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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.99 Santiago ago. 2018 

Works & projects

Kaukari Park at Copiapó river

Teodoro Fernández1 

Paulina Courard2 

1Profesor Titular, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.

2Académica, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


The opposition between infrastructure and natural landscape is only apparent. At the same time, architecture cannot only ‘temper’ the encounter between both, but also rethink it in radical ways. Here, when commissioned with an hydraulic infrastructure project, architecture operates by ‘rewilding’ the riverbed. Thus, it proves that it is not infrastructure that destroys landscapes, ecosystems and communities, but rather the lack of care in its design.

Keywords: infrastructure; landscape; city; rewilding; riverbed

Located south of the Atacama Desert, the city of Copiapó is founded on the north bank of the homonymous river valley. In recent decades, however, the city has expanded to the south bank, occupying an agricultural area of over 200 hectares. Although the river has not carried water for years - the citizens remember with nostalgia the small stream that irrigated their orchards and where the children used to bathe - for Copiapó, the river is the element that signals the territorial scale of the city. However, the damaging use given to its bed - as a place to throw construction debris and mining waste - transformed it into a marginal space that accentuated the division of the city and interrupted the continuity of the river’s flow as green space.

When we started construction in 2010, the river’s flood control structures against large floods (for a period of 100 years) were only half-built. They not only ignored whether its section was urban or rural, but also the natural condition of the river in times of drought. Thus, a misunderstood engineering project had turned the river into a deposit of rubbish, debris and mining tailing right in the city center, dividing it, yet secured. The standard solution transformed it into a riverbed with a flat bottom and side walls to contain the flood, which ultimately prevented the access to its riverbanks. A river transformed into a canal.

In this context, considering both the degradation and hydraulic problems of the Copiapó river, the project proposes its regeneration and integration as an open space for daily use; namely, an area that works as a public space all year long, both in times of drought and large floods. The Kaukari park project faces these aspects in an extension of 3.5 km, arguing that the river should not only serve as a drainage element for the basin, but should become the focus of the city, linking it to the valley, the region, and its landscape.

Hydraulic proposal

Source: © Teodoro Fernández

Figure 2 River bed, previous state 

We proposed a type section for different flows that could simultaneously allow for the activity of flora, fauna and humans. In addition, we studied more than 100 sections with different variations, meanders, widths, slopes, banks and containments to respond to different situations.

For the Kaukari park area, we proposed dividing the cross section of the river into at least four spaces. The deepest, inner one is the permanent flow, designed for the 2-year flood, with widths ranging between 6 and 10 meters. Here, the natural bed is cleared and the bottom is practically flat; thus, the river’s meanders will attenuate its slope and speed. The only activity allowed is pedestrian crossing.

Then, there is a canal for the flood of up to 20 years, with widths between 10 and 30 meters. The slopes have up to 10 percent inclination; endemic vegetation growing in them (mainly Brea and grasses) and only walking activities are allowed.

Next, there is the section for the centenary flood. The slopes - with a maximum inclination of 20 percent - are protected with rocks to prevent erosion during floods. Towards the center, the slopes have a foundation 2 meters deep to avoid the expansion of the central stream. The coverings should allow walking and may have native vegetation or low height plants; there may also be ground work (sidewalks, ramps, etc.) that do not impede the water’s flow. Activities of contemplation, walk, rest or games without fixed elements are allowed.

Finally, the section has a free border of 1 meter to contain eventualities (waves or elements that exceed the water level of the highest flood). Given that the width of the entire section is between 60 and 80 meters, this additional border allowed to contain almost double of the projected flow, as occurred with the floods of 2015 and 2017.


Source: © Teodoro Fernández

Figure 3 


Figure 4 Project’s location at Copiapó. N. S. 

The park is divided into sections between bridges, each with its own character. The first, built in 2013, has a civic character. In the second section, in use since January 2018, the banks have different characteristics: in the north bank there are walkways that connect to squares, fairs and family play spaces; in the south bank, the old mine tailings deposit is solved with a mound that functions as a viewpoint towards the river, the park, the city and the hills that surround the valley. To incorporate the tailings into the public space (considering that the material is highly polluting), an 'encapsulation' was carried out, protecting both the underground water and the air.

On the north bank of the third section there is an outdoor auditorium, courts, pergolas and informal play areas; the south bank is made up of small squares and neighborhood play spaces. Section four incorporates, along the north bank, the El Pretil park next to parking lots, a lagoon/wetland and facilities for the existing medialuna (a half-moon shaped enclosure used in Chilean rodeo). On the south bank, the Atlético Municipal stadium project is incorporated, transforming the area into a large sports complex. This section will be the next stage to be constructed.

In addition to the pavements that ensure universal accessibility, we designed a series of prefabricated concrete elements that not only serve as a common language and detailing, but also facilitate the construction and ensures its quality. Pergolas and services have also been designed (administration, pump rooms, irrigation ponds, public toilets and kiosks).

Source: © Teodoro Fernández

Figure 5 


Figure 6 Projected river floods. N. S. 


If for Mumford (1938) “a region is the scale for the study of a city,” in Chile planning continues to divide the territory between urban and rural: the urban governed by Regulatory Plans and the rural abandoned to its fate. The alluvium suffered in the Copiapó Valley on May 12, 2017, showed that the two kilometers of the Kaukari Park were the only section where the river did not overflow. Even so, the local and regional authorities have commissioned a new project with the aim that, in its 42 km extension (including the 3.5 km from Kaukari), the river does not overflow. This seems a regression, since it implies that everything outside the urban area is projected with a single section - a canal-type - rejecting the possibilities opened by more than 100 sections proposed in the development of the Kaukari park.

