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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.101 Santiago abr. 2019 

Works & projects

The unpredictable and the BC house

Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez1 

1 Profesor Asociado, Universidad de las Américas, Santiago, Chile.


When it means the carefully planned restriction of possibilities, control is

the opposite of freedom. But what architecture usually does is precisely that: under the goal of giving place to certain predicted activities, design

limits movement and, therefore, it blocks or hinders possibilities. As a way to achieve higher degrees of freedom, this house shifts the focus: by welcoming unpredictability it shows a way of designing in which control is rendered unnecessary.

Keywords: freedom; building; design; history; project

Source: © Sebastián Mejía

Figure 1. 

What if we leave behind the obsolete notion of the architect as an engineer/artist, that pompous ideal of a genius that complements his/her technical-positivist certainties with inspiration and sensitivity? And what if we take the architect as an oracle? Projecting is anticipating what will or will not happen, that is, practicing futurology. If we accept this prophetic condition, we face two alternatives: the predictable and the unpredictable.

Source: © Sebastián Mejía  

The predictable

Not only do we know in advance the weather and transport times (including the inconveniences), but we also find predictions everywhere. While economists are confidently foreseeing growth, deceleration or returns, and stockbrokers capitalize future bonds and companies’ values, some architects state that by “combining extensive global experience with robust and sophisticated technologies, we forecast the effects of planning and design decisions on the movement and interaction of people in buildings.”

The unpredictable

First, let’s agree that we are not able to predict the future (something quite obvious, but easy to forget in the face of such current display of certainties). Then, we can transform this future uncertainty into value. As a counterpoint to the overdetermination of life, Hal Foster (2002) raises the need for spaces of maneuver or tolerance - spielraum - where the new, the unpredictable, freedom or creativity can develop.

Source: © Sebastián Mejía

Figure 3 

Control freaks

Jonathan Hill identifies two methods traditionally used by architects to establish hierarchical relationships about users:

The first, the denial of the user, assumes that the building need not be occupied for it to be recognized as architecture and the second, the control of the user, attributes to the user forms of behavior acceptable to the architect. To imply that they can predict uses, architects promote models of experience that suggest a manageable passive and user, unable to transform use, space and meaning (Hill, 2003:9).

Adrian Forty suggests an even more perverse relationship by understanding the flexibility - usually associated with freedom - as a control mechanism:

The purpose of ‘flexibility’ within modernist architectural discourse was a way of dealing with the contradiction that arose between the expectation, so well articulated by Gropius, that the architect’s ultimate concern in designing buildings was with their human use and occupation, and the reality that the architect’s involvement in a building ceased at the very moment that occupation began. The incorporation of ‘flexibility’ into the design allowed architects the illusion of projecting their control over the building into the future, beyond the period of their actual responsibility for it (Forty, 2000:143).

As a counterpoint, in his essay “The Death of the Author,” Roland Barthes (1977) questions the author’s authority, recognizes that the movement author-text-reader is never direct or univocal, and states that reading is a creative act through which each reader builds a new text. In turn, from a semiological perspective and based on studies of musical experiences, Umberto Eco suggests in Obra abierta (1992) the possibility of the reader, user, or audience to ‘interpret’ works and ultimately complete them. Finally, Jonathan Hill himself (2003) understands use as a creative activity in which each user builds a new building. Considering these ideas, two strategies apply to design processes: incorporating the possibility of change by deprogramming spaces and offering an active role to architecture’s audiences by getting used to a lack of control.

Figure 4 Detail section. S. 1: 50 

Figure 5 Cross section. S. 1: 100 

Figure 6 Isometric metal piece prefabrication model. N. S. 

Figure 7 Inner modules sketch. N. S. 

Deprogramming spaces

Even if living and working or eating and sleeping could justifiably be termed activities, that still does not mean that they make specific demands on the space in which they are to take place- it is the people who make specifics demands because they wish to interpret one and the same function in their own specific ways (Hertzberger, 1991:127).

