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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.101 Santiago abr. 2019 

Works & projects

What if we tear the wall down? Empowered owners, mutant houses and the twilight of confined architecture

Tomás Errázuriz1 

Carolina Sepúlveda2 

Juan Bravo3 

1 Profesor asociado, Campus Creativo, Universidad Andres Bello, Santiago, Chile.

2 Master in Design Studies, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University, USA.

3 Arquitecto, Universidad Andrés Bello, Santiago, Chile.


As long as it does not affect others - as in the public space or in society’s self-imposed rules - an owner is free to do whatever he wants within his property. Architecture does not always contemplate that kind of freedom, to the point that it could go against its own values. The survey of the changes made to a house by Luciano Kulczewski allows observing how freedom to intervene operates indifferent to architecture.

Keywords: freedom; building; processes; essay; domestic space

Source: Drawing of Simón Morgado

Figure 1 Luciano Kulczewski, Casa Castañón, Ñuñoa, 1930. Original floorplan. 

Source: Drawing of Simón Morgado

Figure 2 Luciano Kulczewski, Casa Castañón, Ñuñoa, 1930. Mutations - Intervention. Legend: 1. of grapevine on wooden structure in the yard, c. 1960. 2. Dividing walls’ protection made out of broken glasses, c. 1960. 3. Extension of the plot’s corner, c. 1960. 4. Modification of gas appliances and kitchen dishwasher, c. 1990. 5. Construction of warehouse in the north sector of the house, c. 1990. 6. Removal of internal walls on first level, c. 2000. 7. Roofing and enclosing of second-level terrace for workspace, 2002. 8. Change the workspace’s floors to ceramic, 2002. 9. Change of main bathroom’s floors to porcelain stoneware, 2002. 10. Change in window frame material, from Wood to aluminum, 2002. 11. Installation of security bars in windows, 2006. 12. Bathroom construction on first floor, 2006. 13. Opening of east vehicular access, 2008. 14. Change of access exterior surface to slate stone, 2008. 15. Second level floor change to carpet, 2008. 16. Implementation of polished cement slab for parking, 2008. 17. Exterior surface change to flagstones, 2008. 18. Incorporation of shading in exterior wooden structure, 2008. 19. Incorporation of external sink in existing closet, 2008. 20. Water heater installation, 2008. 21. General remodeling of first level bathroom cladding, 2008. 22. General remodeling of first level bathroom (artifacts and finishing) 2008. 23. Slab construction in main access yard, 2008. 24. General remodeling of second level bathroom (artifacts and finishing) 2008. 25. Remodeling of kitchen artifacts and furniture, 2008. 26. Opening of new pedestrian Access, 2009. 27. Loggia opening and water heater installation, north warehouse interior, 2010. 28. Opening of loggia laundry, 2010. 29. Construction of east warehouse for objects and small vehicles, 2010. 30. Closure of east warehouse area at main access patio, 2010. 31. Façade covering with granulated stucco, 2010. 32. Construction of bathroom inside north warehouse, 2010. 33. Installation of metal fence in patio for pet isolation, 2015. 34. Change to engineering Wood floor, 2015. 35. Placement of perimeter safety fence, 2015. 

What would Luciano Kulczewski say if he saw how the house he designed in 1930 for Ana Castañón was transformed over the years (mutations that are illustrated in the following pages)? What would many architects say if they could go back to the houses they once imagined, designed, and assessed their faithful transfer from drawings to building?

The trajectory of disciplinary-originated residential architecture has rested on the notion of authored work - a work designed and built from scratch from plans and sections. Paradoxically, while the uncertain destiny that awaits these houses is trapped in the sphere of the private, their photographs and original plans have the power to crystallize and ensure the transcendence of that fleeting and idyllic initial moment. The consequences are worrisome. The architect is like a father who treasures and proudly shows photographs of his newborn children, but who knows nothing about who they have grown to be or the life they currently live.

Source: Drawing of Simón Morgado

Figure 3 Luciano Kulczewski, Casa Castañón, Ñuñoa, 1930. Mutations - Occupation. 

What is the point of thinking about a house design as an outcome or final form when its subsequent mutant life becomes evident? Would it

be better to migrate towards more receptive design strategies that enable this nature? Evidence of this need is the legitimacy of the so-called ‘Sketch Law’ (Law 20,898) that since the late 1990s offers the possibility of legalizing the huge number of expansions and modifications that affect small houses. Contrary to what could be concluded from such legislation or from the literature available,

mutability in domestic architecture is not exclusive of the lowest-income sectors.

