Alberto Cruz Covarrubias and Godofredo Iommi
A couple of months ago, I read Road That Is Not a Road and the Open City, Ritoque, Chile (1996), by Ann M. Pendleton-Jullian. It’s about Ciudad Abierta (Open City) an ongoing project started by Cruz (more) and Iommi, who founded the modern version of the architecture program (school website, aka e[ad]) at the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV) in Chile.
En el año 1952, la facultad contrató al arquitecto chileno Alberto Cruz y al poeta argentino Godofredo Iommi (entre otros), quienes imprimieron su particular visión de la arquitectura, y formularon las bases, que generaron el desarrollo actual de la aproximación a la arquitectura que presenta la facultad.
En 1969, los profesores de la facultad, fundaron una cooperativa privada, hoy conocida como Corporación Cultural Amereida, la cual adquirió un extenso terreno en el sector de Punta de Piedra, ubicada entre las localidades de Con-cón y Quintero.
My fondness for e[ad] stems in part from my time living in Chile and studying at PUCV. I didn’t take any classes at e[ad], and I was suspicious of places like it during that time of my life, but even then it had an aura about it that piqued my curiosity. In the years since, I have come to love what Alberto Cruz Covarrubias and Godofredo Iommi created. I assembled a few clippings from the book to highlight aspects of the architecture school and Ciudad Abierta that speak to my interests.
Joseph Rykwert in the Foreword (1996):
The Viña del Mar/Valparaíso school is unique in that it is autopoetic; it has quite literally built and planned itself, with each building seen as a poetic act.
Giancarlo De Carlo in the introductory essay, “The Ritoque Utopia” (1993):
I asked why they chose such an elusive approach to the circumstances and means proper to architecture. Because, they answered, it is necessary to put forward radical alternatives to current architectural practice, which is subject to economic power and is therefore commercialized—in that it focuses on quantity and has a hypocritical attitude in regard to quality, providing ambiguous simulacra with the complicity of opportunistic or ignorant criticisms.
I must add, as I am afraid it is not clear from the above synthesis, that all this was expressed most quietly and gently, with the serene aloofness of people who are at peace with nature and all human beings.
So, what is the Ritoque utopia about? Well, it opens a series of questions that may be worth reflection and discussion—for example, that the primary concern of current building activity is financial, and so its products are mostly marketable commodities. Those who design and build as a profession engage in operations that must yield profits to their promoters, so they cannot evade the requirements of economic power and become inherently a party to making architecture a commodity. This complicity is consummated at a level of unawareness or hypocrisy, as in fact architects are always talking about philosophy or poetry, but most of their products are simply marketable. The extremes of this distortion are to be found in architectural education that, instead of preparing young architects to be disinterested inventors of spaces responding to the multiplicity of human needs, trains them to produce spaces as standardized as possible and thus more easily marketable. Ritoque’s utopia, like every serious utopia, does not admit uncertain hypotheses—for example, that it is probably intrinsic to architecture to have to resolve apparently insoluble contradictions—and so aims at an absolute alternative, making use of all the hazards and certainties that its deliberate estrangement can offer.
And Ann M. Pendleton-Jullian’s words from Chapter 1:
[…] In fact, the site is all movements, rhythms, and sounds: the sea, the sand, the wind, the light, and air, the motor traffic and train.
Two impressions form. A first impression: the site is land and space in one of tis most transparent, ephemeral, and mutable states. A second impression: because of or in deference to these qualities of the land, the constructions on the site of the Open City are light. They attain a status of lightness. Consequently, there is an apparent lightness of physical impression onto the site.
Lightness because the way in which the constructions touch the ground does not demarcate territory of building through strong physical impact and authoritarian footprints but, instead, lets the land initiate the configuration of territory and space in both plan and section. Because of the movement of the sand by the wind and movement of the ground (earthquakes), building weights and volumes are supported by many points of contact distributed according to structural and spatial needs and intents. Volumes lifted off of the ground allow the natural migrations of the sand to continue uninterrupted, whereas those buildings that do make physical contact with the ground, whether it be shallow or profound physical contact, allow the physical forces of the site into their space. One gets the impression that if all the constructions were removed from the land, the land would not hold their memory.
