Concrete and Water Building

Concrete and Water Building in Cerro Blanco, Chile by Philippe Blanc C.

Text and images are courtesy architect Philippe Blanc for his design of the Concrete and Water Building in Planta Cerro Blanco, Chile. Click on images at left for larger views.

The program consists of a building for the bathrooms (showers, lockers and toilets) for the workers of Polpaico at the extraction plant at Cerro Blanco. The project is to be a place of water and vapor, which leaves the body in a fragile state, a physical fragility (as compared to the clothing-armour which they don there, such as helmet, security shoes, goggles, ear protection, etc.) a thermal fragility (a narrow comfort zone due to nakedness) and a spatial fragility (solitary places- showers, toilets- and community places-lockers and wash basins).

This particular condition of the body is taken up by architecture with the interior materials employed, particularly those elements which are in contact with the body, such as light. One looks for soft lighting, so that the eye can see in a temperate way, in contrast to the excessive light of the exteriors because of the lack of shade and the whitish color of the limestone. On the other hand it contrasts with the extremely dark interiors, which are designed for industrial and not livable purposes.

Our attention is drawn to the bad quality of the "corporate" buildings or offices in contrast to the plastic potential of the industrial buildings, such as furnaces, silos, decantation pools etc. Because of this potential, one has decided to make the lavatory building into another one of these volumes of the plant and not a simple dressing room. A concrete cylinder seen "naked" with no "decoration" whatsoever, as austere as the industrial buildings. The exterior surface shows only the cones and the observation point. Prefabricated sewage reduction cones are employed as skylights.

The building is a place of changes: on reaching the plant and donning the security implements, as well as leaving it wearing "city" clothing. This threshold condition is the one that determines the architectural commission. The building is understood as a place for the workers and an addition to the rest of the buildings of the plant. The building is sited between the industrial and the administrative works, as a threshold or shadow between them. The addition of the roof terrace to the structure becomes an elevated plaza.