June 1, 2008
An Interim Solution
Faced with a site destined for taller construction, an architect produces a short-term structure that is long on style.
When tapped to design a three-floor office building for BIP Computers on a site in Santiago, Chile, zoned for up to 12 stories, Alberto Mozó found himself faced with a construction death knell. Since he was building something that, because of its highly profitable location, would inevitably be temporary, the 44-year-old architect decided to make use of the lot’s two existing houses from 1936 rather than demolishing them and hauling the remains to the landfill. He transformed their 5,930 square feet into usable work space by adding a playfully simple yet totally distinctive laminated-wood structure. This was also a politically savvy move. “As much as possible, I wanted to rescue the existing structure since it was perceived by the community as an old country house in the middle of the city,” Mozó says.
BIP Computers CEO Nicolás Moens de Hase emphasized the need for a high-tech building that reflected the company’s business. “This will be a high-tech building in laminated wood,” the architect insisted. Though relatively new in Chile, the material offers the possibility for disassembly and reuse, especially important considering that the project required a total of 3,178 cubic feet of wood. Mozó also stuck with boards of a single dimension: 3.5 by 13.5 inches. “I always make the effort to design a building with the dimension that the materials provide, avoiding leftovers. If the client pays for a certain material, the idea is to use it to its maximum capacity. The design of the building did not determine this measurement—it was the other way around.”
Inside, the floors are finished with unaffixed prefabricated concrete tiles that can also be recycled. “BIP Computers sells computer equipment, which is tremendously contaminating, so developing an environmentally friendly project was very important,” Moens de Hase explains. “We even tried to develop a building that was energy autonomous, but it didn’t work.” The facade is a composition of glass panes backed in places by opaque white fabric panels that provide thermal insulation and filter incoming natural light.
Mozó split the interior program into public and private zones, with the company’s retail store on the ground floor and its administrative offices on the third. Reserved for future growth, the second floor is currently a free space where the client curates exhibitions of work by renowned and emerging artists. Though it may not be obvious, Mozó also designed all of the furniture on the first floor—which includes acrylic-and-glass shelving, and met-al lamps and stools—to echo the architecture. “I wanted the building, the architecture and interiors, to be thought of as a whole,” he says. “It is a single investigation that started from the exploration of wood.”