Mexico City–based PRODUCTORA and Santiago, Chile–based UMWELT and LANDMRX have been announced as the winners of a competition to design the new headquarters for state rail corporation Empresa de Ferrocarriles del Estado Trenes de Chile (EFE). A former postal sorting office designed in a brutalist style in the 1970s by Chilean architect Boris Guiñeman Waissbluth, will be renovated into a publicly-accessible headquarters as part of a larger redevelopment of Santiago’s Estación neighborhood.
The site, as indicated by the neighborhood’s name, is flanked by the railyard that leads to the city’s Central Station, which connects to the national rail system and the city’s metro. EFE had been looking to reflect its public orientation through a nationally remarkable building, and hosted a design competition for the adaptive reuse of Guiñeman Waissbluth’s building that received 22 submissions. The jury, made up of prominent Chilean architects, the director of the EFE, and local government representatives chose the PRODUCTORA/UMWELT/LANDMRX team with second place awarded to BEALS-LYON ARQUITECTOS (Santiago) and third place to Lira Arquitectos (Santiago).
The winning design was selected for its ability to integrate the building into its urban surroundings, its value in retaining design aspects of the original structure, its comfortable interior spaces, and its approach to blending public and institutional use. The landscape design, by LANDMRX, will integrate the ground floor of the building with an adjacent square, and provide better access to the Alameda Melipilla Train station. Ground-level spaces will wrap from the plaza into a central atrium, through which Santiaguinos can directly access the metro. The design team took inspiration from the Santiago Centro building (1963-1980) and Plaza Lyon (1979), directing foot traffic into the building’s commercial and transit spaces to ensure that all levels of the mixed-use building met the space’s full potential.
In respect to Guiñeman Waissbluth’s design, PRODUCTORA and UMWELT will preserve the concrete-latticed exoskeleton that structures the facade, as well as the horizontally-oriented floor plates and double-height spaces. Thus, the structural and dimensional bones of the building will remain intact.
The envelope will be inset from the existing concrete facade, allowing for a landscaped terrace between the new envelope and perimeter concrete structure, with new interior spaces constructed in wood. The wood, in tandem with the airiness of the interior and softer connection to outdoor spaces, will open the brutalist structure without observing it. Renderings of the project show polished concrete floors—some painted seafoam green—which add a playfulness to the space.
The only major change to the building’s profile will come on the rooftop. A landscaped cross-laminated timber (CLT) deck will wrap the perimeter of the rooftop, overlooking the adjacent neighborhood to bring public space through to the building’s apex rather than reserving it for ground-level spaces.
Recognizing that the environmental impact of the concrete-heavy 1970s construction is the product of an economic system that contributed to the climate crisis, the design team hopes that its use of CLT and laminated wood alongside far more efficient operations systems will result in a negative carbon footprint.