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Section perspectives


With a haunting history of political reappropriation, UNCTAD in Santiago, Chile, exemplifies how futile good intentions in architecture can be. Built in 1972 as a socialist symbol under Allende for the UN Conference, the building was co-opted into the military headquarters of Pinochet’s military dictatorship. With minimal architectural intervention, the building’s socialist ambitions were completely erased, entering into the Chilean imagination as a symbol of the repressive government dictatorship. In 2006, a fire partially destroyed the building. Our project extends beyond the site and reuses what is left to create a new cultural institution in conversation with UNCTAD’s history. Given this political history, we question how we can design for a democratic future without being naïve and acknowledging the imprecision of architecture as a political tool. We utilize four tools. Ground that extends to the city through different patches. Roofs that reorganize the block through covering. A datum of roof that transforms the tower into a program-less totem of the city. And liminal space between roof and ground that is activated by props. The project builds ten structurally independent tables. Due to the consistent effort to maintain the datum above and below the roof, the lifted archipelago becomes a unity of parts. The specificity of the tables cancels out individual authorship for the collective whole integrating in the cityscape. Our goal is to redefine the current cultural institution. By freeing the ground and allowing for criss-crossing, the site becomes a ground for cultural exchanges allowing for friction with the city. Is this a roof, a block, a building, or the city?