Incoherent Repetition

architects Sebestián Irarrázaval Arquitectos
project Oruga House, Lo Barnechea, Santiago, Chile
written by Macarena Cortés

PDF Download: Click here.

Homogeneity versus exception


The house is located in Barnechea, a suburb of Santiago – the capital of Chile – and surrounded by illegitimate building practices of modern architecture, which – with a display of formal monumentality and poverty – manages to look like any other affluent suburb of a city in a country influenced by real estate market policies.


This condition determines a formal homogeneous and monotonous urban space, where the scale of the single-family dwelling is repeated endlessly, like the classical image in Burton´s film Edward Scissorhands. Caterpillar house, in this context, is effectively presented: like a bug, like the foreign element in the existing circumstances of architectural surroundings. On the other hand, it integrates and engages in dialogue with the geographical area, from the slope that defines the pre-Andean zone.


Four parallel lines move about on a base; they move backwards and forwards above the slope, bending when they hit it. A fifth one is inserted into the slope to support the swimming pool. They reappear, but, at the same time, they also alter the regularity imposed by the shipping containers that build them.


Containers: repetition and movement


Irarrázaval’s use of these structures in his work is neither new nor unknown. He has been toying with the idea of serialization and prefabrication, given by these elements, since 2000 and the setting up of the xii Bienal de Arquitectura de Chile. At that time, four layers of containers were piled up in the centre of an old railway station that is now converted into a cultural centre. Ever since he completed that project, he has been testing, in his works, both them and the aesthetic they propose. Hotel Indigo in Puerto Natales is clearly a reference to the latter.


Several of these containers, set up in a row, form each line regulating the work. Their work derives from the tension suggested by their geometry, opening their lower sides to the distant scenery of the city and the mountain, or in the form of lucarnes when they bend. The four rows of these containers that are lined up are placed on subtle edge beams supported by a transversal beam while two diagonal outer pillars hold the cantilevered element.


The rows, separated from the natural ground by the previously described structure, move on it, suggesting a movement that denies the existence of the classical façade. They do not intend to define a clear volume, but they propose a set of displacements following the slope of the ground that conditions their dynamic perception. 


Spatial structure and industrial language


The first row is an exception that forms the access to a full-width staircase, from the street to the upper level which ends in another flight of stairs linking it to the lower level. The rows of containers, located at the upper level, leave spaces between them that act as buffers and allow their programmatic independence to increase. The bedrooms, the bathrooms and the living rooms are developed internally, articulated by two parallel passages and perpendicular connections. The most ambitious spatiality of the house is developed at the lower level and under the rows of containers, programmatically defined by the living room, the dining room and the kitchen. Thus, the work is articulated by the previously described rows and by the interstices they leave between them, through spaces, terraces and patios located at the various levels of the house.


The conditions that have been described strengthen the formal autonomy of the elements, thus contributing to the industrial language that characterises them. This is emphasized by the corten steel cladding that covers the containers: the steel structure from the rest of the elements and some visible concrete supports reinforce the structure. This expressive condition can also be noticed in the clearly visible details such as pipework, rainwater pipes and closures.