatorial proposal and the public reception of the project. Ciorra was referring to the central element in the pavilion, measuring 2,75 meters high by 3,2 meters wide and weighing 2,6 tons. Since the Venice Biennale is not a museum, the panel would allow us to avoid the production of a panoramic and museum exhibit design, risk which was implicit in the commission itself. To achieve acuity, being brief and cutting straight to the point was essential, considering the limited time that the public, press and jury have to visit the entire Biennale.

Panel with inscriptions of President Salvador Allende and the Soviet ambassador Aleksandr Basov.
Based on: Castillo, Jimena. «Mujeres al volante de una grúa». Paloma, (1972), 33-35.

Production of a model identical to the memorial panel, Quilpué, Chile.
© Norberto Salinas González

Models of perforated panels leaving the factory towards the construction site. Quilpué, Chile, c. 1973.
© Nolberto Salinas González

While one of the main characteristics of these type of construction technologies based on prefabrication is the transferal of structural weight and constructive technical demands to the panel itself, our challenge as an exhibition, was to show how a single element can also synthesize the transmission of the ideological weight that transformed such panels into symbols and agents of social transformation (Alonso and Palmarola, 2012 and 2014c). We were interested in what Nelly Richard later called "the social and political memory of objects" (Richard, 2015). The presentation of a single piece, local and universal at the same time, allowed us to expose the history of over 170 million apartments built all over the world using these technologies, approximately 5 billion square-meters (Meuser, 2002; Hoffmann, 1999), positioning –at least in terms of scale– the prefabrication by panels as the housing model of greatest global impact, a fact that contradicts the marginal space that the system still occupies in the traditional historiography of modern architecture.

Panel intervened with an altarpiece of the Virgin Mary and child, plus two neocolonial lamps. Quilpué, Chile.
© Nolberto Salinas González

Panel ruined and abandoned in dump of industrial junk. Quilpué, Chile.
© Hugo P. Rodríguez

Panel leaving the dump of industrial junk towards the municipal junkyard, Quilpué, Chile.
© Hugo P. Rodríguez

However, to the Biennale we decided to take the panel without any signatures or virgins. We exposed it as an original, but also as a ruin of architectural and political modernity. In short, in Venice we exposed debris. Presenting it this way, seemed a radical but essential action, because it wasn´t as if we were curating objects which had already a recognized value for architecture. On the contrary, the curatorial operation was to question the assumed value of this object to then trace the controversies contained within the panel itself, avoiding to solve them by the restoration of signatures or the images of virgins. Far from our interest was the historiographic stability of master pieces and unique works of local or international modernity. We were interested in showing that it was possible to deploy a complex array of interpretations and controversies from a single architectural element. We tried to present an open object, avoiding its closure through reassuring or stable categorizations. In this way, the panel was placed as a node of multiple relationships and elements in tension: it enabled us to connect, from a critical perspective, our country’s recent history with the history of global architecture of the past 100 years.

Panel covered by debris at the municipal junkyard, Quilpué, Chile.
© Hugo Palmarola

Panel leaving Quilpué's municipal junkyard towards Santiago, Chile.
© Hugo Palmarola

Panel departing from Santiago towards the port of San Antonio, Chile.
© Hugo Palmarola

Gonzalo Puga’s exhibition design, allowed us to lift the panel vertically, on a rail, with only two supporting points in addition to direct and dramatic lighting; the production of Luigi D’Oro and Arguzia S.R.L. was also key in the various anchoring systems. Both operations, structurally complex, consolidated the protagonist role and tension of a concrete block that seemed to sustain itself at the center of the pavilion. Once inside, visitors could literally look at the other pieces in the exhibition through the window in the panel. This frame showed a dual approach: the panel as an object of study and as a tool of historical, social and cultural observation. In opposition to the distance from the object under study and the objectifying pretension of knowledge (proper of museums), we tried to deliver subjectivity to the panel, to get as close as possible, work with it, modify and intervene its trajectories, to enhance what the object had to say. This, because we consider that the KPD panel is a direct agent of significant political, ideological and aesthetic controversies; a highly signifying object due to its paradoxical nature, a situation that operates on different levels. For example, it’s an industrial and functional piece produced in series which was, however, transformed from the beginning into a commemorative monument for permanent exhibition. It was also a controversial object when being installed as a symbol of Soviet-Chilean cooperation, before being censored and intervened during the dictatorship, rescued from destruction by the same workers who manufactured it, forgotten as debris together with industrial waste, and brought back to life to be presented in Venice. This industrial panel was intended to be moved from the factory to the construction site, but its transformation into a monument –and its subsequent abandonment and rescue– multiplied its trajectories, moving from a dump to a municipal junkyard to then, with stops in Santiago and San Antonio, travel by ship to Livorno inside the Rita Schepers V1407, in transit from Quilpué to Venice. Taking it to the Biennale and exhibiting it at the center of the pavilion are actions which belong to this panel, designed to be moved and monumentalized from its origin. Today it is back in Chile, waiting for a new trajectory.

