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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.101 Santiago abr. 2019 


Seven degrees of freedom: policies, architecture, political architectures. Arica during the long decade of the sixties.

Horacio Torrent1 

María de la Paz Faúndez2 

Javier Ruiz3 

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

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

3 Profesor, Escuela de Arquitectura, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile.


If modern architecture advocated - at least conceptually - for an emancipating horizon in political terms, its ultimate goal would be verified in the degrees of freedom it was able to deliver. Analyzing the case of the city of Arica in the sixties, this text shows how those degrees of freedom surpassed the conceptual level implemented in concrete architectures.

Keywords: freedom; city; history; heritage; research

The raison d’être of politics is freedom, and its field of experience is action. (Arendt, 1996:158)

Degrees of freedom

As one of man’s actions on the face of the earth, architecture is often political; it is through politics that it establishes its possibilities of changing the world and of constituting itself as policy.2 At the same time, these possibilities appeal to the restraints on the possibility of doing, to the restrictions on actions; that is, to freedom.

The expression ‘degrees of freedom’ usually refers to the restrictions that a mechanism may have to perform movements. It also indicates the number of independent observations that can be made on a single sample. Here, it is offered to identify the possibilities of framing that politics has on architecture and also the possibilities that design tools give to political action.

In particular, the following work exposes how policies promoting development gave architecture a key role and, specially, to modern architecture - given its projective sense capable of providing legibility to political action. It shows how architecture exercised degrees of freedom in the use of modern design instruments and their liberating condition in order to ascribe meaning, in each case, to a particular relationship with the citizens, subjects of development policies.

Arica, in the north of Chile, represented a field of experience where a political action that would change a dormant destiny into a project of progress was deployed, and where notions of modern architecture related to freedom would be key. The ‘long decade of the sixties’ refers to the historical period beginning in the late 50s and closing in the 70s, where expectations of change dominated the social and political scene while promoting, in the broad field of architecture and those disciplines related to the city, the development of new concepts and theories. During that long period, coinciding with the experience of the Junta de Adelanto de Arica (Arica’s Development Board) (JAA), the expectations regarding a new architecture took shape both in the arguments behind the architects’ political action and in the major buildings that account for the projective exercise of freedom.

The beginnings, Free Port

After years demanding attention, Arica became part of a strategy intended to promote regional development and to balance the palpable gap in the country’s human settlements growth. Since the 1929 Treaty between Chile and Perú, the city had subsisted by its own means and determination.

In 1953, with the Free Port, the area of Arica was declared as a “liberated region,” allowing “any ship, aircraft or other vehicle, to enter and exit freely without paying duties or taxes,” extensive to the merchandise transported by those vehicles “for use, consumption or free circulation within the liberated region” (DFL 303, 1953). In fact, “the objective of the port liberation was none other than to stimulate the economic recovery of the liberated zone whose state of depression was obviously disturbing”; demographic and international political reasons ascertained that it was “imperative to foster the establishment and settlement of the Chilean inhabitants in the area of Arica by granting adequate incentives” (Lang, 1962:2), since the economic rise of Tacna was leading to a migration towards the neighboring country.

The freedom provided by the Free Port was basically economic and, although it operated in the field of customs duties, it also promoted a new political framework. The regime, of exceptional features, subtracted that area of the country from the general and uniform regulation of the rest and granted it a number of liberties, being thus possible to assume an extraterritoriality from the customs point of view.

The benefits of the Free Port regime have been the subject of many controversies, mainly because the establishment of new industries was far less than expected. However, it is well known that informal economic activities triggered a dynamic that stimulated a certain growth registered not only in the economic area, but mainly in an increase of population seeking for employment, doubling the size of the city in a decade.

Instituted from a national policy that recognized the need to promote a regional area different from the rest of the country, the idea of the Free Port acted as the matrix for a state of economic freedom. This new state of freedom, however, did not exactly imply the flourishing of a new economy, but it did provide goods from any part of the globe, which initially promoted shopping tours and regional tourism (Marín, 1955). Thus, indirectly, it nurtured the development of a cultural sense that would see Arica as an international city.

