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September 2002

Antonino Pirozzi, architect:
Whose is Valparaíso?

Architect and professor Antonino Pirozzi, founder of the Latin American Center for the Conservation of Architectural Heritage chilean chapter (CONPAL) and main agent of an important work about the appreciation of Valparaísos's elevators, exposes his critical view about the city's cultural heritage.

By Rosario Mena

Separatism, lack of vision and scarce political will, show up on architect Antonino Pirozzi's speech —a professor specialized on the patrimony issue and founder of the Latin American Center for the Conservation of Architectural Heritage (CONPAL) chilean chapter— when explaining the unfortunate situation of Valparaìso's architectural heritage. A city which he knows throughly and whose hills he has walked with a scientific eye, in order to develop a profound investigation about its elevators. Along with his colleague Jaime Migone, he was able to include them in 1996's ranking of the "100 Most-At-Risk Monuments", an international status given by the World Monuments Watch that is the first global recognition to the heritage value of these traditional elevators and the starting point for the nomination to the UNESCO of Valparaíso as Mankind Heritage.

With this new appointment, Pirozze and Migone got the international funding to develop a wide project that ended up being published with the title "Ascensores de Valparaíso: valor de un patrimonio olvidado" ("Valparaíso's elevators: value of a forgotten heritage"). It includes historical background, technical data, evaluations, studies and conservation proposals, along with a large amount of pictures and a compilation of texts and audiovisual work, related to the elevators. "The first thing we proposed was for all the elevators to be declared National Monuments, now only the Polanco elevator is", Pirozzi explains. "And that was accepted by the Monuments Council. The second thing we suggested was for them to be proposed as Mankind Heritage before the UNESCO. With our publication, Marta Cruz—Coke went to the UNESCO, in Paris. They found it very interesting. Later, in 1999, Valparaíso was proposed as a whole, but the proposal was then withdraw. Basically, you have to be aware that we are not prepared to preserve a large site, not technically, nor financially. The wise thing would be to declare and maintain a restricted area, and for it to be a spotlight for the rest".

—What do you think about the fact that in the recent nomination of Valparaíso to the UNESCO, presented in Paris by Secretary of Education, Mariana Aylwin, the elevators were not included?
—The proposal, in general, seems to me arbitrary, understated.

—What has been your involvement?
—None. And not only that: it is a fact that the chilean professionals now working on the heritage issue and that know the most about elevators are us, and we have been the less consulted about their intervention. During and after the work about the elevators, we felt displaced just for the fact of being a private organization from Santiago. With this excluding policy, Valparaíso's problem will not be able to strengthen and get a preponderance that can bring the big resources and solutions it now needs. Our mission, as CONPAL, is to help professionally to the architectural and urban heritage work in Latin America. We have the international contacts with organizations such as World Monuments Fund, that could perfectly endorse, sponsor, refer. But what is now ruling is the subtraction policy, not the adding. I wonder, whose is the city? The mayor's? Whose is the heritage for it to stagnate or develop? Whose responsibility is it? Absolutely of all of us. But what is required is for efforts to add, that is why the isolated intentions do not work. We have to integrate a lot of wills and views about one same problem. The cultural heritage is not the problem of an architect focused on conservation and restoration, as it is not of a mayor or a social worker, it is of all of us. That is why we have to have the capacity of working as a team, keep the wills and get a product according to the interest not of an individual but of the city. Whose is Valparaíso? To me, it now seems it is from the whole world. It has global interest.

—And why do you think the issue can not be approached in a more global and participative way? Has the City's work been inefficient?
—It is not my job to evaluate the mayor. What can I do say is that the issue of Valparaíso's heritage appreciation needs for the City's administrative authority to face that it is an important matter, complex and critical not only for his city but for the whole country. Once that is conceptually assumed one has to act consequently and create a work team and office where public and private organizations, from Valparaíso and outside, develop a plan for the heritage conservation. No isolated restoration makes sense if it is not included in an integral conservation plan for the site.

And a plan does not mean only the restoration or painting of the elevators, but also that the authority will administrate in a way that favors the social improvement of the neighborhoods close to the elevators, that the government will invest on a tourist structure that will require the City to hold the flow of tourism. And that plan has to be associated to a series of interventions with their correspondent projects and budgets. A coordinated plan that could take five or ten years, not loose initiatives. That political will for the development of Valparaíso's cultural potential is now not seen. Until now, no one has made the plan of conservation and urbanization of the city of Valparaíso.

