BEWITCHED, BESIEGED AND RESCUED PALACES: STORIES OF A PROGRAM OF CHILEAN ARCHITECTURE (IV)
We finish with this last post the interesting tour through the Chilean palace architecture by the hand of Professor José de Nordenflycht Concha. We hope you enjoyed the material and we recall that this paper along with others related to Kalam’s intervention in the Palacio Rioja in Valparaiso can be found in the monographic volume Palacio Rioja, an experience of recovery in Latin America of our collection “Enhancement of Heritage”.
4. Rescued palaces: from monument to heritage.
The exquisite refinement details and luxury of that splendid house went unnoticed in the eyes of the laymen, who only experienced the imposing sensation of something unknown and mysterious, the attribute of a strange worship, of an idol.
Luis Orrego Luco (1)
We know that the first methodological moment of the intervention and enhancement of a building legacy is that of historical research, so the first reason for requesting supplies for such a task would lie in determining the place held in our architectural histories by the typologies and cases bearing on the vast range of palaces already commented on above. (2)
Let us think of the Palacio de La Moneda, which from its initial status as an industrial premise for the minting of coinage came to serve as the residence of the highest authority in the country, now standing as a symbol of our history. Its successive transformations, resulting from its revamping and conversion from an industrial building to the President´s residence, not to mention the interventions it underwent for its recovery after the bombing on 11 September 1973, make it easy to assume with some certainty that this palace is one of the buildings with the most interventions in the history of Chilean architecture. (3)
What can we infer from the rest? The demands and pressure on its change of use, even those that were supposedly the most appropriate, constitute a reality on which to work. Unless their holders and original meaning are still in force, which given the deep transformations described in Chilean society would deprive us of this context as there are no family successions claiming the use of the original programs, since no matter how aristocratic the pretences of our elites may seem, the investment of their wishes lies in very different habitation models from those represented by these buildings, where authenticity and integrity are among the collateral damages of neglect and abandonment. The palaces were abandoned as quickly as they were erected, after one or two generations at most, and our elites then migrated to other quarters, segregating and increasingly populous city.
Many have suffered the consequences of obsolescence and several more have been the victims of destruction with no more protection than spurious, speculative and opportunistic reasons.
The consequences of these changes of use lie within in the spatiality of these palaces when we see that areas such as baseboards, cellars, basements, attics, attics, kitchens, warehouses, bathrooms and the whole network of circulation spaces which in the past might have been living spaces for service personnel no longer served this function and were the first to be abandoned. For this reason, the recovery of a façade or the preservation of a ceiling will have necessarily different objectives from those of recovering the original use, because this is nowadays highly improbable.
Enhancing the program is the most complex aspect, because the historical mismatching that evolved into modernity introduced unexpected changes at the time they were projected.
Likewise the “earthquake effect” should be taken into consideration, because this disastrous event has been a particularly recurring one in our history, and its effects on the set of buildings are evident every time we sense the earth roaring from its depths. Beyond considerations about the risks and vulnerability affecting pre-existing objects, earthquakes offer an opportunity to once again raise a debate on contemporary architecture, which in the first half of the century was followed with much interest by a society which – especially in the case of Valparaíso – was composed of a high number of citizens of European origin, first generation immigrants that were part of the local oligarchy. And if we mention the case of Valparaíso in particular, this is because the large area devastated by the earthquake in 1906 was a free field of action for a reconstruction that was planned in the ground outline but vertically rather indeterminate, not to say at the mercy of real estate speculation, as we would say nowadays. (4) Closely related to this, one of the most evident urban effects was the move of the population with more resources from Valparaíso to Viña del Mar.
In a way, the construction of Palacio Rioja between 1907 and 1910 bears witness to this, as the acquisition of the lands resulted from the sale of those lands on which the main house of the estate of the Vergara family, the founders of Viña del Mar, stood. The occupation by the Rioja family lasted until 1956, when the terrain was acquired by the Municipality of Viña del Mar, which occupied the building once it had been transformed into Hotel de Ville–thus favouring its optimal conservation until the earthquakes of 1985 and 2010 affected its upright structure, which actually responded to the tremors with dignity.