To that same time belongs an initial series of notable architectural works, such as the Chinchorro (1955) and Ex Estadio (1957) housing complexes, promoted by the Sociedad Modernizadora de Arica (Arica’s Modernizing Society) and designed by Bresciani, Valdés, Castillo and Huidobro. The accumulation process triggered by the Free Port stimulated an expectation of development in the social and economic environment, constituted a first degree of freedom and initiated a transformation of the city and the region.

New beginnings, public sphere

In 1958, a new character sought to give a better direction to the regional development process. The Junta de Adelanto de Arica (JAA) was created to encourage production and progress within the district. It fixed the features for the investment of the funds coming from the new tributary regime that, although similar in its bases and different in its approach, replaced the Free Port.

The objectives of the JAA were “to study, arrange, coordinate, and plan the execution of all the Works considered necessary for the rural and urban advancement of the district of Arica; for the promotion of its sources of production; for the increase of its commerce, and for the general welfare of its inhabitants” (Law 13.039, 1958). The JAA was in charge of the entire process behind the works, from designs to construction, conservation, and inspection; that is, the promotion of development was established through works, determining the conditions for action.

Source: © Colección Balby Morán

Figure 1 Aerial view. Arica, c. 1960. 

The JAA was conceived as a wide-range representative body, with a participating and plural composition. It was integrated by representatives of political institutions (the governor and the mayor), of key infrastructures (the managers of both the port and the railroad from Arica to La Paz), of economic corporations (the Society for Industrial Development and the Association of the District’s Industries), of laborers (the Workers Central Union and the Confederation of Private Employees), to which were added a representative of the farmers and another of the miners, both designated by free election mechanisms. Plurality was, therefore, a fundamental aspect in decisionmaking, in the arrangement of annual budgets, in the programming of works, and in the definition of public priorities. Plurality and participation signaled a progressive condition for its time, which was asserted in the course of its institutional life until it was dissolved in 1976 within the framework of the State’s transformations that gave way to neoliberal policies (Ruz et al., 2015).

Its organic constitution ensured the two most powerful conditions of political life: action and plurality, giving meaning to the field of experience of freedom. The most important fact was that the JAA became the public sphere par excellence concerning the transformation process intended for both the city and the region. The public sphere, as it was the seat of participation, shared between authorities with a power legitimized through ballot boxes and sectoral representatives, capable of giving meaning to a deliberative space on the future of the city and the region. A public sphere that as a precondition for democratic development and political life, legitimized action.

Source: © Archivo Histórico Vicente Dagnino, Universidad de Tarapacá

Figure 2 Junta de Adelanto de Arica (JAA), Logo c. 1958. 

Source: © Diario El Cronista, Arica, Chile

Figure 3 «1958-1975 Homenaje de Arica a su Junta de Adelanto en el 17º aniversario». Supplement cover 

Action, architecture

The JAA can be considered a paradigm of the development model of the city and architecture, implemented through successive planning figures and with the fulfillment of a large number of public and private works. It promoted development policies through tourism and infrastructure; carried out studies for the city’s regulation plan, as well as the construction of public facilities, buildings, and walkways; in fact, it was behind buildings of remarkable architectural quality such as the ‘Casino’ (dining area), the stadium for the 1962 World Cup, the Saucache Campus of Universidad del Norte, La Lisera beach or the Olympic pool, among many others (Torrent, Ruz, Morán, 2018).

Modern architecture deployed all its possibilities to configure an urban setting in the tropical desert environment. The instruments of modern design, such as the open plan, the simple form, the opening of the architectural box, a spatial relationship between interior and exterior areas, the volume’s porosity and freedom from compositional and structural matrices, were put into action in multiple situations. The formal and spatial experiment was appropriate to climatic conditions while establishing a sense of novelty that offered legibility to the economic and social project offered by political institutions. Modern architecture thus became a system of expression able to identify the new set of actions undertaken by the JAA, while the virtuosity displayed in the buildings set them as unique experiences. The progressive, developmentalist approach of the organism was clearly related to the possibilities opened by modern life, configuring a major architecture laboratory capable of developing the degrees of freedom that novelty imposed on both the discipline and the profession.

While creative freedom can be philosophically conceived as an individual fact - and therefore exempt from political settings - the opportunity to exercise it in the public sphere and a common space, beyond free will and in full relation to social demands, gave architects the possibility of acting outside the coercion that implied professional practice’s traditional criteria. That major architecture laboratory arose then in the space of that new degree of freedom between individual creation and the public sphere.