—The city as a urban structure, beyond the heritage, has been on a complete decadence for more than half a century. Is this also part of the excessive centralism and indifference towards the regions?
—I think the chilean regionalization will succeed if the regions make themselves valued as part of the country`s progress. It is of no use a regionalization imposed from Santiago, it would be a contradiction. Valparaíso will take the place it deserves as long as the initiatives and plans come from within. On the last 500 years not a dime has been spent on Valparaíso. My opinion is that it is because the city has not represented an interest, not given the alternatives about where to develop to, the city has not found its vocation. This city first ceased being the most important port of the Pacific, and then of Chile. It will no longer be the jewel of the Pacific on port grounds, that is evident. Valparaíso has to be something else, it has to embrace its vocation of being the cultural city that it once was. If it was not for the cultural development that Valparaíso injected to the country, Chile would still be a small town. Now, there is an interesting boom of popular music in Valparaíso's nightclubs, a whole tradition of songwriters and poets is now being recovered. Other manifestations that were once relevant, such as architecture, are now on a decline. The interventions being made from de City or Architecture Schools are sometimes not the best. They have distorted the space and left as being only an experiment with a horrible aging. To open a walk, a street, a stairway is one thing; but other is to maintain it. There are definitively maintenance problems.

—That is the typical problem of heritage projects in Chile: the lack of projection and conservation plans.
—Yes, but it is also important to recognize that the heritage problem in Chile is determined by endless factors, of various kinds. An unavoidable one is the country`s telluric condition, we can not deny that here we have things falling over time. With 1906's earthquake, Valparaíso was completely burned down, after that it was another city, besides other natural disasters that have affected it. Another factor, completely different but very crucial, is the professional one. On Architecture Schools no one teaches about working with the heritage. They tell us that the city is a white paper, that one places over the panel for there to create all public spaces and buildings, as if there was nothing around. That is a big fallacy. They don't teach us to work dialoguing with what there is, so we generally try to eliminate whatever there is so we can have a clear space where we can develop our big work. That is a big problem and a huge arrogance. But let's face it: it is not just the problem of architects, but also of engineers, town planners, sociologists, lawyers and businessmen. The issue of identity, of heritage, is not on the university curriculums. And that problem always ends up showing on the professional work, where it seems easier to destroy than to rebuild. In Europe or the United States, after a rigorous, responsible and deep study, no hand will tremble when demolishing a 40-story building if that is necessary to benefit the conservation of an area contiguous to a heritage value, even if one looses money. But, do you think someone will be willing to demolish the Intendence building that interferes with the view from the balconies, or other buildings placed on a level that completely broke Valparaíso's natural configuration and its climbing up the hills, just to preserve the city's architectural identity? That is the point, to strengthen the whole, even if that affects particular interests. That in Chile seems impossible.

—Going back to the elevators issue, what is your opinion about the restorations that have been made?
I have some objections. First we have to sit and define what we understand a restoration is. The important thing, in any restoration project, is what is the concerted strategy among different professionals with different views, for it to be agreed on in order to determine what is best for the site, so it can get more value and not just rebuild physically. Elevators are not only degrading physically but also culturally. And the root of this is on knowledge. It is not known what they are, what they mean. First, it is necessary to make a well—designed promotion campaign, addressed to the local community, national or international. It is of no use to paint if people do not understand the value it has, and that it belongs to the community and that it has to be taken care of. We, for instance, made simple but effective step on this track. We reproduced the small plaque that was sent from the U.S. that certifies that elevators are part of the "100 Most-At-Risk Monuments", and we put one in every of the 31 stations, with an invitation to the user to take care of this heritage. The City has asked us twice a proposal to publish our book in Valparaíso, and we have done it to no avail. They have neither made a catalogue that allows tourists that walk through Valparaíso have a complete view of the elevators, even though they represent an original and nice way to know the city at low price. No one has made an effort on this sense. If there is no education or promotion, interventions are useless.

—And about the physical restorations, which are the criterion? I ask this because the elevators value is social, cultural, practical. Materiality doesn't add to much, they are generally made of metal, cheap woods.
—The important thing is to include the surroundings, the whole where this elevator is placed. And also the profile of the urban work that this elevator is, its concrete use. And then, it is important that this restoration not only solves the material damages but also values this heritage. If you have leaks on your roof and you put a plate of metal, that is not restoration. That's just mainteinance.

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