EVIDENCE FROM A SCENIC VIEWPOINT: UNDER THE CARPET OF SMOG
(1) Photograph from the scenic viewpoint of Sky Costanera © Martín Bonnefoy V. for LOFscapes
Historically, platforms have been built to construct both material and social landscapes: the Scenic Viewpoint. These points establish a tight relationship between the imaginary and the ideological viewpoints of different time periods, involving the territory as much as the people who inhabit it and represent it. In this context, this column seeks to analyze the Sky Costanera Scenic Viewpoint as a contemporary manifestation, extracting critical readings starting from a component of the landscape frequently assumed to be incidental: the Smog.
Reflecting on a domain, scenic viewpoints − places that due to their physical conditions of height, orientation, field of view, among others − have been established as spaces for contemplation and thus for construction of landscape. Their materialization corresponds to an act of spatial adaptation through tangible mechanisms such as infrastructure, walkways, vegetation and the like, and an act of symbolic adaptation through intangible mechanisms such as the promotion of an imaginary, rites associated with the promotion and publicity of an idea of a city through official and emblematic “views.”
In the case of the city of Santiago, its scenic viewpoints reflect the prevailing ideals at different times in its history. An emblematic example is the Santa Lucia Hill, a high point from which to contemplate the city even before it was transformed in the time of Benjamin Vicuña Mackenna’s administration. Mackenna proposed an urban and civic development that included, among other aspects, the development of green spaces accessible to all inhabitants, inscribed within a certain political vision regarding the area. Thus, the Santa Lucia Hill as a public space was fundamental to make real the idea of the city from the landscape (see image 2).
Associated with an urbanization in the direction to the west, Santa Lucia Hill as the main point of observation was displaced by Cerro Blanco (Hill), which from its size and location extended the field of vision towards the new urban development (1) without constituting, however, a public space completely designed like the previous example. Later, at the beginning of the 20th century, after the quarries were abandoned and urban growth appeared towards the east, San Cristóbal Hill was established as the most important urban scenic viewpoint, through the consolidation of the site as a public park with trails, buildings, trees, i.e. a variety of infrastructure aimed at configuring it as a recreational space on a metropolitan scale.
(1) G. Hidalgo, Vistas panorámicas de Santiago 1790-1910. Su desarrollo urbano bajo la mirada de dibujantes, pintores y fotógrafos (Panoramic views of Santiago 1790-1910. Its urban development under the gaze of draftsmen, painters, and photographers) Santiago: Ediciones Universidad Católica de Chile/Ediciones Origo, 2010
Behind the creation of these scenic viewpoints, institutional figures can be identified that promoted a discursive vision with respect to the city and with it the management of the area, from a position not only spatial but also political and social. This is also reflected in today’s Santiago, strongly embedded in a global and neoliberal urban system, in which the observation and the control of the city is not made from a public space, but from atop a building of business and commerce, symbol of the hegemonic positioning of the Chilean social and economic elite. Today the scenic viewpoint is from the well-known Sky Costanera located at the apex of the Gran Torre Santiago as part of the Costanera Center.
Since its inauguration in 2015, the scenic viewpoint from the top of Costanera Center’s tower has appealed to become an important part of the “official photograph of Santiago,” positioning itself as the supposed reflection of Chile’s economic and technological strengths. In this way, as an advertising piece, the Costanera Center has opted to be one of the main points representing what constitutes the urban identity (2) and the official image of the city, which has been reaffirmed through its exports and acceptance in the tourism industry. But its location − and the landscape it produces − is not incidental; it maintains a strong correlation with the city’s development during the twentieth century, in which the migratory process of the upper classes towards the east is linked with the move of the city’s economic and administrative center, and where this scenic viewpoint of today occupies a privileged place.
