corten steel visitors center punctuates the vast dryness of chile's atacama desert

corten steel visitors center punctuates the vast dryness of chile's atacama desert

chilean architects emilio marín and juan carlos lópez construct a public information center in the atacama desert, the driest in the world. the ‘center of interpretation of the desert’ is situated near the first wind farm in northern chile, between san pedro de atacama and ayquina. through the design and program of the atacama desert center, the building exposes the different layers of meaning of the desert — the ‘natural, cultural, and energetic.’ the design team approached the project as an investigation into the contemporary relationship between architecture and landscape. while much of the successful chilean architecture of the past 20 years is built with a dialectical relationship with the landscape, the duo strove to go a step further.

atacama desert center
all images © felipe fontecilla unless otherwise stated



emilio marin and juan carlos lopez extend the boundaries and the modern vision of the interplay between architecture and landscape, where the main characters are two opposites. the duo articulates other aspects of this relationship between the built environment and its territory, breaking that dichotomy and integrating the proposal as a new landscape in the desert, a device that evokes other interpretations, an observatory where visitors change their understanding of this specific natural environment. the main strategy of the project is to integrate three dimensions of natural origin — geography, landscape, and ecology — through three layers of architecture — form, material, and space.

atacama desert center



in relation to the geographic desert element, the duo generates a collection of volumes foregrounded against the distant volcanoes of the andes. contrasting the ubiquitous monochrome textures of the atacama desert, the building is conceived in one single material. corten steel envelops the form, giving the appearance of a block of molten steel interrupting the vastness of the desert. the third element is the central patio space which introduces a new ecosystem within the project. protected from wind, the garden offers a small oasis. it is surrounded by an open corridor which serves as a viewpoint toward the sky and creates the conditions for an intimate experience between visitors and green space.

atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center atacama desert center
image © pablo casals



project info:


project name: C.I.D (center of interpretation of the desert)

architects: emilio marín – juan carlos lópez

location: road to ayquina, región de antofagasta, chile

collaborators: alessandra dal mos, thomas batschenlager

landscape designers: cristobal elgueta, macareca calvo

structural engineer: victor palma

design year: 2013 – 2014

construction year: 2015

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