Panel arriving from the port of Livorno to the Venice Biennale.
© Hugo Palmarola

Installation of the panel in the Chilean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
© Hugo Palmarola

The panel in the Chilean Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
© Nicolás Saieh

Monolith Controversies received the Silver Lion for a national pavilion of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2014, and its book was awarded the DAM Architectural Book Award 2014 by the Deutsches Architekturmuseum and the Frankfurt Book Fair. The exhibition also achieved first place within the social ranking of the Biennale at the Arsenale location, ranking elaborated by Domus magazine(3) and obtained a Meeting on Architecture for the realization of an international seminar at Venice Biennale.
For more information visit:

The panel arriving to Santiago from the port of San Antonio, Chile.
© Hugo Palmarola

Stored panel.
© Hugo Palmarola


A Panel´s Trajectories

Exhibition / The 14th International Architecture Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia
Dates / 7 de junio al 23 de noviembre de 2014
Curators / Pedro Alonso, Hugo Palmarola
Commissioned by / Cristóbal Molina, Consejo Nacional de la Cultura y las Artes
Scientific Commitee / Pablo Allard, Beatriz Colomina, Sebastián Gray, Hugo Mondragón, Fernando Pérez Oyarzun, Rodrigo Pérez de Arce, Bernardo Valdés, Enrique Walker
Proyecto de Montaje / Gonzalo Puga
Visual Identity / Martín Bravo
Guest Artist / Gianfranco Foschino
Production / Felipe Aravena, José Hernández
Multimedia / Francisco Hernández, Micol Riva
Communications / Communications Marcela Velásquez
Production and construction / Luigi D’Oro & Arguzia S.R.L.
Sponsors / Fundación Imagen de Chile, DIRAC, CSAV and SAAM
Collaborators / Verne Díaz, Servando Mora, Héctor Pereira, Nolberto Salinas, Silvia Gutiérrez and other former workers, photographers and inhabitants of KPD
Ship Transportation / Barco Rita Schepers, Naviera SAAM
Panel’s date of fabrication / Nov., 1972
Panel’s original location / Former KPD factory, Quilpué, Chile
Materiality / Precast reinforced concrete



1. Fundamentals, the 14th International Architecture Exhibition at the Biennale di Venezia, directed by Rem Koolhaas, lasted from June 7th to November 23rd, 2014. Curated by Pedro Alonso and Hugo Palmarola, Chile´s pavilion was commissioned by the National Council of Culture and Arts. The former workers of the KPD Factory in Quilpué were essential part of the exhibition and the book, Monolith Controversies; especially the collaboration of Verne Díaz, Servando Mora and Héctor Pereira, as the factory´s photographer Nolberto Salinas. Díaz, Mora and Salinas accompanied us to Venice.

2. Pippo Ciorra, «Perdersi nella fondamenta,» in: Il Manifesto, June 6, 2014, p. 9.

3. Maria Novozhilova, "Venice 2014: social ranking", in: Domus, November 25th, 2014, available online at: 


ALONSO, Pedro; PALMAROLA, Hugo. Panel (Londres: Architectural Association, 2014a).         [ Links ]

ALONSO, Pedro; PALMAROLA, Hugo (eds.). Monolith Controversies (Berlín-Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2014b).         [ Links ]

ALONSO, Pedro; PALMAROLA, Hugo. «Tropical Assemblage: The Soviet Large Panel en Cuba», en: E. Medina, I. Costa Marques y C. Holmes (eds.), Beyond Imported Magic, Essays on Science, Technology, and Society in Latin America (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2014c), pp. 159 – 179.         [ Links ]

HOFFMANN , Hans Wolfgang. «Aus Fehlern lernen. Erbe des komplexen Wohnungsbaus: Wie Berlin seinen Nachbarn bei der Sanierung der Platte hilft», Stadtforum (Oct. 1999).         [ Links ]

MEUSER , Philipp. «The Aesthetics of the Plattenbau». Project Russia 25 (Moscú y Ámsterdam: A-Fond / 010 Publishers, 2002)        [ Links ]

RICHARD, Nelly. «La Memoria Social y Política de los Objetos» (entrevista a Pedro Alonso y Hugo Palmarola). The Clinic, 29 de enero de 2015, pp. 24-26.         [ Links ]

1. Pedro Alonso | Architect and Master of Architecture, Catholic University of Chile, 2000. PhD in Architecture from the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, 2008. Along with Hugo Palmarola, Alonso has exhibited at the Pratt Institute and the Architectural Association, has been the author the books Panel and Monolith Controversies, and won the RIBA Research Trust Award and the DAM Architectural Book Award of Deutsches Architekturmuseum. Alongside Palmarola he won the Silver Lion as curator of Monolith Controversies, Chile’s Pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture 2014. Alonso is Associate Professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Visiting Professor at the Architectural Association, and Princeton-Mellon Fellow 2015-2016 at Princeton University.

2. Hugo Palmarola | Designer, Catholic University of Chile, 2004. MA in Theory and History of Design, UNAM, 2010. He has received grants from The Society for the History of Technology, National Science Foundation, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art in USA. Along with Pedro Alonso, Palmarola has exhibited at the Pratt Institute and the Architectural Association, has been the author the books Panel and Monolith Controversies, and won the RIBA Research Trust Award and the DAM Architectural Book Award of Deutsches Architekturmuseum. Alongside Alonso, he won the Silver Lion as curator of Monolith Controversies, Chile’s Pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture 2014. Palmarola is Professor of the School of Design at the Catholic University of Chile.

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