Last week I took my research to the faculty of Architecture and Design, Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Valparaiso. It felt wonderful to play at being a student in this environment: sunshine and clean white architecture, a combination of angles and curves arranged on a hilltop facing the sea. The white staircases spiralling up into the sky, a great pine tree shading the decking where students sat and ate their lunch. Around the corner from a glass-cased library, a temple-like workshop was filled with students building small constructions.
The faculty is located in the neighbourhood of Recreo, between ramshackle Valparaiso and luxurious Vina del Mar, and looks out to the sea from its seat in the hills. When I first arrived in Valparaiso some residents described the city of colourful houses as being like a cinema or a theatre; where the sea is a screen and all of the houses, seats, with a view of the spectacle. In this way the sea is both a gift (something which Pablo Neruda seemed to appreciate with a particular gluttony for soaring vistas) and something which poses a problem for the architect.
When I interviewed architect and co-founder of the Ciudad Abierta, David Jolly, he explained that in Ritoque they had kept their interiors enclosed and separate from the eternal presence of the sea. “If we want to see the sea we can go out there, we can walk on the beach, we can go for a run,” he said, describing how the Open City Group had gone against the elemental pull of the popular design tendency to worship the sea in order to keep interiors consistent as interiors.
Jolly explained the motivation as being a difference between daily life and leisure time, “when someone is on holidays they have a less complex life; you get up and see the sea, you read something. It’s relaxed. But when you are in full life you have a more complex relationship with the surroundings, so you don’t just see the sea as a screen.” But I can’t help feeling that if you surrender to the sea you open yourself to the possibility of infusing everyday life with the contented-feeling of perpetual holiday. As I sat working at a glass table with a view through the open window of the expansive Pacific Ocean I didn’t find this a distraction, but an invigoration of everything I was doing and everything I needed the motivation to do.