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ARQ (Santiago)

versión On-line ISSN 0717-6996

ARQ (Santiago)  n.73 Santiago dic. 2009 

ARQ, n. 73 Valparaiso, Santiago, December, 2009, p. 23-27.


Amphitheater City (1)

†Glenda Kapstein*

* Professor, School of Architecture, Universidad Católica del Norte, Antofagasta, Chile


Valparaiso is part of the eastern coastal border of the Pacific Ocean; its form of city amphitheatre, looking towards the north and towards the sea identifies it, and its hilly geography gives it character and scale. The author analyzes this historical adaptation, from its foundation in the flat area, up to its organic growth on the hillsides and crevices.

Key words: Valparaiso, Chilean-Urbanism, topography, history, urban morphology, city-port.

A city’s place or site of settlement grants it a general morphological character with which it tends to be identified or denominated: spotted city, hill city, basin city, or amphitheater city.
In Latin America it is necessary to consider another important aspect at the time of reading or recognizing a city- the presence and scale of the site on which it rests, particularly in this western coast or Pacific Ocean edge, where the coastal mountain range abruptly submerges and emerges from the sea. “In the search for an agreement between land and city, the geographic environment is what orients and defines its purpose.” (Saldarriaga, 1990)
If we observe the physical model of the land , we are presented with morphology of folds and breaks that have the aspect of wrinkled paper, folded without an apparent order, abruptly ending in the edge’s narrow fringe and in the very edge of the sea.
This image proposes new forms suggestive of geometry inscribed in the topology with folds, fractals, and edges- in this case, natural fractals, like the drawings that winds create on a dune. (Briggs y Peat, 1990)
This impregnating geography is manifested in Valparaíso by intense sloping of hills towards the sea (from 10 to 300 masl), with folds, breaks, and depressions formed by the rain’s course and the coast’s humidity- erosion of coastal land in search of the sea’s zero surface level.

THE ORIGIN OF THE CITY / Valparaiso’s geographic amphitheater, situated between parallels
32º 27’ and 32º 29’ latitude south, is formed by naturally sloping terrain that surrounds the coast around a bay (Fig. 01). The city rests where the inland Quintil Valley and the sea meet, where the hills form a small arch between Artillería and Alegre Hills, the foundational origin of the city which later expands as a greater arch reaching Playa Ancha to the west and Cerro Baron to the east, configuring the complete amphitheater. (Fig. 02)
The narrow plain at the edge of the ocean, the site of origin of the city, didn’t allow the implementation of an orthogonal or checkered urban plan, but an adaptation to the existing geographic conditions of the place instead.
The city quickly grew towards higher land, where a more organic fabric of spontaneous character was produced, and the bottoms of the gorges became the natural points of main access. In one part the city naturally expanded, climbing from the plain to the hills. On the other hand, from the historic point of view, the port activities starting in 1554, the year that Valparaiso was declared the official port of Santiago, initiated a gradual growth. (Fig. 03)
During the 16th and 17th centuries Valparaiso settled like a village, surrounding La Matriz Church, and bodegas were placed on the adjacent plain in the Almendral neighborhood (Fig. 04). The economic boom that began in the 19th century was crucial in creating the routes that communicate Europe with other Pacific countries, through Cape Horn and Valparaiso. Merchant activity attracted English, French and German tradesmen, who left their mark on the building styles, the plain region and the adjacent hills.
Construction of the Panama Canal in the 1930s turned Valparaiso into a final destination, privileging it with the transportation of national products. (Vicuña Mackenna, 1925)
The direct influence of these events on the entire city produced a demand for more surface area on the plan- or narrow plain- for the expansive works of the port, resulting in the plan gaining land on the sea, expanding towards the bay however possible.
We are thus confronted with an urban plan constantly growing towards higher land and towards the plan required by development of the port’s activities, commerce, and the civic world, consolidating its edge with the sea throughout time.
After modernization of the port and the predominance acquired by the Pacific Ocean as a center of globalized commercial and world exchange, a new chance for development is presented, similar to that of cities like Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Buenos Aires, among others. We confront a Valparaiso where the historic city coexists with a contemporary city and where, in facing challenges, a vast infrastructural plan was implemented, one that understands the opening of the port’s and sea’s edge, and the transportation system connecting the port to the south, without interrupting the public pedestrian promenade of the edge.
Lifestyle changes and the consolidation of the civic center or plain have led the way to a new type of tall construction, which has been regulated, respecting the historic zones and generating a new plan that has added complexity to the reading of the city’s reality.

