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Elementary Operations In Alto Hospicio

Part 1 Project 2002
Tomas Cortese
Irene McGee
Pontifical Catholic University of Chile Santiago Chile
Elementary Operations in the temporary settlement of Alto Hospicio, Atacama Desert, Chile.

The settlement to which this scheme belongs has been built spontaneously by the dwellers using minimal resources. Located within the extreme arid region of the north of Chile outdoor activities can be pleasantly performed upon the site as long as sheltered from direct sunlight.

The typical basic unit is a single room unit, a 3x6m prefabricated timber enclosure without a floor. Called a mediagua (alluding to a single pitch roof) this unit is extensively used within the country as an emergency housing solution.

The pervasive imagery of concrete lamp posts within this elementary city has historically symbolized progress: hundreds of them stick up reaching equal altitude while asserting a first statement of urbanization; they introduce a vertical dimension to the streets and at the same time fix a structural module of occupation upon the ground.

The concrete lamp post becomes the scheme’s primary strategic element acting both as support of the process of densification and instrument for the consolidation of the precarious settlement.

1.-The elementary unit (cost U$ 650 )
Four posts, three steel channels , eight bolts, ten timber joists, nine OSB timber decks, and twenty meters of tension cable, plus one prefabricated stair are assembled together within three working days with the aim of creating a table like structure .

2.-Shifting loads
The deck structure is ready to receive one standard prefab timber shelter upon it while generating a shaded space at ground level .Its dimensions (3.8x6m) are ample enough to provide 4.8m of free circulation space beyond the enclosed standard shelter.

3.-Strata
As an urban counterpart to the vertical dwelling structure, a system of stretched canvas anchored upon the lamp posts generate a new urban scale and a rhythm of light and shade upon the streets improving its use potential .Thus an ordered upper strata presides over the heterogeneous and near chaotic quality of the emergency city, setting up a new image, a distinctive urban sign.

Tomas Cortese
Irene McGee


Social housing still accounts for an important percentage of the total housing stock in countries like Chile, but unlike the experience of previous decades the subject is not any longer one that attracts good architects. Considering the very meager budgets allocated to such projects, it is not surprising that such a lack of interest from the part of the best designers in the profession has only added to the grim expectations of the extensive housing areas for the poor.

The ready made
The ready made strategy capitalizes upon what is available as industrial product and therefore somewhat guaranteed in its performance. It also acknowledges the possibility of an open ended project since the industrial product will still be available in the market in case of further building needs. Furthermore, it caters for the great numbers, involved in the housing program. The shift of emphasis from project to process (housing as a verb) means also that what the architect provides is all important but perhaps negligible at the level of image considering the enormous vitality of the dwellers in the activity of housing, a paradox that adds interest to the design experience.

The ready made chosen for this project is the very humble, good quality and extraordinarily conspicuous industrial product, the pre-stressed reinforced concrete lamp post. Such device is universally available at a reasonable price. It requires no foundation and has been proven under rigorous seismic conditions. Structurally it has the capacity to bear great weights. It performs well under conditions of compression and tension. Last but not least it introduces at low cost (U$70 per unit) a much appreciated vertical dimension within a built landscape usually confined to a single floor.

If proven correct the thesis embodied in this scheme can provide an alternative way for the most economical housing schemes , one where the hand of the architect subtly provides urban structure and coordination while abdicating its traditional role as the form giver of each house.

2002
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