Student blog of the Stanford University Urban Studies Department

A Lamentation on Development


Santiago seems to reflect Chile’s difficult past. The city’s architecture is a fascinating conglomeration of styles, correlating with the various periods of economic booming that exploded across the city.  Certain areas reflect the period that during which they developed, while others are simply a chaotic mix of colonial (in the Spanish sense), modern (in the brutish, repressive sense), and structural expressionist (in the glassed, giant sense).  Every building seems to tell a story of Santiaguino dynamics at the time of its construction.  The oldest buildings recount Santiago’s swindling of the capital seat from Concepción, while those built under Pinochet serve as reminders of his reign when the value of the economy soared but the value of human rights tumbled.  The newest illustrate the wealth accrued by Chile’s place as the chief exporter of a motherboard’s blood—copper. 

Among these new buildings is the Torre Titanium La Portada, which any resident will boast about it being the tallest building in all of South America, and construction is in progress on another that will surpass it—La Gran Costanera.  They are, admittedly, marvelous structures of glass and steel that gleam in the sunlight and cast their shadows on squatter neighbors.  The best thing about the Costanera complex, my host cousin bragged to me, was the four-story shopping mall that was going to be at the bottom!  Problem:  During all this development, historical buildings have been replaced, or left to wither in the less affluent comunas.

These two buildings, and the many ascetic skyscrapers (and shopping malls seemingly ripped straight out of Southern California) in the booming area called Nuevo Las Condes, depicted above, are representations of a city and nation trying so hard to be global, affluent, world-class.  Perhaps it has something to do with that troubled past, but Chileans seem to stand at attention facing only the future, armed with newfound riches from economic development.  At least one Chilean, though, our Academic and Student Services Coordinator for BOSP Santiago, Iván Tapia, lamented the dereliction and loss of the Santiago’s historic buildings—the ones that used to reflect a city’s heritage, rather than the sun.

-Gerad Hanono


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