URBAN PLAN, FRAGMENTS, INTERSTICES AND EDGES / As we have seen, Valparaiso is a city composed of the amphitheater, the plain, the bay, the horizon, and the sky. The particular disposition of the hills allow houses and higher public spaces to participate visually with the bay and at the same time with the neighboring hills and the rest of the city, or fragments of it, through depressions and breaks between the hills. (Figs. 05 and 06)
The urban fabric, in this case the one adapting to the slopes, generates its own language: one on top of another, the buildings position themselves to ensure command over the view, the sun, and proper ventilation. The volumes climb, rotate, or hang from streets that draw any degree of horizontal elevation, or on a slope, and take over the hillsides, the banks, or the encounter of the hills with the plain.
At the same time the ground creases, gaining height rather than distance between vertical volumes, and bordering walls or serving as sidewalks for streets with intense sloping. Stairs are found in every form and proportion: passages, alleys, streets, corners and breaks, in every angle, incline, bridge and elevator. The hills’ public spaces also acquire their own expression.
It is in this manner that the traditional plazas or small squares find their meaning in the overlooks or hill edges and stretches of widened streets with guardrails to observe the bay, the sea, and the city. Within this complex plan, these overlook edges are references with respect to the distances and heights covered by the intricate streets, passages, and stairs.
 This complex reality produces a reading of the city where the urban interstices arise partly from the special geographic context of its placement and partly from the multiple causes of the accumulation of historic development through different time periods, which have been superimposed as a coexistence of tradition and modernity, both intrinsically related.
The interstice looks like a spatial urban entity, three dimensional and complex in particular city fragments, like a way of interpreting urban development problems of the contemporary city. In relation to this reading, specifically regarding the fragmentations, De Las Rivas (1992) says: “The fragment is derived from the structure of reality… at first a fragment appears as a piece, as an isolated part of a whole outside of its context. But a fragment, due to the expectation projected in being incomplete, has evocative powerful content, citation, multiple reference, in search of new poetics. Its incomplete character makes it belong to two worlds at once, to the origin and to its new context, and through this acquires its value. Both exist, simultaneously. Can a fragment be constituted of itself ‘ex-novo’, without belonging to something preexisting?”
Defined and understood as the support of the interstice, the fragment creates doubt, lack of control, and risky transformation, but at the same time represents great potential for change.
In a spotted city a discontinuity or break in the spatial order is produced. The urban landscape turns ambiguous, without a clear purpose: incomplete peripheries, city backs, encounters in segments, different orientations, and abandoned central places. At first its reading doesn’t present difficulties. In the urban fabric described earlier we can speak of a spatial order above positioning, where the urban landscape is transformed into something saturated, with too many implied references and with an apparently clear purpose. Hillsides or slopes, street turns at the bottoms of gorges, disconnections between hills, rotating volumes, stairs and geometries that reveal the morphology of the root of its temptation: the land and its natural condition. In this case the fragment responds to a geometry of folds with the superposition of different elements or slopes, the stride of narrow streets searching for a realistic grade for continuity, street borders, airy elevator structures, volumes and slopes, emphasizing the depth of the voids.
At a smaller scale, interstices give way to stepped alleyways, pedestrian steps, stairs between volumes or accompanying the course of elevators, the descent of water, stairs in breaks, stepped ramps, and other situations of great social influence in the daily life of the inhabitants of the hill neighborhoods, like the overlooks, plazas, and borders. “The amphitheater claims its true meaning when it participates with the bay, and when this participation is manifested in its edge.“ (Bernal and Kapstein, 1968)
The great edge of the city is produced in the plan. The edge meets the sea, where there is now a pedestrian promenade which begins at the port, breakwater, and jetty, up to Baron Pier. This great edge corresponded to the early warehouses of the port and was a yearning of its early inhabitants, who already had manifestations in the overlook edges of the hills, with different cultures, situations, and orientations. In our reading, these types of edges can be part of an interstice or can be indistinctly inscribed or superimposed.
Although we are accustomed to associating the edges to streets or highways, in this case we must also associate them to level changes, to the different edge heights, terraces, and slopes.
The edges that create the highways are situated outside of the urban center, except for the metro train and Errázuriz Avenue- the vehicular entrance and egress parallel to the Sea Promenade- which creates a disconnect of the latter with the rest of the city.
The plan presents a morphology and layout of irregular grids adapted to the breadth or narrowness of the strip, with three green and two dry plazas- historic neighborhood and port- and a series of small articulating plazas descending the hills. In these we find manifestations of the higher city and the encounter of its inhabitants participating in activities proper to the lower city plan.

