academic, Columbia, GSAPP

Santiago, Chile


Fall 2020
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, the second as farce” - Karl Marx


With a haunting history of political reappropriation, UNCTAD in Santiago, Chile,exemplifies how futile good intentions in architecture can be. Originally built in 1972 as a socialist symbol under Salvador Allende for the United Nations Conference on trade and Development, the building was co-opted into the military headquarters of Augusto Pinochet’s Dictatorship. With minimal architectural intervention, the building’s socialist ambitions were completely erased, entering into the Chilean imagination as a symbol of the dictatorship. In 2006, a fire partially destroyed the building.

The design 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. Monumentalizing architecture is no longer enough since that definition can be easily changed by those in power. 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 progremeless 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.

The goal is to redefine the current cultural institution. By freeing the ground and allowing for criss-crossing, the site becomes a public square for cultural exchanges allowing for friction with the city. We introduce props that utilizes the logic of the theatre to provide a framework without creating enclosure between ground and roof. This allows for cultural engagement to happen through events instead of fixed programs. The events occur under or above different roofs depending on structural capacity and seasonality. The new cultural institution becomes an open framework and cultural condenser. Simultaneously, the project produces a moment of pause and self consciousness of preconceived ideas of space. Our architecture is an actor that instigates political friction, and therefore societal change. Is this a roof, a block, a building, or the city? Our project is the product of collective work.

Joel McCullough Copyright 2020