Coming Home at Paranal
Unique "Residencia" Opens at the VLT Observatory
7 februari 2002
The Paranal Residencia at the ESO VLT Observatory is now ready and the staff and visitors have moved into their new home. This major architectural project has the form of a unique subterranean construction with a facade opening towards the Pacific Ocean , far below at a distance of about 12 km. Natural daylight is brought into the building through a 35-m wide glass-covered dome, a rectangular courtyard roof and various skylight hatches. Located in the middle of the Atacama Desert, one of the driest areas on Earth, the Residencia incorporates a small garden and a swimming pool, allowing the inhabitants to retreat from time to time from the harsh outside environment. Returning from long shifts at the VLT and other installations on the mountain, here they can breathe moist air and receive invigorating sensory impressions. With great originality of the design, it has been possible to create an interior with a feeling of open space - this is a true "home in the desert". Moreover, with strict ecological power, air and water management , the Paranal Residencia has already become a symbol of innovative architecture in its own right. Constructed with robust, but inexpensive materials, it is an impressively elegant and utilitarian counterpart to the VLT high-tech facilities poised some two hundred meters above, on the top of the mountain.
The Paranal Residencia
Ever since the construction of the ESO Very Large Telescope (VLT) at Paranal began in 1991, staff and visitors have resided in cramped containers in the "Base Camp". This is one of driest and most inhospitable areas in the Chilean Atacama Desert and eleven years is a long time to wait. However, there was never any doubt that the construction of the telescope itself must have absolute priority.
Nevertheless, with the major technical installations in place, the time had come to develop a more comfortable and permanent base of living at Paranal, outside the telescope area.
A unique architectural concept
The concept for the Paranal Residencia emerged from a widely noted international architectural competition, won by Auer and Weber Freie Architekten from Munich (Germany), and with Dominik Schenkirz as principal designer. The interior furnishing and decoration was awarded to the Chilean architect Paula Gutierrez.
The construction began in late 1998. Information about this work and several photos illustrating the progress have been published as ESO Press Photos eso9937, ESO Press Photo eso9951h ESO Press Photos eso0105b-d .
Taking advantage of an existing depression in the ground, the architects created a unique subterranean construction with a single facade opening towards the Pacific Ocean, far below at a distance of about 12 km. It has the same colour as the desert and blends perfectly into the surroundings. The Paranal Residencia is elegant, with robust and inexpensive materials.
Natural daylight is brought into the building through a 35-m wide glass-covered dome, a rectangular courtyard roof and various skylight hatches. The great originality of this design has made it possible to create an interior with a feeling of open space, despite the underground location. Some building characteristics are indicated below
Facilities at the Residencia
To the visitor who arrives at the Paranal Residencia from the harsh natural environment, the welcoming feeling under the dome is unexpected and instantly pleasant. This is a true "oasis" within coloured concrete walls and the air is agreeably warm and moist. There is a strong sense of calm and serenity and, above all, a feeling of coming home . At night, the lighting below the roofing closure fabric is spectacular and the impression on the mind is overwhelming.
The various facilities are integrated over four floors below ground level. They include small, but nice and simple bedrooms, offices, meeting points, a restaurant, a library, a reception area, a cinema and other recreational areas. The natural focal point is located next to the reception at the entrance. The dining room articulates the building at the -2 level and view points through the facade form bridges between the surrounding Paranal desert and the interior.
Simple, but elegant furnishing and specially manufactured carpeting complement a strong design of perspectives. The Republic of Chile, the host state for the ESO Paranal Observatory, is present with its emblematic painter Roberto Matta . Additional space is also provided for a regional art and activity display.
The staff moved out of the containers and into their new home in mid-January 2002. Today, the Paranal Residencia has already become a symbol of innovative architecture in its own right, an impressively elegant and utilitarian counterpart to the VLT high-tech facilities poised some two hundred meters above, on the top of the mountain.
Some building characteristics
* Construction initiated in 1998
* Area: 10000 m 2
* Total cost: 12 Million Euro (less than 2% of the total cost of the VLT project), approx. 1200 Euro/m 2
* 108 bedrooms, each with 16 m 2
* Cantine capacity for 200 persons
* 22 offices
* 5 terraces/viewpoints
* 70-seat cinema room
* Multiple meeting areas
* Double room library
* Building management control for the environment and the lighting
* Swimming pool; water treatment and grey water recirculation
* Modular concept with potential for extension to 200 rooms
* Completely light-tight and with a high level of sound insulation
* Communication network with phone and TV-set in each room
* Main contractors: Vial y Vives, Petricio Industrial, Koch