CITY AND URBAN PROJECT / The purpose of this paper is to emphasize a vision that would open the possibilities of renovation and restoration, through fragments of the city, understanding the interstitial city as a project resource- an issue that is at the same time presented as an image resource given value, according to the special characteristics of its urban morphology. Through the analysis of the transformation of the contemporary city, Carlo Aymonino (1972) stresses how “architectural intervention is as necessary today as it was in the past”. The architectural and urban project is in and of itself a measuring instrument for strategic spaces of intervention, revelation of the intention of the interstice, and the programmatic aspects of scale and immediate context.
“The city that we can offer based on this is a city that doesn’t eliminate man’s history, that recovers the useful values of the past and puts them in a new richer relationship- being more complex- with the possible values of the future, that guarantees the possibilities and advantages of urban life, in particular the multiplicity of alternatives to the totality of citizens”. (Aymonino, 1972)

BIOGRAPHY / Glenda Kapstein Lomboy (1939 – 2008), born in Valparaiso, studies architecture at University of Chile. She lives in Spain between 1968 and 1979, where she collaborates with the latest modern European architects: Camuñas, Georges Candilis, Corrales and Molezún. In 1979 she returns to Chile, settling in Antofagasta, where she begins her academic and research career involving the Atacama Desert at the Architecture School of Universidad Católica del Norte. Her environmental orientation becomes concrete in 1988 with the publication of the book Espacios intermedios (Editorial Universitaria). Among her works is the House of Spiritual Excercises for the Fundación Alonso Ovalle in Antofagasta (1991), the pavilion Codelco Pavillion in Exponor Antofagasta (1995), the amplification of the Architecture School of Universidad Católica del Norte (2001) and the sun room of Kapstein House in El Quisco (2002). In 1995 she obtains her Magister in Architecture from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. In 2003 she receives the international prize Passive and Low Energy Architecture.

1. The present article was written upon request of architect Marisa Carmona, as part of an investigation for Delft University, Holland, 2007. The sketches presented were made by Glenda Kapstein for the same article.
2. See model, property of the Instituto Geográfico Militar, Chile.
3. Plans acquired from the nomination of Patrimony of Humanity by unesco during the year 2003.


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Bernal, Juan y Glenda Kapstein. Arquitectura de una ciudad anfiteatro: Valparaíso. Seminario de Arquitectura, Universidad de Chile, Santiago, 1968.         [ Links ]
Briggs, John y David Peat. Espejo y reflejo: Del caos al orden. Editorial Gedisa, Barcelona, 1991.         [ Links ]
De las Ribas, Juan. El espacio como lugar. Sobre la naturaleza de la forma urbana. Universidad de Valladolid, Valladolid, 1992.         [ Links ]
Saldarriaga, Alberto. "Museo de Arte Moderno". Revista de Arte, Caracas, 1990.         [ Links ]
Vicuña Mackenna, Benjamín. Historia de Valparaíso (1536 - 1868). Imprenta Albión de Cox i Taylor, Valparaíso, 1925.         [ Links ]

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