Diversity, social commitment, and architectural quality in Latin America


“It is important to make good use of these places for discussing and comparing constructive projects, as they offer opportunities for assessing the responses that we produce for transforming cities, habitats and societies,” said Maria Samaniego, president of the Pan-American Architecture Biennial (BAQ 2020), at the virtual ceremony announcing the winners of the III Oscar Niemeyer Prize.

Established by the Latin American Architecture Biennials Network (REDBAAL) and awarded every two years, this Prize showcases one of the richest overviews of contemporary architecture in Latin America, with support from the Oscar Niemeyer Foundation and the Pan-American Federation of Architects' Associations (FPAA).

This third Prize attracted 101 entries, all of which were Biennial prize-winners in their respective homelands, with twenty of them shortlisted as finalists. Representing seven countries, they are gathered together at a virtual exhibition presented on the REDBAAL website. The Executive Director of this Network, Handel Guayasamín feels that this exhibition offers “an extraordinary journey through the architectural output of Latin America, where its indigenous heritage is flowering day by day, vigorously blending with other roots in Africa, Europe, Asia and the rest of the world.”

At the prize-giving ceremony, he mentioned the responsibility that is implicit in organising this award: “There are some twenty architecture biennials in Latin America that feature around four thousand designs – two thousand a year. Half of them constructed and involved teams of up to ten people at the design stage, and fifty others in the actual works. Added together, these projects involve 120,000 people a year, and each of these designs must be examined and assessed in a very responsible manner.”

He also underscored the diversity of the designs, in terms of their functions: they include cultural, educational, healthcare, religious and community projects, together with offices, housing and others of social interest. Moreover, he mentioned that some designs are submitted by renowned firms, while others come from young architects, collectives, and multidisciplinary groups.

Finally, he stressed that these designs show “responsible architecture attuned to its social, cultural, urban or natural contexts.”

The winners

1st Place - Nancagua Town Hall, designed by Beals Lyon, a firm set up by Alejandro Beals and Loreto Lyon in Chile.

In a small country town in central Chile, the Nancagua Town Hall is close to the old Municipal Park and other historical buildings. This design thus focuses on reviving and enhancing local heritage sites, both constructed a natural. Its proposal is to explore empty space as a catalyst for public life – “like other open areas with powerful civic vocations, like the Agora of Assos in Greece or the Piazza San Marco in Venice,” as noted by its designers in the project description.

Basically a plaza linking the town to the park, this is “an urban empty space that allows a broad range of situations and events, individual and collective.” The Town Hall is located on the edge of this square.

“Galleries forming a regular colonnade whose measurements and materials reflect the galleries of the old mansion in the park that once housed the local administration, define and unify this central public space. At the same time, although on a smaller and more domestic scale, these galleries host many of the everyday activities in this town, hiding everything that might occur in unforeseeable or uncontrollable ways in the rear building.”

2nd Place – Urgent Care Public Hospital, São Bernardo do Campo, designed by SPBR Arquitetos, set up by Ângelo Bucci in Brazil

Inaugurated at the peak of the pandemic, the Urgent Care Public Hospital in São Bernardo do Campo is one of Brazil’s most notable hospital structures. It was designed by Angelo Bucci, who is a confirmed speaker at UIA2021RIO.

Covering a total of 20,600 m², its outstanding design is functionally segmented, streamlining and steering flows of medical staff, employees and visitors.

On the ground floor is the A&E section, the intake and screening area, and a clinical decision unit that rates patient risk levels. Critical cases are handled in the centre of the building, with operating theatres and intensive care units on the first floor, directly above the decision unit. Less serious cases are treated in the outer wings, which can be accessed with less urgency.

Floor-to-ceiling glass façades allow patients to admire outside landscapes, while an open area is designed as a plaza where medical staff can rest and relax during work breaks.

Well aware of the cash-strapped budgets allocated to Brazil’s national health system, Bucci opted for an energy-efficient architectural style: white metal louvred shutters protect rooms from direct sunlight, so no cooling equipment is needed.

3rd Place – Facilities at Piura University in Peru, designed by Barclay & Crousse, a partnership set up by Sandra Barclay and Jean Pierre Crousse

Set in the arid landscapes of northern Peru, Piura University covers more than 130 hectares of dry bushland. The project expanding its teaching facilities was guided by two key factors. Initially, much stress was placed on the importance of informal meeting places for exchanging knowledge, which should be encouraged both in and out of the classroom. Additionally, the architecture should provide comfort, tailored to the local climate, which is hot, dry and sunny throughout the year, with light southern breezes.

A cluster of eleven buildings was designed, all two or three storeys high and connected by ramps, paths, patios and gardens, within a square perimeter measuring 70 x 70 metres.

Gaps between buildings ensure ample ventilation and natural light for indoor and outdoor areas. Individually roofed, wide eaves leave only narrow strips through which sunlight shines directly into rooms and corridors.

Built in a clearing surrounded by dry brush, its northern and southern façades are protected by vertical shutters, while its more exposed eastern and western sides are fitted with sunshades that filter the sunlight, with semi-open areas linking indoor and outdoor facilities, protecting classrooms from excessive heat.

In addition to these three winners, the Oscar Niemeyer Prize acknowledged the following entries with Honourable Mentions:

  • Capela Ingá-Mirim, a chapel designed by the Messina | Rivas firm set up by Rodrigo Messina and Francisco Rivas in Brazil;
  • Escola Produtiva Rural, a farm school designed by students at the Bachillerato Rural Digital College Nº 186, jointly with the Comunal firm set up by Mariana Ordóñez Grajales in Mexico;
  • Edificio Bonpland, a building designed by the Adamo Faiden firm set up by Sebastián Adamo and Marcelo Faiden in Argentina.



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