This fact proves the technical ability of the architect Alfredo Azancot, who had developed a prolific career with several residences in the villages Monterrey, Cerro Castillo and the Avenida de Agua de Viña del Mar, cooperating in the construction of a city which defined its vocation on the basis of the voluntarism of the elites, who established their recreational and industrial activities in this territory. Azancot, an architect of French origin who studied at the world´s oldest Polytechnic School, teamed with the architects Renato Schiavon and Aquiles Landoff, who helped him with the implementation of the ornamental elements, added to the decorative furnishing by the Frenchman Edouard Poteau, coordinating the tasks based on the principle of beauty as an indicator of spatial, formal and object coherence in the understanding that beauty is not a luxury necessarily associated with materiality or costs, but a complex quandary assumed from design. Accustomed as we are to vilify and even deny it as an analytical category, we should not forget that the old Vitrubian venustas, which during a certain period of time seemed displaced due to reasons and functions, has once again become a factor to be considered beyond formalisms and functionalisms.
Elegant, sumptuous, stately and luxurious, all of them quite recurrent attributes when describing this kind of buildings. This could be a shortcut to rapidly clear the sustainability of these attributes, or maybe a rather long path if we contextualize the spirit of an epoch, the urban sociability practices that have reached us via the public imagination of its inhabitants as expressed in celebrations in which numerous coaches and cars paraded in a flower festivity, instituted as the projection of the palace interiors towards a public sphere controlled in the premises of the Sporting Club of Viña del Mar in 1905 (5).
The garden-city was on its way, and it was necessary to follow this path. It was precisely on the Camino de Quillota, and therefore on the road to Santiago, that the plot on which the Palacio Rioja was built was to be found.
It is a house on the way to the country, not a cottage, although it seemed to be otherwise with its enormous surrounding park, a park with a domesticated nature, with greenhouses, tennis courts, riding school and other functional uses at the service of its owner´s needs.
As a multifunctional palace, it is not only a residential program; it is not just a private space inasmuch as its scale represents the implementation of its premises within a park, as well as the several offices for business purposes. It was not only for sumptuous celebrations and animated events, but also with enough sociability space to create businesses and define investments. (6) What is rather eloquent is that the location and siting were serving as the foundation of a place. Its spatial order and formal connotation were coherent and allowed the interior to be expressed in the exterior. For this reason, walls and fences were not like membranes that concealed; rather, they revealed. In a certain sense, the palaces were private buildings with a public vocation; or at least, they were not tight-fisted with what we call public space.
Within the large list of losses documented in the photographic albums of the moment we find the images of Palacio Cousiño in Lota or Palacio Concha Cazzotte in Santiago. Or the former Casa Rivas, a residential project of the Italian architect Eduardo Provasoli ordered by the wealthy mining entrepreneur Juan Francisco Rivas Cruz in 1887; although it was declared a National Monument in 1983, it is one of the most unfortunate façade projects within the catalogue of our monuments.