(2) S. Sottorff, “Los orgullos de Chile”: la muestra que reúne hitos del país a 300 metros de altura (The Pride of Chile: an exhibition that brings together landmarks of the country from 300 meters up) Santiago: El Mercurio, 2015
The scenic viewpoint consolidates its advantageous position by having a 360º view; therefore, it is a place to observe the entire city. This “visual democracy” of the landscape could suppose the absence of territorial ideological interpretations, i.e. a lack of intention to give privilege or a visual bias to certain views to emphasize or hide parts of the city, and therefore of society. However, it is precisely this “total opening of views” that makes it possible to highlight a visual obstacle. This obstacle that selects the objects in view and thus elevates the scenic viewpoint as a space of urban representation from its geographical and symbolic position is the smog (see image 3 and 4).
The effect of the smog as a carpet constitutes a narrative of the unequal situation of the city: it is caused mostly by the communities of the eastern sector (in particular Las Condes) (3), which contradictorily is, in general, the sector with the best air quality. This is due to a geographical and climatological condition of the city of Santiago in which through a sum of factors (height, winds, lower temperatures, greater quantity of green areas) (4) the pollution moves from east to west. This situation of environmental injustice is aggravated if in addition we consider that the pollution produced in the west is largely due to the activity of industries whose property is mainly of the inhabitants of more privileged sectors of the city, who live in the east and do not suffer their effect (see image 5). This heterogenous distribution of smog generates a veil that hides certain views, and thus the smog generates a visual bias making a break with the supposed impartiality of the scenic views.
(3) E. Gramsch, Actualización y sistematización del inventario de emisiones de contaminantes atmosféricos en la Región Metropolitana (Updating and systematizing the emissions’ inventory from atmospheric pollutants in the Metropolitan Region) Santiago: USACH, 2014
(4) H. Romero, F, Irarrázaval, D. Opazo, M. Salgado and P. Smith, Climas urbanos y contaminación atmosférica en Santiago de Chile (Urban climates and atmospheric contamination in Santiago, Chile) Santiago: EURE, vol.36, n.109, 2010
As a research exercise, 100 photographs were chosen that were taken from the scenic viewpoint and uploaded between March 6 and March 11, 2017 to Instagram, a social platform based on images. Before the analysis, the circle of vision was divided into 16 fragments, to then quantify the presence of these fragments in the field of vision of each photograph selected. Then, the visibility of the objects was considered according to the environmental-meteorological conditions and the time when the photographs were taken, and an assessment was made according to the vertical angle of the image whether it was aimed at a short, medium or long-distance.
The conclusions showed that the preference of the visitors was markedly towards capturing the eastern sector in their photographs. This is the sector characterized by a greener landscape, with the presence of the mountains and a diversity of construction typologies that show a better urban quality overall. The western sector stood out almost exclusively due to the presence of the axis of the Mapocho River and the San Cristóbal Hill, which is augmented in the late afternoon by the attractiveness of the sunset that is paradoxically enhanced by the presence of the smog. The north and south-west sectors in which the less privileged neighborhoods are concentrated were rarely captured, being the least visible due to smog and also, the less visually attractive because they have mostly more homogeneous and gray typologies, along with the smog, which is suspended over them (see images from 6 to 9).
To disregard the existence of an objective landscape means to assume the close relationship of the landscape with local phenomena that enhance some imaginaries and skew others as much from the construction of a visual point as from the physical phenomena that appear in the form of smog. In this way, the value of the urban landscape depends on a personal and subjective imaginary depending on who represents it and who consumes that representation (5). This implies approaching the task of recognizing the role of the image as a concrete instrument for urban culture studies. We can thus confirm that there are dynamics that operate both actively and passively to generate transformations in the collective image of the city. This is the case of the relationship between smog and a scenic viewpoint, a relationship about which we should be sensitive in regards to the discourse being promoted and be aware of what is being hidden and what is seen.
(5) J. Nogué, “El paisaje en la cultura contemporánea” (Landscape in contemporary culture) España: Biblioteca Nueva, 2008
Martín Bonnefoy Valdés and Pedro Chaná Ferrada. Architecture students at the University of Chile.