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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  no.102 Santiago ago. 2019 


Remains as adevice: Formal speculations for the three French Embassies designed by Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente

Igor Fracalossi1 

1Docente, Escuela de Arquitectura, Universidad Finis Terrae, Santiago, Chile.


Architectural speculation tends to render its outcome as uncertain. By making a rigorous design method visible, this article shows that, despite being the result of a play of masses and not the consequence of a preconceived decision, the courtyards could be the desired result.

Keywords: speculation; building; design; process; research


In 1970, a series of housing structures prototypes called Kopper’s Mobile Homes - designed by the Chilean architect Guillermo Jullian2 - were built. These had a clear prefabricated construction: T-shaped structural modules made of plywood were arranged in parallel, defining the house’s width and length. Years later, in the French Embassy in Rabat (1979-84), the order was inverted: what was the main solid structure became the opening for the window. The same formal quality persisted, beyond its materials. In all likelihood, pure formal primacy. The T-shaped structure of the Koppers Homes and the T-span of the windows in Rabat are primarily abstract formal configurations, subsequently materialized in their positive or negative form.

Source: Fondo Documental Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente, Centro de Información y Documentación Sergio Larrain García-Moreno, FADEU UC-Chile

Figure 1 T structure, Kopper’s Mobile Homes.  

Source: Pérez de Arce, Rodrigo. Guillermo Jullian: Obra Abierta. Santiago: Ediciones ARQ, 2000

Figure 2 T-span in Windows, Embassy of France in Rabat 


There is no sequence more evident in the work of Jullian than his projects for the three French Embassies (Parametro 68, 1978).

Brasilia, 1971-1973

Figure 3 Embassy of France in Brasilia. 3) Tartan composition resulting from the construction of a hypothetical graphic rule.; 4) Variations and transformations towards the final design; 5) Determining spaces and rooms 

Figure 4 Embassy of France in Brasilia. 6) Transformations as a result of incorporating architectural elements.; 7) Second level floorplan. Based on drawings published in Parametro 68 (1978); multiple documents from the Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente Documentary Fund (CID-SLGM, FADEU, UC-Chile); and multiple plans from the Urban Planning Agency of Rabat; 8) Deduction of key magnitudes.Based on COSTA, Claudia. «Los estudios conceptuales del YP D en los Bloques de viviendas de Brasilia de Guillermo Jullian». Arquitextos 14, 62 (nov. 2013). 

A series of color matrices that determine a tartan grid is defined. The guidelines for the building are traced creating the final matrix, the Vernacular Source (VS), which defines the shapes of all future spaces, rooms, spans, circulations, voids, and limits.

There are four stages to the demarcation of the VS. 1) The matrix of each family of colors, inscribed in a square with a side of twenty-three BSCU. 2) The multicolored tartan resulting from the superposition of families, and which, as a consequence, defines its graphic rule. 3) The matrix of axes, which develops from the graphic rule independently of the thickness and spacing of the tartan. 4) The matrix of linear segments and geometric figures, superimposed on the tartan and the matrix of axes, which shapes the inaugural floorplan.

With the VS, the proper architectural design game begins. Four spatial categories are defined. The centralized character of the VS is maintained, but its static symmetry is changed by a dynamic one, transforming the cross-shaped plan into a sauwastika. These four new arms transform the straight-lined interior into L-shaped figures. A building is formed featuring an open center in the intermediate level, accessed by a ramp, made of four square-shaped courtyards with sides measuring 8.88 meters and a closed perimeter made of four L-shaped rectangular rooms 5.92 meters wide.

It is a recurring singular operation: the transformation of the grid by incorporating architectural elements. To that Spatial Grid (SG) formed by five hundred twenty-nine BscU, twelve strips of 1.13 meters are superimposed in each direction of the matrix, following the already marked axes. Then, the matrix is expanded by the addition of twenty-four strips of 0.20 meters in each direction. Both operations - the overlapping of axes and the distension of the matrix - have their own thickness and spacing pattern.

Washington, 1975-1976

It begins with the module, the basic SG, and the graphic rule in the Brasilia project: a BSCU with YPD. It is literally drawn on top of it. A new module is defined from new axes following the graphic rule of Brasilia: a rectangle measuring 4.96 by 5.92 meters. In accordance with the transformation of the square module into a rectangular one, two different graphic rules are defined for each side of the new SG base. The four arms that appear in the Brasilia sauwastika are completely separated in Washington, defining four independent buildings whose Vs results from the entire chancellery’s Vs at Brasilia: an insistence on form despite its scale. The cross-shaped figure is maintained, determining the main connections, as well as the central square core that will encompass the vertical circulations. The independence of the spaces surrounded by corridors and galleries in Brasilia gives way to the independence of buildings permeated by courtyards and bridges. Voids remain in the interior of buildings, creating a central opening in the circulation areas. The non-border between spaces ceases to be a restriction. The determination of rooms becomes more abstract: design forms are no longer just added towards a larger spatial definition but are intercepted and extended. These forms are essentially geometric; its possible function is still latent. Here they still preserve the indeterminacy - and therefore freedom - of being closed or open spaces, full or empty.

