Architectural Classics: ECLAC Building / Emilio Duhart
Recognized as a landmark in modern Latin American architecture and one of its main references in the world, the headquarters of ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America, part of the United Nations) was designed by the Chilean architect Emilio Duhart and inaugurated on August 29, 1966 in Santiago, Chile.
Located on originally rural land bordering the Mapocho River, the site was donated by the Chilean state to the United Nations in the 1960s as a free loan for the construction of the building. The design was the winner of an international public competition in the 1960s, in which Christian de Groote, Roberto Goycoolea and Óscar Santelices participated in addition to Duhart himself.
In his early years as an architect, Duhart worked in Le Corbusier’s studio on the design of the master plan for Chandigarh, India, and his inspiration is clear in this building: an interesting play of volumes in a vast structure reinforced concrete supported by 28 pillars.
The horizontality of this work stands out, which is clearly reflected in the sliding window and the proportions of its volume; and the use of local materials, such as sand and gravel from the Mapocho River, which highlights the relationship between the building and the place where it stands. In addition, the floor of the plinth on the west side – parallel to the river – was chosen as a space to establish a dialogue from the inside, in addition to the relationship between the river, the hill and the sky through the different heights, allowing a kind of “diaphragms that connect the inside and the outside with maximum efficiency”, as Duhart himself once explained.
On the ground plan, the project reproduces the scheme of the central courtyard as a characteristic element of the Chilean country house. Similarly, the entrance to the ECLAC is preceded by an asymmetrical oval basin and a huge concrete tile at the entrance, another tribute to the bastide. Duhart and his company designed a ring of offices – 100 by 100 meters – framing the large central courtyard which groups thematic sub-patios imitating four climatic plant zones of the South American country.
In the courtyard are the most important and common places for all the organizations of the building; the circular conference rooms and the central service core. These elements are connected to the ring by footbridges and overlap in the auditorium, a structure in the shape of an ascending snail. Inside the auditorium an inverted saucer in white fiberglass optimizes.
In its exterior circulation, the walls have symbolic inscriptions on their surface that tell the history and culture of Latin America. The walk ends at the top of the auditorium, offering panoramic views of San Cristóbal Hill, Bicentennial Park, the Andes Mountains, and the skyscrapers of the financial district.
The design of the ground floor of the ring originally envisaged an open plan. However, the subsequent increase in personnel and change in the ECLAC program altered some of the original concept, including partitions to enclose the various compartments, thus breaking with the transparency and the original open floor plan.
In 2008 a series of renovation works were completed, including the recovery of large open spaces on the north and south sides of the ring, where the Carmelo Soria civic square is located. Two years later, after the earthquake of March 2010, the partitions were removed and modular spaces were incorporated.