The Festival of La Pampilla in Coquimbo, Chile is one of the country’s most popular and massive celebrations. Four days a year, the town receives more than 200,000 people a day who temporarily appropriate an arid, peaceful, uninhabited landscape within a town already built and established. The result is a truly ephemeral locale organized on the basis of a kind of light, easily dismantled urbanization with intensive use, but lacking infrastructure, design and planning. Based on the above, this column suggests considering the event landscape as an opportunity for an evanescent transformation capable of generating a new public space on the basis of a flexible, dynamic and reversible design.
The origins of the Festival of La Pampilla date back hundreds of years and are presumed to be associated with different historic occurrences of temporary occupation. One of these suggests its origins derive from when the famous pirate Francis Drake invaded the town in the 17th century, and the few inhabitants hid in the arid plains of Coquimbo. Because of the plains’ geographical configuration, the inhabitants were able to see the bay without being discovered and, consequently, to hide from the invaders, and then they celebrated their departure for days after. Another assumption about its origins dates from the time of Independence when the news of emancipation may have arrived late to the town, so that the celebrations began later and have continued as such to this day. Since then the area of the pampilla – this arid plain – has been the sector for the Festival and celebration. Horse races and aerial exhibitions, among others, are the activities that take place in this dry open space, surrounded by a town that slowly began to form around it. With the passage of time, the festival has evolved, receiving more and more people from all social classes each year. This has forced the specifics of the area’s programmatic use and occupied areas to change and gradually expand.
Financed by the Municipality of Coquimbo to allow free access, the Festival of La Pampilla is a cultural event that has become one of the most popular and massive celebrations in the country. During the event around Independence Day in the month of September, which can extend from between four and seven days according to the calendar year, La Pampilla receives more than 200,000 people daily, with more than 5,000 cars and 900 tents that may be installed as much as a couple of months before the festival begins. With respect to the programmatic distribution, apart from the sector for tents, which is already designated, there is an area for restaurants, outdoor barbecues, flea markets, a stage, electronic games, chemical toilets, and some old-fashioned Chilean-style games. All this is accompanied by furniture-elements that support these activities and that are built with materials light enough to be transformed, distributed, constructed and de-constructed in the same way, supporting their ephemeral usage. The result is a temporary landscape: a scene for human experiences that occur in a place created at the moment that a visitor appropriates it.
La Pampilla, therefore, indisputably constitutes a space reserved for an ephemeral event. The event can be understood not only as an activity developed outside of day-to-day time, but also as a place outside of a place, constructed or not, that becomes a landscape through the materialization of ephemeral, symbolic-ritual settlements. La Pampilla is a territory for free, temporary appropriation, in which the landscape emerges as the stage for multiple programmatic uses – sports, leisure and recreation – on a site that has flexible, dynamic, reversible use. It is an open space, lacking real infrastructure and planning, in which the visitor adapts to an intuitive, chaotic and, at the same time, attractive urban plan. The result is an arid, peaceful, and uninhabited territory that acquires importance based on human definition and on the event of temporary occupation that programs the territory cyclically giving it a unique and unrepeatable identity. In short, “culture is the agent, the natural area is the medium; the cultural landscape is the result”(1).
(1) Carl Sauer, The Morphology of Landscape (Berkeley: University California,1925), pp. 19–53, cited in Osvaldo Moreno, ‘El Paisaje Productivo como Paisaje Patrimonial. Claves de Lectura y Registro para la Puesta en Valor y Dinamización de Territorios y Comunidades’ (The Productive Landscape as Patrimonial Landscape. Keys for Reading and Registering the Valorization and Dynamization of Territories and Communities), Congreso Intersecciones (Intersections Congress), School of Architecture, Design and Urban Studies, PUC (2015), p. 3.
Given what has been described, the question arises as to the need – or not – for projecting and formalizing an infrastructure for the festivities. Multiple designs have been proposed, but to date nothing has materialized, and the municipal resources have focused more on the organization of the festival and the definition of the list of guests who will come to the show each year.
Is it necessary to architecturally mold the changing landscape and program the spatial dimensions of the event, or is it more appropriate to maintain the intrinsic characteristic of this desert-like, empty and desolate place that is only used intensely some days a year? How could we generate an open, flexible, dynamic and reversible site design, capable of maintaining the territory’s own identity and generating new social, spatial and perceptual relationships? Is it possible to create open occupations, without limits or restrictions, reversible and flexible in which new types of appropriations of the landscape occur? Is it possible to create spaces that are more dynamic and “reveal new relations in public, ways of living, structures of exchange and commerce that surprise us because they speak to us of the materiality of space and in a new community that invents a language?”(2). As Paraguayan architect Solano Benítez affirms, “without this restorative vision of landscape projection, it will be impossible to undertake the task of constructing a new reality in a critical way, nor of living a life made up of multiple and contradictory components” (3).
(2) Giovanni La Varra, Post It City. El Último Espacio Público de la Ciudad Contemporánea (The Last Public Space of the Contemporary City) Madrid: SEACEX, 2009, pp. 14, cited in Martí Peran, Post it City (Madrid: SEACEX, 2009) [quote translated from Spanish].
(3) Solano Benitez, Vértigo Horizontal (Horizontal Vertigo), cited in Rahul Mehrotra, La Ciudad Cinética como Generadora de Práctica (The Kinetic City as a Practice Generator) Santiago: Ediciones ARQ, 2015, p. 9 [quote translated from Spanish].
Carolina Briones Quiñones is a student of architecture and of the Master’s degree program of Landscape Architecture at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She has conducted two workshops based on the topic of this column:La Pampilla o la inesperada virtud de la Pacotilla (La Pampilla or the unexpected virtue of Pacotilla) together with Professors Paulina Courard and Danilo Martic and the workshop Mosaico y Composición: Proyectos de Paisaje Urbano en La Serena-Coquimbo (Mosaic and Composition: Urban Landscape Projects in La Serena-Coquimbo), directed by Martic, Camila Medina and Francisca Salas.
Recommended Bibliography: (4) Anita Berrizbeitia, “Re-Placing Process” in Julia Czerniak and George Hargreaves (eds.), Large Parks (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2007), p. 175–197 · T. Khanna, Kumbh Mela: Mapping the Ephemeral MEGACITY (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University and South Asia Institute, 2015) · Raul Mehrotra, Felipe Vera, J. Mayoral, Ephemeral Urbanism: Cities in Constant Flux (Santiago: Ediciones ARQ, 2016) · Joaquín Sabaté, Dennis Frenchman and J Mark Schuster, Llocs amb esdeveniments: Event places (Barcelona: Universidad Politécnica de Catalunya, 2004) · Martí Peran, Post it City (Madrid: SEACEX, 2009).