Cool Retreat for a Southern Summer

architects GUN Architects
project Water Cathedral, Santiago de Chile, Chile
written by Michael Webb

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Santiago de Chile has followed the lead of the Museum of Modern Art in New York by participating in the Young Archi­tects Program for a second year. Initiated in 2002, YAP challen­ges emerging architects to create an outdoor insta­llation pro­viding shade, seating, and water, while using recycled mate­rials and demonstrating a high level of sus­tainability. For three summer months the structure serves as a social con­denser, a place where people can gather, enjoy music and discussions, as an outdoor extension of an experimental art gallery. Twenty-five architects are nominated, and a jury chooses a winner from five finalists. Jeannette Plaut and Marcelo Sarovic of Constructo, architects who serve as advocates for fledgling firms, organize the event in Santiago. MAXXI in Rome is participating in the program for the first time this summer.


For the 2011-2012 presentation in Santiago, Gun Arquitectos were selected to create Water Cathedral, a dynamic cluster of tapered white fabric bags, suspended from steel frames, and gently oozing water. Depending on the play of light and time of day, it evoked stalactites in a cave or the arches and roof vaults of a Gothic nave. As you strolled through and gazed upwards, the elements shifted in kaleidoscopic patterns. Truncated pyramids provided seating, and spotlights transformed the installation into a spectral grove after dark. It was located in the walled forecourt of Matucana 100, a lively cultural center that Martin Hurtado designed ten years ago within the shell of a century-old brick warehouse.


Jorge Godoy founded Gun in 2009 in partnership with LeneNettelbeck from Berlin. He graduated from the Val­paraiso campus of the Pontifical Catholic University, a radical cousin of the main school in Santiago, and did his post-gra­duate work at the Architectural Association, staying seven years in London to teach, work, and conduct research. Back in Chile, he and his partner continued to experiment, creating a pavilion of woven green bamboo, and developing an irrigation project in the desert. Currently they are master-planning a self-sufficient community near the Tongoy peninsula in north-central Chile, designing the infrastructure, energy systems, and housing typologies for an area that is shifting from farming to tourism.


‘Water Cathedral is a laboratory to test structural and material principles that might be employed on a larger scale for permanent structures,’ says Godoy. The apparent simplicity of the installation is deceptive; it’s the product of intensive research into the dynamics of water and the stalactites that grow from the sediment in water filtering down through the rock of a cave. The architects considered a lot of possibilities before selecting fabric bags filled with sand. A hydraulic network atop the grid of triangular steel frames provides measured amounts of irrigation, This gathers within the plastic-lined bags and travels upwards by capillary action, dripping out through the seams. Puddles appear and evaporation cools the air.


YAP provides opportunities for a fledgling firm to test its ideas in a public space, and be acti­vely engaged by a young audience. Chile is a country that enjoyed a flowering of creativity as the Pinochet dictatorship weakened in the late 1980s and a long tradition of democratic government was restored. Today, a new generation is winning competitions and vying with established firms for important commissions. ‘Change is moving in our direction,’ says Godoy. ‘There’s so much space and freedom to do all kinds of things.’ Jeannette Plaut, who, with Sarovic, edits Trace magazine as a forum for adventurous architecture, shares Godoy’s optimism. ‘Chile is stable and foreign investment has led to growth in middle-class incomes,’ she says. ‘Architects under 40 are winning many of the competitions, whereas before almost all the prizes went to established firms.’