In the bc house, there is no predetermined space for the family’s living room, the daily dining room, the master bedroom or the service bedroom; there is no office, no children’s playroom or loggia. The project could be defined as a metal shed with a series of enclosures modules inside, and a series of indeterminate spaces between these enclosures. Actually, two categories of volumes were designed: technical-functional volumes (including bathrooms and a small storage/washing area) and neutral volumes (potential places to sleep, store or work). There are also spaces between volumes, which have

the highest degree of programmatic indeterminacy. Physically, both the volumes and the spaces between them are defined by specific conditions. That is, there is no mechanical flexibility (things that move and produce change), but flexibility by deprogramming.

User as executor or performer

By incorporating the possibility of change by indetermination, BC house users do not relate to architecture in a contemplative way, but in an active one, applying their creativity to the transformation of spaces and the constant redefinition of the building.

These future modifications can occur because of three design decisions. First, all the neutral volumes have the same dimensions; in addition, two bathrooms have the same distribution and dimensions. This homogeneous infrastructure - non-hierarchical - grants versatility and allows equalizing freedom of the agents that participate in the house. Second, unlike the volumes, the spaces between them have different sizes and locations, enabling different kinds of groupings among participants. Finally, due to the house’s extension, it is possible to

obtain degrees of privacy given by distance and not only by closed enclosures.

Figure 8 Site plan. S. 1: 1.000 

Figure 9 Floorplan. S. 1: 200 

Figure 10 Longitudinal section. S. 1: 200 

Domestic social settings

With the BC house, we questioned the notion of traditional family as the only social organization basis for the design of the home, replacing it with the possibility of granting different configurations for the house’s participants. As an anecdote, the house is currently shared by a couple, two children and a household worker - to which is added the sporadic visit of out of town relatives. Within this specific configuration, the main bathroom and the service bathroom are exactly the same.

Figure 11 

Source: © Sebastián Mejía

Figure 12 

Source: © Sebastián Mejía

Figure 13 

BC House

Architect: Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez

Collaborator: Juan Pablo Valenzuela

Location: Colina, Región Metropolitana, Chile

Structural engineering: Luis Ignacio Correa

Construction: Constructora Leman - Helmuth Meier

Mechanical engineering: Liliana García

Electrical engineering: Juan Carlos Morales

Climate system: Jorge Labarthe

Construction system-materials: Metal structure, brick

Interior and exterior finishing materials: Concrete, wood, glass, RPT aluminum frames, pre-painted steel panels with expanded polystyrene core.

Budget: 1160 USD/ m2

Built area: 209 m2

Plot area: 5000 m2

Project year: 2016

Construction year: 2017

Photographs: Sebastián Mejía


BARTHES, Roland. “The Death of the Author”. En Image-Music-Text. London: Flamingo, 1977. [ Links ]

ECO, Umberto. Obra Abierta. Barcelona: Editorial Planeta De Agostini, 1992. [ Links ]

FORTY, Adrian. Words and Buildings: A Vocabulary of Modern Architecture. New York: Thames & Hudson, 2000. [ Links ]

FOSTER, Hal. Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes). London - New York: Verso, 2002. [ Links ]

HERTZBERGER, Herman. Lessons for Students in Architecture. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 1991. [ Links ]

HILL, Jonathan. Actions of Architecture, Architects and Creative Users. London - New York: Routledge, 2003. [ Links ]

* Rodrigo Valenzuela Jerez Architect, Universidad de Chile (2003), Master of Arts, Visual Arts Major, Universidad de Chile (2011), and Msc in Advance Architectural Design, Columbia University USA (2014). Between 2005 and 2010 co-leads Murúa-Valenzuela architects. Has been awarded the Grand Biennial Prize, XVII Chilean Architecture Biennial for the co-design of Licantén Public Library (2010). Since 2014 has developed architecture projects through EstudioRO - (E)Studio Futur@ and rvjaa. Has been an assistant professor at Columbia University usa (2014-2015), visiting professor at Universidad de Chile (2012) and assistant professor at Universidad Diego Portales (2008-2010). He is currently Associate Professor and Coordinator of Design Area at Universidad de las Américas, Chile.

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