Embarking on a vacation, our invited columnist reflects upon how architecture has come to be at the demand of tourism to host a variety of activities and their distinct scales, which define its parts or architectural elements beyond its architectonic conditions and even its attractiveness. The challenge then is to overcome the exceptional nature of these parts and assume the role as epicenter of major landscape and territorial interventions, which today define the contemporary conditions of national tourism.
During the twentieth century both in Chile and in the rest of the world, the concepts of free time, vacations and travel changed. These new conceptions involved new leisure-time activities and new relationships with nature, which demanded totally new architectural, landscape and planning responses; all welcomed by modernity as a challenge within the spirit of social renewal that was proposed. In tune with these challenges, new entities emerged, such as hotels, residences, public swimming pools, social clubs and summer camps, as well as family resort spots, among others on a different scale. This situation, added to the technical changes of transport that allowed rapid access to destinations of interest, i.e. the railroad, the transatlantic cruise and later the airplane, established tourism as a modern activity that at the present time happens to be one of the most profitable sectors and one of the most important economic activities for many countries.
The introduction of paid legal holidays during the first quarter of the century, new medical ideas regarding the healing nature of being in direct contact with the sea and the sun, and improved accessibility to coastal, lake and mountain areas produced new urban developments and new architectural entities that facilitated the establishment of tourist activities (1).
(1) See “La Arquitectura Moderna en la Difusión de Chile como Destino Turístico,” (Modern Architecture in the Dissemination of Chilea as a Tourist Destination) in Macarena Cortés, Turismo y Arquitectura Moderna en Chile (Tourism and Modern Architecture in Chile) Santiago: Ediciones ARQ, 2014.
Today there is consensus about the contradictory conditions that tourism has established as one of the most important economic activities with many and diverse territorial, urban, and landscape implications. The economic benefits and the qualities associated with this engine of urban and territorial development are in contrast with the undoubtedly negative influence these activities have on nature, traditional towns and villages, and fragile environments.
In the Chilean case, these conditions have led to the exploration of new sites of tourist interest, mainly linked to extreme, extraordinary and exotic nature conditions that have become an object of consumption. This new interest in national tourism has led to the creation of a series of hotels or tourist facilities − hot springs, swimming pools, casinos, etc. − which, valuing quality architecture and project experimentation, are immersed in monumental territories far from the older urban centers. Some of the most recognized examples are the Hotel Salto Chico, Explora Patagonia by José Cruz and Germán del Sol; the Hotel Larache in San Pedro de Atacama and Hotel Remota in Torres del Paine, both by Germán del Sol; the Tierra Atacama Hotel in San Pedro by Matías González and Rodrigo Searle; the Baita Lodge by Gubbins, Polidura, and Talhok; the Hotel Indigo Patagonia in Puerto Natales by Sebastián Irarrázaval and the Hotel Tierra Patagonia by Cazú Zegers.
Given this new panorama, it is possible to propose three working scales for these new entities, which are understood as different scales of action, related to and determined by the location of tourist sites: first, the scale of the building, where the facilities are located in a natural or semi-urban environment defined by conditions of accessibility and its programmatic distribution. These architectonic conditions respond to the type of tourist offering in terms of visitor age, interests, etc.
A second scale is that of landscape, defined by the immediate surroundings of the tourist facility or unit, understood as a potentially identifiable system with precise urban or natural limits, which implies a network of elements at the service of tourism and certain landmarks of interest that define the offer in terms of the market and type of activities carried out in it. For this scale, there are certain conditions of locating the facility within the landscape (orientation, topography, water resources, urban plot, architectural heritage, views) and the existence of significant elements that are part of the place’s attraction, possibly natural (lagoons, hotsprings, lakes, rivers, summits, etc.) or built (patrimonial or religious elements, museums, cultural centers, libraries, etc.).
Finally there is the territorial scale, which brings together the tourism facility within the touristic unit and in relation to the broader territory in which it is located, where the destination – in its most open conception – can encompass other tourist units, creating a whole territorial system that is accessible and has defined sites of tourist interest in a region.
The three proposed scales define the parts or architectural elements of the tourist facility beyond its architectural conditions and attractiveness. In this way, these facilities are positioned at the center of major landscape and territorial interventions, which today define the contemporary conditions of national tourism. What has not occurred is a response to these conditions at the level of the discipline beyond considering these exceptional pieces of architecture.
Contemporary Chilean architecture journal issues, such as Nº 650 of Casabella (1997), Nº 85 of Arquitectura Viva (2002) or Nº 430 of A+U, used this condition of working within Chile’s extreme landscapes as a way of interpreting the high architectural quality achieved in this distant country. Such titles as Terra Neutra, Deep South or Último Chile, Paisajes Próximos de una Tierra Remota, (Ultimate Chile, Nearby Landscapes in a Distant Land) described the national architecture from this landscape and territorial sensibility, which would justify the unusual design responses.
Whatever the reason for the great prestige enjoyed by the national architecture abroad, the reference to the landscape is undoubtedly a constant in its descriptions. As in the twentieth century, architecture has once again been required by the needs of tourism to accommodate the activities involved and the different scales in which the work itself is integrated with the landscape and the territory. Again then, the novel and unprejudiced responses, which have no apparent referents, respond to social needs and extreme contextual conditions.
Macarena Cortés Darrigrande is an architect from the Central University of Chile (1996) and holds a Master’s degree in Architecture (2002) and a Doctorate in Architecture and Urban Studies (2010) from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC). She is currently a researcher and academic at the School of Architecture of the PUC and Director of Extension and Communications of the School of Architecture, Design, and Urban Studies of the PUC.