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A Palace Exposed

A Palace Exposed

Brazilian Embassy, Santiago de Chile, 2012 – 2017. Courtesy of ipiña+nieto. Photos: Pablo Casals

Artist Luis Úrculo is a peculiar storyteller who lives and works between Madrid and Mexico City. Trained as an architect, his work relies on an act of imagination. In NESS 2 we reported on his latest shows: in “Perceived Landscapes Part I” he reenacted the moon landing missions, in “Perceived Landscapes Part II” he let archaeological findings be recovered by the landscape, and in “A Green Chroma, Over Yoga Mats, Over Flashing Lights” he reflected on the accumulation of historical. For this piece, Úrculo decided to veil—to later unveil—the extension project for the Brazilian Embassy in Chile designed by ipiña+nieto architects. The original building is the Errázuriz Urmeneta Palace in downtown Santiago, which according to Úrculo’s hypothesis was hidden behind “a blanket of omission,” like a silent witness to strikes and political upheavals. In a brief interview we ask him about the ideas below the veil.

In “Perceived Landscapes part I” you think about choreographies on the moon and in “Perceived Landscape Part II” you cover archaeological plates. How does it come together in this piece?

What makes the project a whole unit is the idea of representation of a landscape which is not visible or accessible and that has to be understood as an act of intuition. In the first part because of its distance and in the second part because the archeologist perceives the landscape in sections, imaging the possibilities below the surface. So the whole project is an essay of shadows and interpretations.

You seem to be constantly returning to the idea of covering, of the veil as a projective device. What is your interest in that?

I usually try to pursue sexiness. I am interested in projects that hide some information, where everything is not fully visible or narrated. Hiding is an act of seduction and mystery. Showing everything is more related to a hyper defined reality, which becomes pornographic… Let’s make architecture sexy again!

The project description by ipiña+nieto architects mentions that they wanted “to design a curtain to frame both the Palacio and its Park;” you say that the building was hiding behind “a blanket of omission through the years.” How does this come together in both the video and the architecture? What has the project changed?

This building has been hidden to the general public over the years: it was a governmental space, opaque and inner-oriented to the garden. ipiña+nieto changed this arrangement with a new circulation and a new configuration of the spaces. At the same time as the new embassy opened to the public, the building showed itself. The film is an opening act made with a simple choreography to reveal those new spaces.

On another note, you are an artist trained as an architect working with architecture. Do you conceive of a veil in architecture’s practice that you explore through another media?

I think I work with tools and processes used in architecture but in different scales and with changing meanings. The veil I focus my work on is a gesture that transforms into representation, it is material behavior and fiction at the same time.


“I usually try to pursue sexiness. I am interested in projects that hide some information, where everything is not fully visible or narrated. Hiding is an act of seduction and mystery.”

—Luis Úrculo

The New Brazilian Embassy by ipiña+nieto architects

ARCHITECTS: ipiña+nieto arquitectos / ossa arquitectura
CLIENT: República Federativa do Brasil
LOCATION: Avenida Alonso de Ovalle 1695
CONSTRUCTION: Moguerza Constructora SPA
AREA: 5 304 m2
PROJECT YEAR: 2012 – 2017

ipiña+nieto restored, refurbished, and enlarged the historic Palacio Errázuriz. Built in 1872 by the Italian architect Eusebio Chelli as one of the best houses in Santiago de Chile. Since then, it has witnessed the transformation both of society and the city—new streets to the south and west have modified the exterior of the Palacio partly losing what once was a vast romantic garden. In 1941, the Brazilian Government bought the property and from then on the building has seen continuous transformation.

The new project is focused in drawing a limit that clearly separates the diplomatic offices from the Ambassador’s residence and the Chancery. The architects assumed that the first action should be to design a curtain to frame both the Palacio and its Park, thus creating a permeable wooden wall that embraces, without hiding, the current Chancellery building.

The pine wood dialogues with the garden while consolidating a limit without disconnecting inner and outer areas but separating the public areas of the offices from the private ones of the residence. It adapts to the topographical characteristics of the garden and to the position of the existing flora, unifying the new volumes built to meet the new programmatic requirements.

In between the wooden limit and the existing walls, a space becomes habitable. Its thickness is fungible, variable, and unstable both geometrically and functionally. On one side, these spaces act passively in the climatic conditioning of the offices’ interiors like patios. On the other side and towards the main avenue, the Espaço Cultural Thiago de Mello, a cultural center, finds its place. As the Palacio Errázuriz turns into a framed object, the construction is smoothened as the patrimonial architecture is enhanced.

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