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Work del arte

Corporate headquarters for Chile's largest retailer is hailed by the local community as a work of art, setting a new direction in architectural design for the capitol

April 01, 2003 |

Rising 22 stories above one of Santiago, Chile's most high-scale commercial districts, the glass-and-steel corporate headquarters for Almacenes Paris LTDA — Chile's largest retailer — stands as an icon of innovative, postmodern architecture in a city where mediocre buildings rule the landscape.

As South America's fifth largest city, with a population of more than 5 million, Santiago has its share of architectural treasures.

But with the exception of several new structures, most modern buildings in Chile's capital city are '50s, '60s, or '70s international style, says Donald Hackl, FAIA, president of Chicago-based architecture firm Loebl Schlossman & Hackl (LSH).

"There are many good buildings in Santiago, but there had been no new forms contributed to the city in about 30 years," says Hackl.

Encompassing offices, commercial space, and five levels of below-grade parking for 200 cars, the 200,000-sq.-ft. complex was designed jointly by LSH and well-known Chilean painter and architect Jaime Bendersky, now deceased. The $17 million structure was constructed by Santiago-based Empresa Constructora Tecsa, S.A.

The LSH/Bendersky design team won an international design competition hosted by the client — the Galmez family. Jorge Galmez, head of the family and president of Almacenes Paris, wanted to construct a new headquarters that would commemorate his family's 100th anniversary of its immigration from Spain to Chile.

"He wanted to give back to the city by creating a piece of art — a building that would change people's perception of the family as just successful, wealthy merchants," says Hackl.

Paris tower sails into Santiago

Named Torre Paris, the structure features a curving glass curtain wall exterior that also inclines outward from the ground level up, creating a ship-like form. This nautical metaphor, says Hackl, was driven by several functional requirements. For instance, the curved exterior maximizes the usable area of the small, triangular site, while at the same time it permits small floor plates.

The ever-changing facade, in combination with steel overhangs and reflective, insulated glass, work to lessen the scorching sun's effect on the interior spaces.

The Building Team chose to use a structural-steel frame instead of the more common reinforced concrete frame, says Hackl. The steel moment frame meets the city's strict seismic code and provides column-free interior spaces. The use of steel also creates a lighter structure with fewer structural components, making the building more transparent.

"At night, the building looks like a piece of crystal, because the light coming from within makes the building extraordinarily transparent," comments Hackl.

Any downfalls to working in Chile?

Hackl says "lack of urgency" by local firms resulted in significant delays.

"This building took at least twice as long to build as the same building would have taken here in the states," he says. "In that culture, there's a different attitude about urgency."

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