Mapuche and Chileans have a long history of conflict. At the core is the question of the land. The dispute ranges from issues of ownership and property rights to autonomy, self-determination, and cosmology. Be it for legal, political, or cultural reasons, the fact is that violence has escalated.
So…, how will we live together?
We thought of recovering an old Mapuche tradition: the Parleys (or Koyaktün).
One condition of the parleys was a minimum symmetry of knowledge between the parties, something that is not the case at the moment between Mapuche and Chileans.
Here, two of the parties in conflict decided to approach each other: a forest company and a Mapuche association of communities. This project is a chronicle of a journey of rapprochement in two steps: first, a project to allow mutual knowledge. Mapuche called it KÜNÜ. And then, once the field is leveled, a KOYAÜWE, a place to parley.
One of the many architectural challenges was that there were no precedents for such civic architecture. The starting point was a simple symbolic gesture: a place that combines the footprint of some Mapuche ceremonial spaces with new dimensions provided by pure intuition. Then, a kind of design parley followed.
The simplicity of the form is not because we were pursuing any type of Less is More. On the contrary. If anything, we went for the More or Less: more or less a circle, more or less oriented east. It was not a lack of precision; technically speaking, the assembly was calculated to the last millimeter. We just knew, design had to be open to dialogue.
We went back to the roots. Mapuche is an oral culture. The circle has been a key shape in their tradition. The East (birth of the sun) is a constant in their activities and cosmology. Just to name one thing we had to unlearn in order to respond with a pertinent design: The Association wanted this to be a place for celebrating the Mapuche new year, the We Tripantu. It is celebrated during the shortest day of the year (as in almost all the cultures with agricultural origins). And that day is between the 21st and 24th of June, during the winter solstice. We Chileans have “imported” the New Year from the northern hemisphere and celebrate it in December-January, during our summer.
So, we started a process with the Loncoche Mapuche Association, shouting up and listening carefully. And in one of our early meetings, we decided to take the risk of presenting an intuition of what we thought the project should be: a kind of circular array of vertical wooden posts with a kind of circular form. We had a sketch and a model that represented something between a propped structure and tall grass. We very consciously wanted to replace the Less is More approach by the More or Less. A form and a procedure that was provisional and flexible so that feed back of a culture that we knew very little about could be integrated.
Even though this “thing” did not respond to any of their initial expectations in terms of functions and needs, they said: That’s it! Actually, they gave it a name: Künü. It is hard to translate but it is something between a network and a fabric, which refers to an interwoven structure and a social set of relationships.
Formally speaking, the Künü is a more less circular shape, based on the Rewes (round shaped constructions made with branches) but introducing a vertical dimension they did not have. It is opened relatively to the east (specifically to the sunrise on the winter solstice that is kind of the geographical east), with a enough linear meters in the perimeter that allow the 80 communities to participate in the new year’s prayer around the sacred cinnamon tree that is more or less at the center. Around it, more buildings are expected to follow.
The foundational condition (instead of the delivery of an end product) proved to be of unexpected dimensions. In a conversation with the Association once the construction was finished, they said that a new angle appeared to them: that of the Künü being a memorial. One of the leaders said that in a dream he was presented with a story that was almost forgotten. Loncoche, comes from LONKO, head and CHE, people. That leader said that the ancients had always talked about the local leaders, the heads of the communities in the region, having been decapitated during the colony, and their heads being impaled in wood posts. So, this project, despite having a form that had never been seen before, carried the memory of the old times. Maybe the symbolic and soft dimensions may play an unexpected role in a long-awaited rapprochement.
Architect: ELEMENTAL | Alejandro Aravena, Gonzalo Arteaga, Juan Cerda, Diego Torres, Víctor Oddó
Design Team: Cristian Martínez, Suyin Chia, Clemence Pybaro, Diego Teran, Luigi D’Oro
Client: Loncoche Mapuche Association and Arauco Forest Company
Location: Loncoche, CHILE – Venice, ITALY
Area: 3.0-hectare | 400 m2
Photo Credits: @Tommaso Galora @ELEMENTAL @Diego Breit