Figure 5 Embassy of France in Washington. 9) Origin and composition of the matrix from the construction of a hypothetical graphical rule; 10) Determining spaces and rooms; 11) Variations and transformations towards the final design; 12) Variations for each level of one module. 

Figura 6 Embassy of France in Washington. 13) Transformations as a result of incorporating architectural elements; 14) Multilevel floorplabn (condensation of building variations) and longitudinal section. Based on drawings published in Parametro 68 (1978); 15) Formal categories. 

There are two variations in the ambassador’s residence. First, the eastern area is discarded and the buildings displaced. Second, the northern lines of rooms are also discarded with the subsequent displacement of the southern building. In the chancellery, the two buildings in the north-south central strip reduce their width, while the two buildings in the eastern strip extend it. The east sector of the northeast building is also eliminated. The north-south courtyards between buildings reduce their width in half. The basic logic is remarkably disguised in the south-central building - the access building to the complex. It does not show vertical staggering and has only a few openings. The access level is an open double-height space. Its third and last level is a recessed volume, of which a sinuous wall stands out. It houses a wide uniform space. The conversions go from the nodal space of circulations, vital for the building’s operation, toan indeterminate space, and from rooms to spaces around terraces. The empty-full pairs are, once again, on the same stage of conception.

Washington’s courtyards are elements of yet another subterfuge. The central wide courtyard, with its suspended bridges interconnecting the buildings, is the void that divides the embassy in its two east-west strips. The building’s programmatic division - residence-chancellery - does not coincide with the formal composition of the project. The residence, with its two buildings on the west, belongs to another compositional order. The way the building is shown does not speak of how it works. Washington’s courtyards represent the lack of formal distinction in Jullian’s conception, later materialized and made evident through them.

Rabat, 1978-1984

The building seems to return to that simplicity already present in Brasilia. It keeps the buildings of the chancellery and the ambassador’s residence completely separated and totally independent. It also reemphasizes horizontality. The entrance, in this case, is on the upper level. Simplicity in Rabat is in the realm of the physical and visual experience. Its design, on the contrary, is the most complex, dense, and time-consuming of the whole sequence. The simplicity of the outcome contradicts the complexity of the process.

The plan is made of four strips of rooms, interspersed by three almost identical internal courtyards. The strips contain the corridors. The rooms draw the courtyards’ perimeter. The explicit division between rooms, courtyards, and circulations - present in the projects for Brasilia and Washington - is simplified in Rabat through open and closed spaces.

Figure 7 Embassy of France in Rabat. 16) Origin and composition of the matrix from the construction of a hypothetical graphical rule Based on the document FGJ-PL r235 (drawing 0031) Fondo Documental. 17) Transformations and definitions of the matrix. Based on the document FGJ-PLr235 (drawing 0031) from the Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente Documentary Fund (CID-SLGM, FADEU, UC-Chile). 

Figure 8 Embassy of France in Rabat. 18) Transformations as a result of incorporating architectural elements; 19) Access plan (second level) and deductive schemes of key quantities. Based on the drawing Plan masse from the Urban Planning Agency of Rabat; and FGJ0020, FGJ0021 and FGJ0022 from the Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente Documentary Fund (CID-SLGM, FADEU, UC-Chile); 20) Tartan construction. 

The courtyards’ simplicity conditions the enclosed spaces and volumes. These are the widest strips in the composition. There seems to be no attempt to disguise such a hierarchy. The project’s basic internal logic is that courtyards are surrounded by rooms and rooms are surrounded by corridors, which match with the building’s perimeter. The project’s western area fits this logic perfectly, while the central area disguises it, expanding its effects towards the eastern area.

Figure 9 21) Matrices; 22) Courtyards; 23) Rules. 


The courtyards are the remains of a design process that favors operations with volumes. Rather than the effect that follows a cause, they seem to be a product: the reasoned result of a well-defined process. The idea of the courtyard is vital for the creative journey. The design process, based on an evolutionary, variable, and disruptive series of abstract matrices, is the means to produce the formal configuration of the courtyards, whose particular design does not exist a priori and which is only reached at the end of the design, as an ostensible residue. The idea of the courtyard as a product whose image is never preconceived becomes the device for the formal conception of the three embassies. The path to its definition is always reversed. Volumes are the tools.

The building, in its solitude, is not the end of the creative process, but a moment in the search for architecture. The three French Embassies are clearly different, but their courtyards are always the same. They represent the labyrinth where Jullian eternally plays, trying to hide from us, in each project, the true gift of his architecture.


FRACALOSSI, Igor. «Three embassies, one courtyard: Formal Play in the Work of Guillermo Jullian de la Fuente». Architectural Research Quarterly 22, 3 (2018): 225-240. [ Links ]

«Progetti recienti di Guillaume Jullian de la Fuente» (número especial).Parametro, mensile di architettura e urbanística IX, 68 (jul-ago 1978). [ Links ]


Igor Fracalossi Doctor in Architecture and Urban Studies, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, 2012. Architect, Universidade Federal do Ceará, 2009. He is interested in projective research, drawing and models as forms of knowledge, as well as in modern architecture. He obtained the Jury’s 1st place in the International Architecture Biennial of Argentina 2014 with the article “Si una casa en Butantã.” Has published and participated in seminars in Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, England, and Turkey. Currently, is a Professor at the Finis Terrae University, Chile.

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