What we know today as The Alameda, Santiago − and which has popularly been sequentially called La Cañada, Alameda de las Delicias and Av. Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins − is a key urban piece of the capital of Chile, recognizable by what has remained over time: the arborization and a linear layout characterized by a series of monuments that in its route give an account of a history of the nation’s construction. Will the winning proposal of the international competition organized by the Regional Metropolitan Government of Santiago recuperate the status of the Alameda as a commemorative boulevard?
In the context of the recently awarded competition for the transformation of the traditional Alameda of Santiago and the projection of a new Conceptual Master Plan called “New Alameda Providencia,” it is essential, first, to visualize in broad strokes the multiple historical transformations of this important boulevard. It was shaped originally based on historical models, such as the French used for their important boulevards, but also notably it has been tree-lined and then those trees have been removed more than once.
The Alameda was established as an iconic public space in the city of Santiago thanks to the execution of a linear arborization system. At the end of the 16th century and before this urban operation, the site of the future boulevard, called La Cañada, is described as a dirty and stony hollow, with trees of a rustic nature or “of the place,” including willows, canelos, pataguas and maitenes. In this site, the irrigation canal of Our Lady of Socorro was excavated, which irrigated the adjacent farms that at that time extended towards the south of Santiago, forming a kind of backyard of the historic center. Despite its neglect and use as a garbage dump, the local colonial government of the early seventeenth century managed to see the potential of La Cañada by declaring its nearby land as belonging to the city. In this new context, the first to plant something on the site was President Ortiz de Rosas who installed willows, followed by the Jesuits who in 1810, and taking advantage of La Cañada’s condition as the facade of their San Francisco Temple, planted the first poplars (1).
(1) Based on historical data compiled in Cronología 01_Alameda de las Delicias for FONDECYT Nº 11110332 by Romy Hecht, Urbanismo desde el Paisaje: Lectura de 12 Piezas Urbanas en Proceso. (Urbanism from the Landscape: Reading of 12 Urban Pieces in Process) Santiago, 1910 vs 2010.
Also at the beginning of the 19th century and after one of the many floods due to the overflow of the Mapocho River, the Government proposed to increase the planting of poplars in addition to installing lanterns and stone seats, adding statues of the heroes who had fought to form the nation from both the intellectual and military sphere. Thus, in 1820 the Alameda that Don Bernardo O’Higgins and his father had dreamed of began to be delineated as a “Field of Civil Liberties,” manifested thanks to the installation of landmarks such as the Fountain of Neptune, the figure of Diego Portales, and the equestrian statue of José San Martín, among many others that would be added and changed in place over time (2). In just two years the name of the boulevard would be replaced by “Alameda de las Delicias,” a change described by a chronicler of the time as the result of the relationship between the new elements located in the place: “Since 1820, when most of the land was evened, a public boulevard was formed on [the Alameda] that embraces eight blocks in length and is divided into three streets by six orders of poplars. The first six run from Estado Street to San Lázaro with two large irrigation canals of lime and brick for running water, thirty-four stone benches spread among the sectors on both sides of the Alameda, and twenty glass lanterns to be used on those nights that the moon does not illuminate sufficiently. In addition, this beautiful street has ten churches that adorn it and make it more appealing with their facades, towers and church bells”(3).
(2) Based on historical data compiled in Cronología 01_Alameda de las Delicias for FONDECYT Nº 11110332 by Romy Hecht, Urbanismo desde el Paisaje: Lectura de 12 Piezas Urbanas en Proceso. (Urbanism from the Landscape: Reading of 12 Urban Pieces in Process) Santiago, 1910 vs 2010 .
(3) See Alfonso Calderón, “Elogio de la Alameda,” (In Praise of the Alameda) in Memorial del Viejo Santiago (Memorial of old Santiago) Santiago: Editorial Andujar, 1996), p.101.
