A Cultural Oasis in No Man’s Land: Visitor Centre in the Atacama Desert
Client: Enel Green Power
Architects: Emilio Marín, Juan Carlos López
The value of landscapes for tourism is subject to well-known controversy. Areas far from civilization, where some can finally relax, are for others little more than wasteland. Therefore, some explanations are required to understand the need for a visitor centre in the middle of the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth.
In Chile, legislation stipulates that companies planning large-scale operations on the land must compensate the communities living adjacent to those areas. This requirement applied to the utility company Enel Green Energy, which has erected northern Chile’s first wind farm between San Pedro de Atacama and Ayquina. Without any concrete idea how to allocate the compensation funds, the company asked architects Emilio Marín and Juan Carlos López for suggestions.
Marín and López conceptualized a building that would allow users to experience and understand the surrounding arid landscape in all its many contexts – the natural, the cultural and the energy-based. The star-shaped new edifice stands near a road that runs through the wind farm. The building’s six inwardly leaning wings accommodate the reception, toilets, a multipurpose room, technical areas and two exhibition spaces. Large-scale glazing on the front sides provides broad views of the surrounding desert landscape all the way to the peaks of the Andes in the distance.
At the centre of the complex, landscape architects Cristobal Elgueta and Macareca Calvo have created an inner courtyard adorned with desert plants. At first glance, the surrounding entrance walls of the six pavilions look a bit like exposed concrete. Actually, they are grey-plastered sheets of drywall. Because of the shortage of water in the Atacama, nearly the entire building was built using a steel-frame structure. The exterior is clad with trapezoidal sheets of Corten steel. The interior wall and ceiling surfaces are made of MDF panels.