More encouraging are the projects regarding those palaces being recovered, as is the case of Palacio Pereira. Probably, the strongest signal with regard to the rescue of a palace in Chile has been the situation experienced for years by Palacio Pereira, which is the process of a final intervention with a contemporary project sanctioned by a successful Public Contest, which establishes a dialogue with pre-existing objects by means of various operations ranging from philological restoration to remodelling. The palaces of the past gradually became images; at best, glowing ruins of ghosts, and at worst, rubble indifferent to the passage of pedestrians, where the living seemed to be more indifferent than the dead. Palaces gradually became the source of prestige of cities, their memory and constructed narrative, in which copies become models and the recovery of the program entailed a revamping. Ultimately, to open up a stairway or replace a ceiling amounted to repairing a collective loss. It is for this reason that palaces, once a symbol of the power and social position of a few, have now become common property inasmuch as they are recognized as part of the legacy of all Chileans by means of rescue and enhancement operations promising a happy ending; inasmuch as we are responsible for conveying the story of legacy to the new generations. Although the identification and protection of the first monuments catalogue began in Chile with a pioneering law in Latin America, created by the Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales in 1925, it was not until the 1970s that they were included in the register and enjoyed a legal protection as palaces. (7)
It is significant that the first palace to enjoy official protection was La Moneda, and it was not until the last quarter of the 20th century that buildings, in which the typology associated with historicist eclecticism was recognized as a legacy, were massively included (8). There is a curious hiatus between the property cataloguing of colonial buildings and those of the 20th century, leaving in the middle a vacuum as regards the protection of our 19th century monumental legacy.What is more, what pre-existing architecture was of value for the modern architect was exclusively to be that from before the 19th century, to the extent that during the first decades of the 20th century a sensibility became established in the architectural production that approached what was national on the basis of a reading of those pre-existing values, revaluing its emblematic elements and readapting to a more contemporary functionality, generating the trend towards neo-colonialism.
There numerous studies in this respect on the observation and enhancement of the colonial legacy by the writer Roberto Dávila, which were decisive for his education and later formal evolution. These include an explicit wish to discover the essence of the origins of the Chilean architecture in order to re-elaborate a contemporary architecture practice recognized within a tradition (9). As a project practice, this also appears in some restorations with different motivations, as is the case with what is now known as Posada del Corregidor, which has acquired an urban presence since 1926, when purchased by Darío Zañartu, who “rehabilitated the little square (…) and undertook major changes in the house”, which tasks were assigned to the architect Albert Cruz Montt, with Robert Dávila participating in the completion. There is also the case of “Casa de los Velasco”, which in 1927 underwent an intervention by the architect Victor Heal (10). Monuments might serve as evidence that only the strongest survive; in this case, the cultural heritages surviving destruction and oblivion. Inventing traditions in this context will consist in conveniently activating the available catalogue of monuments with a new meaning. This has been recently proven by Antonio Sahady (11) with the exhaustive study for the historical centre of Santiago, which could easily apply in its diagnoses and conclusions to the situation of the country which had in its palaces one of its most important programs during the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. The matter of what kind of intervention must be carried out requires an urgent answer in which time always passes quickly with an inexorable obsolescence curve.Thus, the memory brought forth by walls and openings imposes a recovery of the program that has passed from restoration to rehabilitation, a part of the “re” strategies which Moisés Puente reminds us of (12); something we can see in the recent enhancement of Castillo de las Majadas de Pirque, which introduces sometimes controversial but highly relevant criteria in relation to the contemporary debate on the intervention in pre-existing architecture. The palaces will remain literally besieged amidst two centuries, projecting their heritage to future generations, those inhabiting them in multiple ways (13).
5. For a happy end: to be continued…
The happiness produced by architecture enters into a subjective field of which psychologists and neurologists have been disciplinarily aware, so it does not enter into depths that do not correspond to us. What we can testify to is the happiness that the recovery of a loss can produce in a community. As in the outcome of a story where protagonists and antagonists confront each other, the desire of the former to triumph is the weakness of the latter. When a community identifies the leadership of those who take the lead, the outcome could not be less than satisfying. This only describes the chain of production of value to which is associated any intervention to enhance the value of our heritage, where our new protagonists assume the leadership of a shared responsibility. The patrimonial value of a property is not only a nostalgic entelechy sweetened with ornaments as some think. Far from it, the economic value of the heritage places as one of the most important assets of our society, since it is part of the common good. Let us remember that heritage has characteristics of economic value as a unique – and therefore monopolicy – good, both as a public good that cannot be excluded or indivisible and also as a good that generates intergenerational externalities. At the present time, palaces appear to us in different states. From the memory we invoke in those who have disappeared, leaving behind a handful of photographs in which the diversity of formal solutions still surprise us today. Passing through the ruinous state of those who curl their abandonment to us in a waiting compass that accelerates each time the earth trembles. Those that have current uses since the transformations of their original programs, which should be a prime example of the capacity of our cities to coexist with their past. Even those who today are beginning their contemporary recovery, such as the Cousiño Palace, the Vergara Palace or the Pereira Palace, among those who announce their return by settling into our possible futures. The active recognition of these economic values added to cultural and social values are the ones that must appear at the time of enunciating the purposes of an intervention that “puts them in value” from a work where ethics and aesthetics are two sides of the same coin. They will be that aesthetic and that ethic of the work deployed in this project that today gives us the end of the works of intervention in the Palacio Rioja that could not less than allow us to see a happy ending, which is always a new beginning opened by the possible future given in solidarity to the new generations.