Towards the end of the 19th century, two of the biggest changes in the use and form of the great boulevard would be, first, the replacement of poplars with different types of oaks and elms, and second, the implementation of the electric railway. The railway’s construction would not only require the cutting down of old trees, but that would also change the rhythm of the sector, announcing the transformation of this traditional boulevard into a great axis, which would connect the east and the west of the city.
The main objective of the competition “New Alameda Providencia,” launched during this year, was to recompose the role of the avenue as an urban promenade. This competition was necessary because, with the arrival of motorized vehicles, the Alameda has become a simple public road, composed of narrow sidewalks and a median strip with difficult and limited access.
The winning project, Civic-Metropolitan Boulevard Proposal: Landscape of Water, Shade and Mobility by Lyon-Bosch Architects with Martic, IDOM Engineering and Consulting, Groundlab Landscape Urbanism and Sergio Chiquetto, was valued by the jury mainly for its clarity, continuity and coherence (4). The proposal highlights the design of a project based on both general strategies at urban scale, as well as those based on urban and natural systems. The project embodies the way in which landscape architecture is considered today, where the fundamentals are established on the large and small scale, and not necessarily on the architectural scale, which is where the definition of isolated, built volumes is developed. Focusing on the design of strategies over forms, the proposal assumes the idea of process by incorporating as a design strategy those processes derived from the management of rainwater drainage and care of urban trees, as well as those derived from history, of the uncertain urban form and society.
(4) See, for example, “La Transformación de Santiago” (The Transformation of Santiago) in Revista Zig-Zag 2175(28 Nov. 1946), p. 35-36 and “Crónica Chilena: Los Nuevos Jardines de la Alameda, según los Planos de los Señores Smith Solar y Smith Miller,”(The New Gardens of the Alameda, according to the Plans of Mr. Smith Solar and Smith Miller), Revista Ingeniería de la Universidad de Chile 10 (1945). Personal files of Romy
The general scheme of the winning proposal is based on assuming the presence of transport along the avenue, generating a gradient of speeds, where the integration of flows is enhanced through the development of shared surfaces. At the same time, the idea of a central pedestrian promenade is radically inverted by moving the pedestrian flows in the areas near the buildings, thereby dignifying the historic condition of tree-lined promenade from a projective interpretation that recovers the necessary width to appreciate the urban scale on foot. To this is added the conviction of the project’s ability to establish permanent and not only event-oriented landmarks, by making Plaza Italia, for example, an epicenter not only for urban celebrations, but connecting it with three of the most important historical parks in the center of Santiago: Bustamante, Forestal and Balmaceda.
It should be noted that moving the promenade to the edges is an idea that had been proposed in the mid-twentieth century, when, on what was already known as Avenida Libertador Bernardo O’Higgins, the car began to take hold, so that widening meant the construction of a surface of interaction between pedestrians, parking lots and moving vehicles (5). Similarly, the winning strategy of connecting points of convergence of other urban projects similarly replicates the 1917 proposal of Ismael Valdés Valdés that sought to open the avenues bordering on the Santa Lucia Hill thus communicating the Alameda with the Parque Forestal and the Parque Centenario (6).
(5) See Alfonso Calderón, “Elogio de la Alameda,” (In Praise of the Alameda) in Memorial del Viejo Santiago (Memorial of old Santiago) Santiago: Editorial Andujar, 1996), p.101.
(6) See Romy Hecht M., “Idea y Proyecto de Paisaje en el Santiago del Centenario, 1890-1930” (Idea and Landscape Project in the Santiago del Centenario, 1890-1930) 2015, in process of publication.
It is precisely the contemporary reinterpretation of historical strategies based on a unifying project of a system that today appears disaggregated in the face of isolated decisions that sustains the strength of this project. So, in this new configuration, where linearity now works at the service of a connection between a wide avenue and specific urban moments, it is worth asking, will the new project support the idea of a memorial boulevard built and consolidated towards the end of the 19th century, where monuments remind us of past glories and with it our history? Will the project be able to motivate the development of other proposals at the urban level, beyond the community’s borders?