Lightness, also because the materiality of the constructions at the Open City is related to a type of constructions that is artisanal, which remains attached to the physical process of building at the scale of the artisan and not the machine. It therefore reveals the hands of the builders and is a representation of human occupation of the site and not the mechanical domination and reconfiguration of the site. One sense the presence of raw nature and not manipulated landscape, of footsteps and not tire tracks.
And status of lightness because there are no apparent imposed formal ordering devices that regulate the development of the constructions. Instead ordering devices that regulate the development of the constructions. Instead each constructions is attached to the space of the site through ideation and ideaphoria, which manifests itself as spatial strategies with spatial form and relationships. However, the forms and formal ordering devices do not come first and are not fixed but can transform as spatial specifics and tactics are developed. Because formal ordering of space is rendered through this mental activity and not through the (super)imposition of formal devices, physical center and boundaries do not exist in any conventional way. Each building has a center of gravity of sorts that remains unpunctual and difficult to locate with any precision because these centers are never formalized and because they migrate as constructions are added to or transformed. Occasionally groups of buildings, such as the Banquet Hospedería conglomerate, overtime begin to reveal sets of centers of gravity: constellations, in that they produce, in addition to the individual centers of gravity, a center common to the set. Again, however, this point is not fixed but can migrate because it is a resultant, not a determinant, of construction activity. Often edges of constructions are even more illusive than their gravity centers just as the edges of the city have never been defined by walls or fences.
And status of lightness, also, because not only are physical centers an edges illusive but there is also a tendency for meaning to migrate and transform within single buildings and within the city as it has grown and matured over time: as new buildings are added to the site or existing buildings revised; as constructions are overtaken by the sands, winds, or other natural forces and left ruined or rebuilt and reoriented to the forces of the site.
For more information about Ciudad Abierta, see the pair (one and two) of Domus articles on the subject, as well as any of several videos (one example). If you read Spanish, you might also be interested in Amereida, the poem collectively written by members of the school in 1967, and “La Ciudad Abierta de Amereida. Arquitectura desde la Hospitalidad” by Patricio Cáraves Silva. The extensive Archivo Histórico José Vial contains photographs, video, audio, drawings, writings, etc. from the school and makes great use of SoundCloud, Flickr, and Vimeo. The resources in the archive also cover (and map using Google Maps) the Travesías taken each year since 1984.
Las travesías son viajes poéticos por América que realiza anualmente la e[ad] Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño PUCV a partir del año 1984. Estos viajes son integrados por los alumnos y profesores de Arquitectura, Diseño Gráfico y Diseño Industrial. Este sitio corresponde al registro de dichos viajes por el continente e invita a todos quienes han participado a colaborar en esta bitácora colectiva.
En las travesías se realizan obras desde la creatividad del oficio, en algún punto de América fijado a través del estudio que desarrolla cada Taller.
América ha de recorrerse en su extensión; es preciso ir al continente, ir a él para reconocerle y habitar su emergencia. El 1965 los fundadores de la Escuela decidieron partir en esa visión:
partida mañana a las siete antemeridiano desde santiago
escalas del avión santiago puerto montt punta arenas
los nueve están – jonathan boulting alberto cruz fabio
cruz michel degury francois fédier claudio girola godofredo
iommi jorge pérez román edison simons – henri tronquoy
nos alcanzará en medio de la patagonia1
Esa primera travesía abre el horizonte dentro de los procesos educativos y de aprendizaje en el ámbito académico; en 1984 se incorpora al currículum de los alumnos de Arquitectura y Diseño la realización de una Travesía anual dentro del ámbito de cada Taller. El continente se extiende y nosotros con ellos vamos a él para habitar su intimidad y su mar interior al que amereida canta. Se han realizado ya más de 100, en donde la totalidad de los talleres de la Escuela, alumnos y profesores realizan obras concretas de Arquitectura y Diseño, en algún punto de América fijado a través del estudio que desarrolla cada Taller. Estas Travesías se llevan a cabo durante el tercer trimestre de cada año y duran alrededor de un mes.