(1) OREGGIO LUCCO, Luis (1908): Casa Grande. Santiago de Chile: Zig-Zag Editores. p. 31.
(2) A recent systemic research in this line has resulted in the texts written by BERGOT, Soléne (2009): “Unidad y distinción: el eclecticismo en Santiago en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX”, in Revista 180, # 23, and BERGOT, Solène; VERGARA, Enrique and VIZCAÍNO, Marcelo (2014): “Palacio Vergara: élite y arquitectura en Santiago a fines del siglo XIX”, in Arquiteturevista, 10, # 2, Jul/ Dec in addition to the texts RODRÍGUEZ-CANO, Antonio et al. (2007): La Belle Epoque de Santiago Sur Poniente 1865-1925. Santiago de Chile: Edition of Banco Santander, and IMAS, Fernando and ROJAS, Mario (2012): Palacios al norte de la Alameda: el sueño del París Americano. Santiago de Chile: ARC Editores.
(3) More about the intervention in La Moneda: MÁRQUEZ DE LA PLATA, Rodrigo (1985): “La restauration du Palais de La Monnaie – Santiago du Chili”, in Icomos Information, #3,July/September.
(4) About the “earthquake factor” as a variable structuring Chilean architectonic production cycles, see the text by URRUTIA, Carlos (1993): Catástrofes en Chile 1536-1992. Santiago: Editorial La Noria.
(5) SALOMÓ, Jorge (2009): Viñamarina. La historia a partir de un Corso de Flores. Valparaíso: Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaíso.
(6) As described in his biography when commenting on these informal tasks and activities at the service of the businesses of its owner, see PELAEZ Y TAPIA, José ( (1923): Biografía del Señor don Fernando Rioja Medel, Primer Conde de Rioja de Neila 1860-1922. Valparaíso: Imprenta Victoria.
(7) With the only exception of Palacio de la Moneda, declared a National Monument in 1951, the rest of the emblematic cases were declared under this category in the 70s and 80s. It is representative of this situation that Palacio Rioja was included in the monuments catalogue after the decree of the Ministry of Education nº 262, of 14 May.
(8) A phenomenon documented in periodical publications like the magazine Revista AUCA, see “Nuevo destino para viejos edificios”, en AUCA, # 40, October1980 and the magazine of the College of Architects, see “Re arquitecturas”, CA, # 37, April 1984.
(9) DÁVILA, Roberto (1978): Apuntes sobre la arquitectura colonial chilena. Santiago: Edition of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning of the University of Chile, p. 26.
(10) SAHADY, Antonio (1992): La vivienda urbana en Chile durante la Época Hispana (Zona Central). Santiago: Department of History and Theory of Architecture, Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning, University of Chile.
(11) SAHADY, Antonio (2015): Mutaciones del Patrimonio Arquitectónico de Santiago de Chile. Una revisión del centro histórico. Santiago: Editorial Universitaria.
(12) PUENTE, Moisés (2014): “Estrategias ‘re’”, en CRISPIANI, Alejandro (ed.) Concurso Palacio Pereira. Historia de una recuperación patrimonial. Santiago: Ediciones ARQ.
(13) As well observed by the acute chronicler Roberto Merino with regard to the Barrio República quarter, where the concentration of pre-existing buildings recognizable as palaces entitles it to the epitome Barrio de los Palacios in MERINO, Roberto (2014): República (Una crónica). Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales.