Ciudad Abierta, Arquitectura de Ritoque

I promised in my blog post Beaches north of Viña del Mar to Ventanas that I would find out more about the “Arquitectura de Ritoque”. This was initially sparked by one of Yasha’s English students, who had excitedly mentioned his trip to the “Ciudad Abierta”, when he heard that I was camping in Ritoque. I only learned the details when I was back for a week in Santiago, so I went to Ritoque for a second time, because I was really curious.

Ciudad Abierta - from beach - more houses on the hill behind

Ciudad Abierta – as seen from beach. The second part, with more houses, is on the hill behind.

Now, anybody who knows me well would be aware that I have a keen interest in architecture, and often notice features on buildings that others miss. When I was a teenager, I actually wanted to become an architect – not a fireman or train driver. This had already begun much earlier; when I had nothing better to do on a rainy day (and believe me, where I grew up we had plenty of them) I would sit down with pencil and paper and draw buildings. Later, at around 13/14 years of age, they were completed with a floorplan. But unfortunately, my parents talked me out of it: “Do you want to stand for the rest of your life, in front of a drawing board, with your handicap?”*) Little did they know that before I had even turned 30, the drawing boards would be replaced by CAD programs and computers, and people hanging on to hand drawn plans were quickly losing ground. Anyway, you’re not here to read about missed opportunities in my past, but about the “Ciudad Abierta”…
*) I have a spine injury from birth with one leg shorter than the other.
And in one respect, they would have been right, because nowadays I cannot stand for long periods anymore.

Ciudad Abierta – Arquitectura de Ritoque

The idea of Ciudad Abierta actually goes back quite some time: in 1970, the site (some 270 hectares on the foreshore north of Viña del Mar) was acquired by a cooperative formed of artists, philosophers, architects and designers. To understand the timing, one should consider that 1970 was the year Salvador Allende Gossens, with his strong socialist ideals, gained power in Chile. To this day the “Corporación Cultural Amereida” is the holder of the land and all structures on it. There’s no private ownership, although some 10-12 families are reported to be living in the Ciudad Abierta.

[pullquote-right]Enlightened [by this word] we find the whereabouts and tasks of the Design and Architecture School in the Catholic University of Valparaíso, and especially those of the Open City and our Cultural Board. Such enlightenment brings a deep source of freedom and with time, the possibility of reaching new goals that allow us to carry out the tasks that we consider most important for building our world. Amereida is, after all, a vision. A vision that holds onto the highest and deepest virtues of humanity, inviting with creative peace the opportunity to re-envision the true essence of American identity. A vision that thrives to reach every field where craftsmanship can develop into art and rise up to its apex” [Amereida Cooperative].[/pullquote-right]

The cooperative was formed, as a utopian enclave, to experiment with new ways of living, working and studying. It is still used as a field for experimental architecture, guided by the teachers and alumni at the Design and Architecture School of the Catholic University of Valparaíso. The constant desire to experiment seems to drive this community, something which becomes very obvious when you visit. Not much seems to be constructed with a sense of “practicality” or “standards”. Many buildings are made from whichever material was available at the time, with not much thought of suitability or durability, particularly considering the site’s proximity to the harsh salty winds blowing off the nearby ocean. It’s a playful experiment with materials, and the various forms you can shape them into. Yet, out of this, some visually pleasing designs have emerged. Furthermore, the cooperative is also recognised internationally for their work with fabric-formed concrete structures (best look at Google images to understand this term.).

Practical Information

In order to officially visit the site you should make an appointment online , at least one week in advance, with Wednesday being the only day they can possibly offer an English speaking contact. [Now initially I wasn’t really interested in a “tour”, and I wasn’t even sure if these are aimed at single lay persons like me. I thought they might be meant for architectural students or group visits from other universities, though you can find the site mentioned in private blogs.] After my ad hoc visit I would now recommend that you try to book an appointment well in advance. I only accessed part of the site from the ocean side entrance. The remainder is fenced off, so I didn’t get to see it. I would also have liked to have a peek inside some structures. Plus, with a tour you are likely to receive more background information than I can provide here. A donation of 3,000+ Pesos per person is expected for a tour, this money to be spent on upkeep (if you visit you’ll see it’s urgently needed, too!).

I parked on a paid parking lot on the beach south of it (1,500 Pesos) instead, and walked in along the railway tracks until I found the entrance, shaped from fabric-formed concrete pillars (probably to keep the ever present quad bikes out).

Web Links

A list of all structures on site , provided by the Amereida Collective [more photos]
History and historical quotes (in Spanish) of Amereida
English language article form the AAAA Magazine – quiet well written (I pulled the quote form it)
FabWiki’s link to Ciudad Abierta and its significance for fabric-formed concrete
(embedded in page above is a good map – use it to find the site!)
A Spanish language page with links to more Flickr photos
[All links open in a new browser window/tab!]

This post is participating in Travel Photo Thursday


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21 Responses

  1. Bryan says:

    This is a fresh take on architectural structures. Would be nice to see the interior design as well I’d like to visit this place to see all those wonderful structures myself.

  2. Ana Asensio says:

    Thanks for sharing the knowledge, and thanks for linking our article in The AAAA Magazine!

  3. What an interesting collection of structures and architecture! I agree, it would be fascinating to get a look inside some of those buildings.

  4. We love architecture and seeing different types of it. Whenever we make it down to Chile we will have to keep this place in mind so we can check it out. Definitely some interesting structures.

  5. I have never heard of Ciudad Abierta in Chile. I have traveled several times in the country and seen some very interesting architecture, too, including most especially the Remota hotel in Patagonia,

  6. I had a look at the fabric-formed concrete structures through your google link and was really amazed by the creativity and what could be done through that medium.I love the freedom of creativity and expression that Ciudad Abierta encourages its artists to use. Thanks for sharing this info and introducing me to a whole new form of art. BTW – I can tell there’s still some 70’s girl in me because the idea of living in a commune still presses my “If Only…” and “What If?” buttons – LOL!

    • Juergen says:

      Nice that you followed one of my links (even though it only goes to Goggle) and became inspired! This was something new I learned about too (never too old), although I knew about the use of concrete for things like benchtops and vanity basins, which are often fabric-formed too.

  7. Johanna says:

    I really enjoy architectural tours although I’m not in anyway knowledgeable about the art of creating buildings and structures. So this post was really interesting and I learnt a lot. I enjoy experimental and playful architecture as much as classic.

  8. Very interesting and unexpected. Always learn something from your posts.

  9. Unusual but beautiful in their own way; works of art really.

  10. I know this area pretty well, having spent time in ConCón, Valparaiso, Viña, and area. But I’ve never heard of the Ciudad Abierta! Now I want to live there. How can I get more information? Will more homes and structures be built? Is there even a waiting list to be able to merge with the properties?

    • Juergen says:

      I have the impression that this will remain in the hands of the Amereida Cooperative (who you should contact for more information, link at bottom of my post) and the University of Valparaíso. The site is actually closer to Concón than Ritoque.
      If you haven’t been to the region in recent years you might be shocked how much development is going on there, see photos in our last post .

  11. Leigh says:

    I like playful – and I love architecture tours so this one sounds like a winner. I’m always in awe of people’s creativity so I’d want the full experience. And I’d take definitely take the tour so I could also see inside.

    • Juergen says:

      As I wrote before: I definitely would have loved to get closer to the houses – I kept my distance because I was “intruding”, so next time: book the tour!

  12. The exteriors are so complex, I can’t decide if they’re purposeful, or jumbled as things were added on. Like you, I would have wanted to go inside. Kind of ironic that the “open city” is somewhat closed.

    • Juergen says:

      I actually kept, for obvious privacy reasons (I wouldn’t want people poke around my house), a fair bit of distance to all structures! I think the “Open City” name is more referring to “open to new ideas”…

  13. Donna Janke says:

    Unusual structures. It would be interesting to see inside. After some of the sites I’ve toured over the last few years, I’m beginning to think many acclaimed architects (especially those whose works could be considered experimental) are rarely practical to the start and learn what works with “playing” with things and reworking over time.

    • Juergen says:

      I couldn’t agree more: I don’t think I would ever let an “experimental architect” design my house, unless I had bottomless pockets to pay for it. I’ve come across so many house plans in my life where some simple changes would have reduced the cost of building immensely, eg. adhering to standard measurements or static requirements.

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