Punta San Juan Seacoast Observatory
Jochamowitz Rivera Arquitectos
Mariana Jochamowitz Cárdenas Nicolás Rivera Bianchi
Susana Cárdenas-Alayza (Consultant)
Susana Cárdenas-Alayza (Punta San Juan Program Director)
Marcela Barragán Leon
The project’s main objective was to build a mechanism of communication between people and the particular environment they inhabit, which is in this case a vast desert with a rich seaside of great natural beauty. There are two architectural ideas that establish this relationship. One is adding a geometric object in the vast desert landscape to generate a sense of place. The other is placing a horizontal window between the observer and the landscape to mediate their relationship; a rock with a horizontal fracture. The volume uses geometry and colour to relate to the textures and tones of the scenery while at the same time affirming its artificial, man-made nature. The geometry is an abstraction of the sharp rocks that cover the coastal desert environment, eroded and transformed by the harsh conditions. The flat surfaces of the cabin are covered with a thick layer of boat paint, which from a distance has the colour of the desert but up close reveals its pink hues. “Whether seascape, prairie or desert, a vast and vacant scene tends to concentrate visual interest on the horizon.” (Evans, R. Mies van der Rohe’s Paradoxical Symmetries. 1990). The experience of being inside the cabin looking through the horizontal opening enhances the understanding of this particular landscape. In contrast to the stark exterior of the volume, the inside reveals all the elements of construction: the texture and patterns of the wood and the richness of the elements in the window joinery allow the visitor to experience the surroundings through a human scale.
Three years ago we began our collaboration with the Punta San Juan Program (PSJP), a scientific organisation working towards the conservation of the marine wildlife protected area of Punta San Juan. The Program seeks to achieve long-term conservation through scientific research and the involvement of the community in direct contact with the ecosystem. We proposed architecture as a potential tool that would further the consolidation of the PSJP educational goals. We became involved not only as designers, but as agents taking part in the conservation strategy. Our resources being very limited, we had to identify how modest infrastructure could have the most impact. We decided to replace one of the old observation huts in the seaside to accommodate scientific researchers and small educational visits. We were excited about designing an observatory that would unite the scientific and education programs in one small polyfunctional structure, as we believe it could showcase the potential of architecture to enhance any human experience. According to Iñaki Abalos (Atlas pintoresco. Vol. 1: el observatorio. 2005) “An observatory is […] a place where, through the mediation of technology, of different techniques, a dialogue is established with nature which turns the experience of perception into knowledge.” Taking the delicate condition of the natural environment into consideration, we established as a premise that the new structure should be made of a few prefabricated wooden panels built outside PSJ that could be then quickly assembled on-site. We involved the scientists and stakeholders working in the reserve in the assembly of the new observation hut, producing a joint statement about how to intervene in a protected area.
The observatory needed to perform efficiently for two very different purposes: educational visits and scientific research. Although both used the space for observing the surrounding landscape and wildlife they had different functional needs. The first involved just one or two scientists sitting down observing and taking notes for long periods of time while the second needed to accommodate 16 people standing up looking out simultaneously for approximately half an hour. The project approached these needs through the design of the window, the mechanism that would mediate both experiences with. This way the window is at times table, railing, tray, windbreaker or eave. By early 2016 more than 850 people from the community of Marcona have had access the new observation hut as part of the educational visits program. Simultaneously the cabin has been housing for twelve hours every day the scientific volunteers working in the PSJP doing research on sea lions.