Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

In Design with Nature: Chilean Architect German del. Sol. Develops Structures in Harmony with Their Surrounding Landscapes

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

In Design with Nature: Chilean Architect German del. Sol. Develops Structures in Harmony with Their Surrounding Landscapes

Article excerpt

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An hour's drive north of Santiago, the Vina Sena winery sits high in the Aconcagua Valley, its terraced slopes of cabernet sauvignon and merlot vines overlooking rose nurseries, orchards, and herds of Fresian cattle that speckle the valley floor. It is bounded to the west by 5,997 foot Cerro La Campana and to the north and south by the sheer-sided shoulders of Chile's coastal mountains, their scrubland scattered with large boulders and yellow-flowered espino trees. Far to the east, just visible on the horizon, is the soaring peak of 22, 841 foot Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas.

Still under construction, the vineyard's tasting room straddles a rocky outcrop, its wooden frame planted off-kilter, its interior painted a vibrant shade of sunflower yellow. Below, the vines curve around the natural form of the hillside, appearing to flow downwards where watercourses and gulleys descend from the mountain's higher reaches. Loose walls, formed from heaped boulders and topped with a single line of white concrete, snake across the land, picking out its subtle undulations.

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"Before, there was just one possible view from here, the obvious vista down the valley towards Aconcagua," says architect German del Sol, whose designs for Vina Sena's winery and storage vault are scheduled for completion in 2011, with an eight-cabin hotel to follow the year after. "The difficulty is that Aconcagua is just too far away to visualize properly: it makes sense only if you can imagine what it would be like close up. The terrace here lures the visitor outside, from where the nearby slopes are visible in great detail, something that allows one, in turn, to truly imagine Aconcagua."

Sure enough, from the tasting room's terrace, where giant buttresses of naked rock emerge from the mountainside beneath, and a brace of fugon fireplaces stand ready to ward off the evening chill, the eye is drawn--unbidden--to the nameless, nearby ridges and only then to Aconcagua's landmark peak. "In a sense, we have created a view that didn't exist," says Del Sol. "The building allows the view to happen."

Such a deceptively simple process of molding a building to its surroundings is typical of Del Sol. His work includes some of Chile's most idiosyncratic hotels, vineyards, and thermal spas, from Hotel Salto Chico in Patagonia and Hotel de Larache in the Atacama Desert--landmark projects built for Chile's Explora hotel group--to the Termas Geometricas, a stark hot spring complex in Villarrica National Park, 450 miles south of Santiago. With dozens of prestigious prizes already to his name, in 2006 he was awarded the nation's highest accolade for an architect, the National Prize for Architecture from the Colegio de Arquitectos de Chile.

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Del Sol's desire to reinvigorate Chile's indigenous traditions and unite them with the natural world infuses his designs with an almost spiritual content that. merits comparison to visual poetry. "I view my role as landscaping," he explains. "I design hotels in remote locations, places that people visit with an open mind, ready to discover things they don't yet know. Remoteness does away with limitations in time and space. It's where you feel most removed from your daily life, where you feel distance as something almost tangible, a place where you can put your life into perspective."

A native of Santiago, Del Sol graduated Dora Barcelona's Escuela Tecnica Superior de Arquitectura in 1973 and stayed on in Spain for six more years to gain practical experience in the design of social housing. His early career was marked by an extreme perfectionism, what he now describes as an obsession with order and purity. His one-time partner, Jose Cruz, who studied with Del Sol in Barcelona, used to tease him for trying to eradicate light switches, electric sockets, and clothes cupboards from his designs. …

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