It is surprising that the unique traces of a designer such as Kulczewski back down silently to give space to a myriad of requirements that the different dwellers had for this house. Unknown to experts, the Castañón house is definitely not one of the architect’s representative works. Its current form and each of the steps that gave rise to this ‘mutant’ result are representative of the changes affecting its residents, neighborhood, and city. The home was fenced and fortified in response to the importance acquired by security; the need to house several cars favored the construction of a hard courtyard and a new access point; storage spaces increased through the construction of exterior rooms; the second level was expanded to accommodate a call center that worked there for a few years; walls were thrown and the distribution of several rooms changed; a new bathroom was added and all artifacts and furniture in the other bathrooms, as well as the kitchen’s, were renewed; facades were coated, floors, doors, and Windows changed, and so on. And life goes on. New alterations (not recorded in these drawings) are being made while these words are written and countless future designs wait for their moment.

Source: Drawing of Simón Morgado

Figure 4 Luciano Kulczewski, Casa Castañón, Ñuñoa, 1930. Mutations - Occupation. Detail. 

Source: Drawing of Simón Morgado

Figure 5 Luciano Kulczewski, Casa Castañón, Ñuñoa, 1930. Mutations - Occupation. Detail. 

The increase in residential, labor, and family mobility, added to shifts in trends and lifestyles, certainly has consequences on living spaces. The house is valued to the extent that it stresses its potential condition: its ability to work as an open project and a tangible expression of individual freedom, in order to welcome the innumerable needs of those who inhabit it.

The acceptance of this mutant condition - though little explored by the architectural discipline - is validated daily by a culture that conceives the house as a space of freedom. Far from the idea of the container for domestic life, the house is a place for investment and a platform for consumption. It is a kind of hardware whose validity and value depend on the well-timed installation of a series of updates and improvements. This condition is reinforced by the empowerment brought by the diy culture manifested in the explosion of tutorials, reports, and shows on houses that are transformed, or the commercial success of large stores that provide the materials and tools for concreting such projects.

Looking to overcome the obvious statement that ‘architecture changes over time,’ the ‘chrono floor plans’ executed as a complement to this text are an invitation, on the one hand, to question the confined nature of the architectural project - restricted to design and building moments - and, on the other, to reflect on the mutant lives that these houses have despite their creators’ wishes. Finally, we must not forget that although today we recognize these mutations as exclusively material, everything indicates that in the short term the proliferation of augmented reality experiences will involve a whole new spectrum of mutations.

Once established these insurmountable distances, the only thing left needed is the courage to undertake that healthy exercise that involves questioning disciplinary bases and to appeal to the urgent need to create new languages that allow the architect to keep participating actively in the building of the contemporary domestic world.

* Tomás Errázuriz Historian, Doctorate in Architecture and Urban Studies, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Has been a researcher for Milenio (ICM), Fondecyt, Fondart and has been awarded other funds, scholarships and prizes from institutions such as Conicyt, Mecesup, University of Sydney, The Society for the History of Technology, Guggenheim Foundation, and T2M, among others. Additionally, he co-directs Editorial Bifurcaciones, a publishing house devoted to urban cultural studies, and the collective Cosas Maravillosas. He is currently Associate professor at Campus Creativo Universidad Andrés Bello and partner at Reddo Arquitectura.

** Carolina Sepúlveda Architect, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile (2014). Candidate for the Master in Design Studies, Harvard University GSD (2020). Her work focuses on the interception of art, architecture and design, with a focus on contemporary issues such as politics, gender, the media, or social movements. Has worked as a coordinator for different architectural exhibitions, such as Housing, What’s Next? (Washington DC, 2018) for the idb , the Chile’s Architecture and Urbanism Biennale (Valparaíso, 2017), and El espacio entre las cosa, by the architects Emilio Marín and Juan Carlos López for liga DF (Mexico City, 2014).

*** Juan Guillermo Bravo Architect, Bachelor of Arts, Universidad Andrés Bello (2018). His projects and research work focus on the relationships between public space and social housing, especially in vulnerable urban sectors. Has also developed projects on the role of architecture in educational institutions, with an interest in the relationships between architecture and politics, philosophy, or psychoanalysis.

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