Figure 7 Plans 

Source: © Rodrigo Opazo

Source: © Philippe Blanc

Figure 9 

Figura 10 Details. Published scale 1: 125 

Figure 11 Cross sections. Published scale 1: 1.000 

Kaukari Park at Copiapó river

Architects: Teodoro Fernández Arquitectos. Teodoro Fernández, Paulina Courard, Macarena Gaete, Milva Pesce, Benjamín López

Contributors: Claudio Torres, Alejandra Vásquez

Location: Copiapó, Chile

Client: Seremi Vivienda y Urbanismo, Región de Atacama

Hydraulic engineering: Bonifacio Fernández

Structural engineering: Romina Aranda

Structural design: Antonio Ramírez Urra

Electrical system: PROINGEL, Mauricio Camus

Mechanical engineering: Patricio Moya

Urban Design: Luis Eduardo Bresciani, Arquitecto Urbanista

Lightning: Limarí Ligthing Design, Pascal Chautard Iluminación

Agronomic consultant: Ximena Nazal

Budget: 40 US/m2

Built surface: 600.000 m2

Project year: 2011-2013

Construction year: 2013-2018

Photographs: Philippe Blanc, Rodrigo Opazo

Source: © Philippe Blanc

Figure 12 


Contain, restore, connect: landscape as infrastructure

Urban rivers have historically posed important challenges for urban planning in Chilean cities, especially when their physical presence has been accompanied by unstable and changing hydrological regimes, as occurs in the rivers of North and Central Chile given the seasonal torrent condition which generally characterizes them. From the first canalizations and embankments built during the colony and the first republican decades, to the current fluvial defenses, infrastructures and public spaces projected around their banks, rivers have demanded a constant attention of diverse technical fields for their domination and use. Additionally, the contemporary panorama presents new challenges that not only refer to a technical operational dimension, but to a cultural and environmental conception that - from intellectual, citizen and political spheres - determines the need for a more integral approach towards the management of urban rivers as complex socioecological systems,4 in a growing state of vulnerability as a result of the anthropic activities derived from industrialization and urban expansion processes taking place over the last few decades. Critically, the deterioration of the beds, banks and ecosystems of urban rivers have compromised their capacities to contain the occurrence of floods and alluvions, which increasingly affect neighboring territories and communities.

Copiapó River constitutes a paradigmatic example that expresses in its recent history several of these problems. In a period of just over 30 years, due to the systematic exploitation of water for the development of the mining industry, the traditional landscape of its banks, articulated by riparian vegetation, agricultural crops and recreational uses, was replaced by a sequence of extractive works, debris deposits and mining tailings. In this scenario, from 2011 the Kaukari Park project began to be developed by Teodoro Fernandez Arquitectos. Throughout its 60 hectares, the Park aims to recover the Copiapó River as a public space, hydrological system and green corridor, through the design of riverside walks, terraced squares, revegetation of banks and tree lines, with special attention to the use of suitable species to survive in arid contexts and materials coherent with the aesthetics and culture of the desert. In formal terms, one of the most remarkable aspects is the configuration of diverse connections to access the river bed, through ramps, stairs and slopes, offering an experience that revitalizes the ancestral relationship of the communities with the river, this time in a context of urbanity that reclaims it as a public space.

In March 2015, heavy rainfall generated an unprecedented increase in the waterflow volume of Copiapó River, equivalent to a return period of more than 100 years, accompanied by several alluvions that affected the city. The phenomenon to which Kaukari Park was exposed redefined the scope of this project and the disciplinary responsibility of landscape architecture itself, in terms of its contribution to risk management and urban resilience.5 Transcending the accessory operations that concur in landscape and public space projects in regional cities, Kaukari highlights the value of essential operations that, as various authors point out, converge on the idea of landscape as infrastructure.6 It is here, in this discussion about what is strictly necessary, that one can make the choice of a landscape design approach that can prevail facing scenarios of changes, vulnerabilities and disasters. From this perspective, a landscape is revealed as a potential territorial infrastructure, generating adaptive capacities through projects that allow the articulation of natural and anthropic systems, the evolution of its components over time and the development of flexible programs, which can still promote the evocation of its aesthetic and cultural values.

Source: © Philippe Blanc

Figure 13 


Source: © Philippe Blanc

Figure 14 



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* Teodoro Fernández Arquitectos

Since 1992, Teodoro Fernández Arquitectos has developed a line of landscape projects for the Chilean central areas from the perspective of water care, soil consolidation and integration of biodynamic criteria. Among his works are Quitralmán farm’s park (Mulchén, 2000), Los Robles vineyard’s ecological corridors (Nancahua, 2003), green areas at the urbanization La Reserva (Santiago, 2003), and landscaping at Chocalán vineyard (Melipilla, 2004). It has also been awarded the first prize in the competitions for the Inés de Suárez Park (Providencia, 1992), Bicentenario Park (Vitacura, 1999-2010) and the remodeling of Quinta Normal Park. He is currently developing Antofagasta’s Coast Park project, first prize awarded in 2017.

** Osvaldo Moreno

Architect, University of Chile, 2003. Master in Landscape, Environment and City, 2007, doctoral studies in Architecture and Urban Planning, National University of La Plata. ALFA Pehuén Program Scholarship, 2005-2006, and Erasmus Mundus European Commission Scholarship, 2013. Author of several journal articles and book chapters in Mexico, Argentina, Spain and Chile. Director of Master in Landscape Architecture UC and Assistant Professor, School of Architecture, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Professor at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, Universidad de Chile.

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