Residence facility at one of the largest land-based observatories in the world.

  • Hovedkontorer
  • Bygherre
    Buro Happold (UK)
    Floor area: 5,000 m2
  • Dissing+Weitling was invited to participate in a closed competition to design and build a 120-room residence facility at one of the largest land-based observatories in the world. The residences will be situated at an altitude of 2,900 metres in the Atacama Desert on the Chilean plateau where the hotel units will be home-like accommodation for astronomers and other academic specialists from Chile and abroad.

    A fusion between a mud hut and a space shuttle

    The concept is based on simple principles of materiality, landscape, context, and on a strong belief that well considered individual spaces, intimate "in-between spaces", and varied pubic spaces create an inviting and inspiring context which supports the daily function and activity of the facility. One could describe the concept as a fusion between a mud hut and a space shuttle, matching the best of traditional architectural concepts and techniques and modern technical solutions, an earthly base for an unlimited imagination.

    The four elements

    Earth, water, fire, and air, the "four elements" play an important role in the conceptual development of the project. Through the ages, these elements have been considered the basic building blocks of the universe and are important elements in Andean philosophy and the local traditions of architecture.

  • Dissing Weitling alma eso render
  • The individual modules of the residences (The Pods) and the common building (The Hub) will all need to work together to create a new context on the site, much like creating a hillside village with its own immediate context. The residences are organized into three groups of three modules, each with 12-14 units in each module for a total of 40 residences in each of the three groups, 120 residences in all.

    The individual rooms are arranged around a central two storey high living space in groups of two units facing in three directions, the fourth side of the space is designed as a covered entry courtyard providing a spatial and functional transition from the residential units to the common garden space. The units are individually rotated to take full advantage of the sloping site and the views to the surrounding landscape. The "living room" space is the focal point of the unit.

    The common building, The Hub is like the sun, and the residences like planets revolving around it. We believe that The Hub should have a very central location in the final master plan for the site so that it really becomes a focal point for common activities at ESO-ALMA. The Hub is the center for common activities as well as more personal functions such as swimming and a workout at the gym. The building takes up the overall geometries of The Pods and expands the functions from the center in order to create an open and inviting "green" courtyard in the building.

    This thermal mass, and the low occupancy density, mean that active cooling is not required to keep the rooms within a comfortable band of temperatures. Heating will be required. There is a temptation in this climate with guaranteed sun to design a building based around completely passive heating with trombe walls and user- adjustable facades. However, nightshifts, blackout blinds and the need to orientate all accommodation in a certain direction can kill a strategy like that instantly and so it is preferred that we capture solar heat and distribute it in a more managed and controllable manner. A solar thermal panel on the roof will heat water in a buffer vessel from where it can be circulated to radiators in the rooms. The solar thermal system would also supply heat to a storage calorifier to produce hot water. It will be easy in the future to connect this system to a supply of reclaimed heat from the gas turbine.