Corten steel is often chosen to help buildings withstand nature; an arid desert climate in Arizona or a tough mountainside altitude in Arkansas. The low alloy steel is a resilient skin for architecture living under challenging conditions. Corten steel is also chosen to help buildings live alongside nature. The corten develops a healthy patina of colours from a rusty orange burnish to a textured silvery glaze letting it sink in – or stand out.
To help lure and orientate tourists to the desert region of Atacama, a visitor centre by Emilio Marín and Juan Carlos López was built on the land as part of a wind farm. Commissioned in 2013, the Corten steel building makes a strong but welcome intervention on this windswept plain. The architects describe the project in terms of the relationship between landscape and architecture. Six ‘wings’ – perhaps better understood as petals arranged around a central core – form wedge-shaped structures, linked by an internal corridor but reading as an abstracted series of forms from a distance, united by the common cladding material.
Marín and López’s structure does nothing to conceal itself, echoing instead the peaks of the surrounding volcanoes, while also framing the landscape from within. ‘The strategy is not so different from what can be found in the archaeological remains of settlements in the area, like those at Tulor,’ Marín continues, pointing out that these Mesolithic sites often featured circular enclosures arranged around a central space. With the plan established, a tough material was needed. Corten steel wasn’t just a functional and economical choice, it also evoked the blank solidity of the surrounding rock formations.
This house constructed of three cubed volumes clad in plate steel sinks in its bowl-shaped site. The three forms hold separate spaces for living, sleeping and a small den. Each volume has a single aperture from which to watch the position of the sun and shadows across the landscape. The volumes were carefully positioned to open up close and far views to the inhabitants.