Friday, November 21, 2008

Santiago. Unidad Vecinal Portales

The Unidad Vecinal Portales is a massive housing complex just north of the main bus terminal. I don’t know the exact number of units, but it must approach 1000. It is quite a striking modernist project designed in 1950 by B.V.C.H. (Bresciani, Valdés, Castillo y Huidobro) and was constructed between 1952 and 1956. It has quite a striking variety of buildings, all originally connected through broad walkways and interior streets. In the larger blocks, housing is a variety of one and two story units. In between the blocks are units, designed like rowhouses. Each of these have a front and backyard. These were originally placed under a lot of the walkways, but over the years, these walkways have been closed off and used to create pitched roofs over the homes. It is a very strange experience to be walking along and see the walkway in front of you end in someone’s roof. One of the residents told me that it was because young kids would hang out all night being rowdy and the only way people found to stop it was be building roofs there. I suspect there were problems with leaks as well. The result is, of course, that you have move between the buildings on the ground.

The facades are a bit of a hodge podge, but offer a striking variety and diversity, as balconies and windows having sliding screens as well. The interior circulation zones were quite striking as well with large wide, interior streets and large voids cut out where the vertical circulation is located.

I dug this project, and the people I spoke with there seemed to really like living there. There is enough variety within the entire complex that families have been able to remain within the same community while still be able to moving to different units and apartments sizes. But there is something about these modernist projects that have a distinct contribution from the inhabitants….

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