Civic space, free volume

The institutionalization of modern architecture features as part of the legibility of public and private works within the city offered different approaches. The autonomy of thegeometrically distinct forms of modern architecture, based on the interpretation of formal orders arising from structural freedom, corresponded to a new spatial relationship at the urban level. The slab became the architectural form whose program could be organized in a simple way by means of a regular structure and linear circulations with a free perimeter, asserting compositional freedom at an urban scale.

Source: © Colección Balby Morán

Figure 4 Casino de Arica, c. 1964. 

Source: © Colección Balby Morán

Figure 5 La Lisera beach, c. 1960. 

The positive transformation of the city needed also to be registered in the center itself. Although studies for the civic center were several - by the Master plan office at the JAA, by the CORMU, and later the sectional by Emilio Duhart - the works themselves, rather than the plans, imposed specific design options. The application of the podium and tower strategy at a moderate urban scale allowed mediating between the traditional urban form and the freedom of modern architecture’s configurations, instituting a degree of freedom in the modern block.

The design by Bolton, Larraín, Prieto, Lorca for the local headquarters of the Bank of Credit and Investments was approved in October 1966 and sparked off a debate that shows awareness of the building’s importance in configuring public space (Pérez, 1967). Facing the main square and next to the church of San Marcos, its location defined the civic field par excellence.

To absorb the plot’s slope, the building is placed on a plinth similar in height to that of the church’s base. The podium is clearly defined by the definition of a material line on top of the room that houses the bank, dominated by the transparency of glass. Most of the main facade is set back, allowing the positioning of a staircase (later demolished), an entrance hall, and a few planters that follow the building’s entire front. On top of the podium, the free volume shows the regularity of the structure determining the windows, while a large vertical plane takes the whole dimension of the tower, creating an urban sign that accompanies the cathedral’s tower.

The square’s configuration would take a more definitive form with the subsequent incorporation of the Public Employees Provident Fund building, designed by the same architects and repeating the strategy of a low and free block on top of a podium, where horizontal lines predominated over the balanced regularity of the first building, expanding the sense of lightness and freedom of the form. A new degree of freedom was exercised, in which restrictions were assumed in the podium and in which the shape of a new urban fabric was detached from the conditions of the traditional layout, enhancing the modern block.

Source: © Colección Balby Morán

Figure 6 Arica’s main square, Bank of Credit and Investments local headquarters and the church of San Marcos, c. 1970. 

Source: Fondecyt 1181290

Figure 7 Bank of Credit and Investments local headquarters 

Free floor, continuous floor

The design for the Public Services building showed the use of the open plan as a key instrument of modern architecture. The condition of freedom of the structure with respect to the program was emphasized to give continuity to the urban land, take advantage of the slope, and assert the public condition of the building. Designed in 1966 by Raúl Marín Moreno at the Architecture Department of the Ministry of Public Works, it was intended to gather the offices of various tax agencies. Given its location, it answered to the civic center status suggested in several urban plans, but it was an isolated building, with character and hierarchy, with a strong form capable of accounting for its social and public importance.

The building adopts the typology of a quadrangle, that is to say, a single-level square-plan ring, standing on a regular scheme of rectangular pillars supported on a continuous basement. The piano nobile’s surface is meant for public use, with a main courtyard that shapes the void and has the stairs and circulations that connect the public surface in the piano nobile with a terrace open to the public on the top level.

The upper quadrangle has a compact appearance due to its few windows; it rests on the recessed intermediate two-story body, leaving in the open the system of pillars that shows the existence of a module ordering the alternated openings. The base assumes the site’s slope, evident also in the public catwalk parallel to one of its facades, connecting through a staircase both street levels. The walkway reinforces the building’s permeability by liberating the four corners and creating terraces that connect the street with the interior patio. These operations, hierarchized by the open plan, gave meaning to the making of a public and continuous ground, reinforcing the civic and political character of the building.

Source: © Archivo Histórico Vicente Dagnino, Universidad de Tarapacá

Figure 8 Arica’s Public Services building, 1965 

Source: Fondecyt 1181290

Figure 9 Arica’s Public Services. 

Indifferent grid, free program

The notion of an undifferentiated grid that allowed the free disposition of the program seemed a possibility of overcoming modern architecture’s object condition. The option of an instrument such as the grid constituted a further step in the liberation of the restraints over form, as it allowed thinking on totality and simultaneity.

Mauricio Despouy’s project for Universidad de Chile’s Campus Velázquez, built between 1966 and 1967, took on the challenge of indifference as a degree of freedom both in the variability of the program as in its formal configuration.

At a point where the slope towards the sea establishes a significant difference in height, a horizontal one-story building was proposed, forming a podium on top of which a wide terrace was related to the urban layout by means of bridges and stairs. A large patio was designed between the avenue and the mat building, featuring a three-story slab supported on circular columns and defined at the top by a system of rough concrete brise soleil. The building is made of a series of pavilions for classrooms, workshops, laboratories, and offices, punctuated with courtyards. The configuration of this horizontal building was organized by establishing a leading direction following the relationship between the main gallery and the longitudinal patio that mirrors it. It was not an actual mat building ‘knitted’ according to the main guidelines, but rather a continuous monumental volumen interfering in the landscape, building an urban edge that, theoretically, could have been extended following the geographic features defining the urban coast.

A continuous and homogeneous grid organizes a supporting structure in modules according to sizes, as a neutral field where freedom in both programmatic organization and use conception is the main characteristic. A similar grid, without any clear recognition of spatial hierarchies except for the aula magna, establishes a new relationship with nature through courtyards and corridors, as well as through the gallery and the linear garden on the slope. The most evocative feature is the tension between a kind of architecture arising from an object conception, as in the rough concrete slab, and another more infrastructural one, as a system of territorial occupation, based on that conceptual grid that is asserted through the disposition of the main structure and provides degrees of freedom to each specific spatial configuration.

Source: © Archivo Histórico Vicente Dagnino, Universidad de Tarapacá

Figure 10 Universidad de Chile, campus Velázquez, c. 1970. 

Source: Fondecyt 1181290

Figura 11 Universidad de Chile, campus Velázquez. 

Free ground, single ceiling

The indeterminacy of the plan by the structure bearing the ceiling can be considered one of the greatest degrees of freedom in any architectural project. It ensures variability in use and program layout as well as adaptation to the users’ dynamics.

Independence between plan and ceiling is the key to the possibilities in Arica Bus Station. In a program such as that of a bus station, the supporting structure often over-determines spatial features; here, however, the design option eludes that restriction to asume a degree of freedom in design and use. Conceived between 1970-72 by Pablo de Carolis and Raúl Pellegrin, and built in 1976, it is organized through a square-shaped plan where the ground is treated as an indeterminate geography while the ceiling assumes the single form of a truncated pyramid.

Its interior appears as a system of levels, circulations, and stairs that distributes the program on the ground floor, following the buses’ platforms, and on the second floor in an open platform, which allows watching traffic from above and yet be isolated at the same time.

The ceiling, supported by a continuous perimeter wall that opens only when related to the platforms, is configured by a pyramidal stereometric structure in which the repetition of small pieces and the system of welded joints makes a definite character. The circulation system offers a closed walkway made of reinforced concrete that intersects the ceiling’s structure connecting the street level with the inner platform. Like a tube appealing to some technological imagery, it articulates the interior paths and expands the system beyond the limits of the ceiling.

The logic behind the design is explicit: the ceiling manages to gather, unify and, therefore, spatialize, the paths and actions that take place below it. The ground acts as an artificial topography determined by a system of circulations and is free of any structural intervention, without any dependence on the ceiling, which embraces it and offers it its possibilities and its sense of freedom.

Source: © Colección Balby Morán

Figura 12 Arica Bus Station, c. 1976 

Source: Fondecyt 1181290

Figura 13 Arica Bus Station 

Political architectures

The question then is to accept the key issue: can freedom be expressed in the form of an architectural project? The field of experience established in Arica around the sixties shows the world of possibilities between architecture and freedom. That field was initially enabled by a liberated zone, exempt from the constraints imposed by the economic regime of the central State, establishing thus its first degree of freedom. The common space of politics instituted in the plurality of the JAA ’s composition and the public sphere shaped by the sense of development proposed for the future reaffirmed a second degree of freedom.

The JAA’s progressive agenda and its action through the virtuosity of countless works shaped the common laboratory of design freedom. Four buildings coming from that action, and produced from the new roles aspired for the architect, show the gradation of the values that freedom could assume in the transition from the most consolidated forms of modern tradition to the experimentalism of advanced conceptions. It was in these advances that the freedom of conceptual instruments from the modern project prefigured the spatial, programmatic, and formal freedom of the buildings.

The exercise of these degrees of freedom, in the political arena, in architecture, shaped the reality of the experience in Arica. The decisive difference between possibilities and facts was that “it is men who perform them - men who because they have received the twofold gift of freedom and action can establish a reality of their own,” as Hannah Arendt affirmed (1996:183), and who wisely also warned that:

Even today, whether we know it or not, the question of politics and the fact that man is a being endowed with the gift of action must always be present to our mind when we speak of the problem of freedom; for action and politics, among all capabilities and potentialities of human life, are the only things of which we could not even conceive without at least assuming that freedom exists, and we can hardly touch a single political issue without, implicitly or explicitly, touching upon an issue of man’s liberty (Arendt, 1996: 158).

As the historical experience in Arica shows during the long decade of the sixties, architecture, as both an action in the shared common space and a field of experience - the place for life itself -, will not only be political but will have freedom as its raison d’etre.


ARENDT, Hannah. Entre el pasado y el futuro. Ocho ejercicios sobre la reflexión política. Barcelona: Península, 1996. [ Links ]

ARENDT, Hannah. La condición humana. Barcelona: Paidós, 1993. [ Links ]

DFL 303. Diario Oficial de la República de Chile, 5 de Agosto de 1953. [ Links ]

LANG, Alena. Puerto libre de Arica. Santiago de Chile: Tesis de Licenciatura, Universidad de Chile, 1962. [ Links ]

Ley 13.039. Diario Oficial de la República de Chile, 15 de Octubre de 1958. [ Links ]

PÉREZ, Hermógenes. (1967) Carta a la Dirección de Obras Municipales, 7 marzo 1967. Plano Regulador, Oficina de Urbanismo, Junta de Adelanto de Arica. Archivo DOM. Municipalidad de Arica. [ Links ]

RUZ, R.; GALDAMES, L; DÍAZ ARAYA, A. Junta de Adelanto de Arica (1958-1976). Experiencia, Documentos e Historia Regional. Arica: Ediciones Universidad de Tarapacá, 2015. [ Links ]

TORRENT, Horacio; RUZ, Rodrigo; MORÁN, Balby. «Arquitecturas para la institucionalización del desarrollo: tres dimensiones en la obra de la Junta de Adelanto de Arica». En Patrimonio Moderno y sustentabilidad: de la ciudad al territorio, Torrent, Barría et al., 124-128. Valdivia: Docomomo Chile, Universidad Austral, 2018. [ Links ]

* Horacio Enrique Torrent Schneider Architect, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina, 1985. Master in Architecture, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2001. Doctor in Architecture, Universidad Nacional de Rosario, Argentina, 2006. Has authored a significant number of articles on Latin American modern architecture and contemporary Chilean architecture. Conducted research at the Canadian Center for Architecture, the Getty Institute for the Arts and the Humanities, the National Gallery of Arts in Washington, and the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut in Berlin. Was awarded the Research Prize at the Ibero-American Architecture and Urbanism Biennial, 2006. President of Docomomo Chile. Tenure Professor at the School of Architecture UC.

** María de la Paz Faúndez Architect, Master of Architecture, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile 2017. Among her topics of interest are the development of modern architecture in Chile and the relationship between gender studies and architecture. Has worked as a teaching assistant for different courses in the area of theory, history and criticism. Currently serves as instructor professor at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile and research assistant in the Fondecyt project 1181290.

*** Javier Ruiz Architect, Master of Architecture, Pontificia Universidad de Chile 2018. Author of the essay “From Utopia to the Island on the Laja” (Anales de Arquitectura 2017-2018, Ediciones ARQ, 2018). He currently works as teaching assistant with Cristóbal Amunátegui and Rodrigo Pérez de Arce at MARQ UC.

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