Valparaiso, Chile, was once referred to as "The Pearl of the Pacific," and regarded as the chief merchant port of the southern Pacific. In the midst of poets and fishermen, a special identity was forged. This identity is now registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but is threatened by economic deterioration, blighted infrastructure, a waterfront that is alienated from the city by train tracks and a raised highway, whose use is limited primarily to warehouse storage of containers for the shipping industry.
The city is coming to recognize that its future development is to be found in the promotion of its cultural heritage, its arts, and its relationship to the sea and hill, yet the impetus for redevelopment and preservation of the harbor may be a threat to Valparaiso's identity as well. A master plan for the 14 hectare stretch of the Puerto Baron waterfront outlines general building regulations and land use of different zones to be used by different developers for which contracts began to be awarded in 2005. While the master plan's intention is to provide an urban and tourist impetus to the district, the plan may actually weaken the port-city relationship. The plan does not respect or address the city's current social, economic, and infrastructural conditions, as well as its genius loci. The EPV's hypothetical renderings of the vision lack spatial and massing hierarchy, provide over-scaled infrastructure and public spaces, and unappealing architecture insensitive to Valparaiso's character. Also, the EPV plan caters mostly to tourists, the private realm and new businesses, but the economic structure in Valparaiso is currently dominated by its micro and small businesses, employment groups that are already at the highest risk of unemployment. The EPV vision as a whole is foreign and out of sync with the unique identity that makes Valparaiso worthy of preservation and World Heritage.
The posed threat for Valparaiso’s cultural heritage, local socioeconomic condition, and identity, drives this thesis to critique the EPV urban design by creating an improved framework for future waterfront development. The framework will define the street grid, block size, scale of infrastructure and spaces, and will secure compatibility, congruence, and continuity with the existing context.
This thesis proposes that the EPV applies their building program to the thesis urban design framework, with exception of the entry node of the waterfront, the immediate area of intervention that this thesis will be concerned with. This node is to be reserved for the local economy, through the design of an urban marketplace, which would also include a train station, water entertainment facilities, and exhibition space. The marketplace will serve as a design standard for developers and architects, informing them about appropriate functions, forms, technology, and esthetics of their buildings. Valparaiso's urban waterfront as a whole should provide a harmonious sense of place that respects and celebrates the character and history of Valparaiso, and engages both residents and tourists while generating opportunity and growth for the local and regional economy.