Student-Built Community Center in Chile Honored for Socially Conscious Design
An architecture project designed and built by Illinois Institute of Technology students is the recipient of the American Institute of Architects Chicago Chapter’s first Roberta Feldman Architecture for Social Justice Award Citation of Merit. The award, established in 2020, recognizes projects that are “guided by the conviction that access to high-quality architecture is not a privilege, [but] a human right.”
Designed in the spring and constructed in summer 2016 by College of Architecture students, the Antihuala Community Center was the product of a Design/Build studio led by Associate Professor Frank Flury. Situated next to a lake in the remote Chilean town of Antihuala, the community center was built on land owned by ARAUCO, a global manufacturer of forest products, in an effort to mediate the relationship between the corporation and the neighboring communities. According to Flury, the permission to construct a public pavilion on the corporately owned land was the first of its kind in the region.
“This is a dream that the Antihuala community has maintained for years, but being in private hands, unfortunately, we could not count on public resources to invest in the place,” said Jorge Fuentes—mayor of Los Álamos, the commune that encompasses Antihuala—at the time of the project’s completion.
Inspired by the surrounding mountains and constructed from local timber, the steep, step-sided structure’s design recalls ancient Latin American pyramids. It was built from 10 wooden trusses that were raised by oxen, a building tradition local to the area. The siding was treated and sealed with an ancient Japanese preservation technique called shou sugi ban, which involves charring the wood to make it resistant to pests and weather.
After the project was designed on the Illinois Tech campus, Flury and his students—along with members of the local community—spent two months in Chile building the structure. Today, the center serves as a recreational facility and hosts meetings, concerts, and other gatherings.
“Chile, like all international Design/Build projects, gave our students the unique opportunity to live, work, and experience first-hand a different culture; it makes a fundamental difference if you visit or live within a community,” says Flury. “When you live with the community for…months, you eat their food, shop in their stores, and participate in the community's life. We became a real part of them. Lifelong friendships and relationships were created and enriched all of our lives.”
This is not the first award for the community center; it also received a 2018 AIA Chicago Small Project Honor Award. In recognizing the project with the Roberta Feldman Architecture for Social Justice Award, the AIA Chicago said, “It illustrates what the Chicago architecture community can do outside of Chicago, and what design communities and design students do. It’s a beautiful project.”
Students who participated in the project included Ndeye Fatou Diakhate Njie (B.ARCH. ’17); Stella Eyesus (B.ARCH. ’16); Katherine Hacker (B.ARCH. ’16) Tyler Hillert (B.ARCH. ’17); Dennis Khambai (B.ARCH. ’16); Lauren McPhillips (M.ARCH. ’18); Il Hwan Kim (B.ARCH. ’17); Brianda Mireles (B.ARCH. ’17); Dylan Otte (B.ARCH. ’17); Jessica Potempa (B.ARCH. ’17); Rosa Rafart Degracia; Natalia Struk (B.ARCH '17); Dawit Tadesse (B.ARCH '17); and Kun Wu (B.ARCH. ’16).
Photo: The Antihuala Community Center in Chile (courtesy of Lauren McPhillips)