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American Society of Landscape Architects


April 2008 Issue

Stone Frames for Endless Landscapes
Two huge dams in Chile offer enjoyable spaces for people.

By Jimena Martignoni

Stone Frames for Endless Landscapes Guy Wenborne

Mediterranean arid landscapes, vineyards, green farmlands cultivated mostly with papaya, limpid blue skies, and a flowing river characterize two Chilean agricultural valleys more than 300 miles north of the nation’s capital city, Santiago. Unfortunately, the highly irregular year-round rainfall typical of Mediterranean arid climates creates a cycle of flooding and drought that has historically been the biggest concern for farmers and locals whose life and work depend on water.

For this reason, the architecture department of Chile’s Ministry of Public Works decided to build two dams to create a reservoir that would regulate the water supply: Santa Juana Dam in the Huasco River Valley and Puclaro Dam in the Elqui River Valley. Although both projects are typical huge concrete-faced gravel dams (a variation of concrete-faced rock-fill dams), the sites were also potential recreational areas and tourism attractions enclosed as they are in a fabulous landscape of mountains.

Usually a project like this would be headed up by engineers with little thought for the landscape. The good news for the landscape architecture profession, especially in Latin America, is that a landscape architect was called in to work on the design of the public areas around the huge dams, attracting visitors and creating spaces people can enjoy.

Chilean landscape architect Carlos Martner was commissioned to design the mirador (overlooks) of Santa Juana Dam in 1995 and the Puclaro Dam walkway and public areas in 2000. Martner’s work is characterized by references to the natural and cultural history of Chile and Latin America. He created the first undergraduate course of studies in landscape architecture at Chile University in 1970 and has been teaching landscape architecture design at the Metropolitan Technological University in Santiago since 2001 (see “Stones Over the Pacific,” Landscape Architecture, June 2005).

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