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The agency’s own photography turns each unit into an ‘aquarium’ for passers-by Separate units, each with their own easy-to-control environments, occupy the vast factory space Each unit is suspended by steel cables anchored to existing trusses Units are fitted out for different purposes, such as the staff canteen Individual units are constructed from lightweight industrial panels The photographic studios shoot anything from fashion to wildlife Parts of the original salt factory were deliberately left untouched
15 Sep 2009

Pullpo's Chilean HQ by Hania Stambuk

Words by  Photo by Marcelo Cáceres
  • Architect: Hania Stambuk
  • Client: Gonzalo Silva and Gabriel Schkolnick
  • Location: Santiago, Chile
  • Cost: £150,000
  • Duration: 2007 - 2008
  • Floor Space: 800 sq m

A disused salt factory in the Chilean capital houses a multifuctional space for creative agency Pullpo

Pullpo is a production centre, design agency and photography studio with offices in Argentina and Chile, designing ads for the likes of Pepe and Lee jeans, and an umbrella company to sites such as cooltrends.com, a fashion advertising site in Spanish. The starting point for its new Chile office was the abandoned facilities of a salt factory, in the western sector of Santiago. This cavernous industrial site was converted by architect Hania Stambuk into a moody and atmospheric workspace from which the agency could operate, and the project went on to win last year’s Bienal de Arquitectura prize.

Because Pullpo is a mixed agency, the space had to be designed to accommodate a number of purposes, and the finished project includes offices, conference rooms, photographic studios, service and storage areas, a cafeteria, restrooms, and incorporated parking.

Pullpo occupies all of the factory, although not all areas received as much architectural intervention – “they were adapted and restored as warehouses, lavatories etc,” says Stambuk.

The project was kept low cost and effective, Stambuk goes on to explain, through architectural strategies that involved harnessing the new architecture to the perimeter wall of the factory shed.

A number of interrelated units are arranged to host the agency’s activities, which can range from photographing fashion to wild animals and vehicles. These units are structurally joined by braided steel cables anchored on to the existing factory trusses.

“This system allowed the maximum structural capacity within the host building,” Stambuk explains. It creates an interesting juxtaposition, and allows both the old and new to co-exist alongside one another. 

Each of the ‘cells’ within the larger building space was conceived of as a “small citadel” by Stambuk. In each cell, different functions in the creative process are carried out, creating a linear “assembly line of ideas,” she explains.

The units allow services such as light, temperature and ventilation to be localised. The controlled atmosphere within the separate units ensures a comfortable work environment within the greater pre-existing container structure, which would be difficult to regulate as a whole.

“The site had to be a large structure to contain the different demands and situations of an advertising agency,” says Stambuk. “Due to its size the factory was perfect for the development of this type of programme.

“I don’t necessarily prefer to work with converted spaces; this was a challenge that came up and I approached it with the same professionalism as any other brief. However, it brought everything to the project. This is seen in the way the structure of the new building hangs from the structure of the old.”

Stambuk explains that the concept behind the industrial build was of one huge model construction kit, like Meccano – a prefabricated system based on low cost, serial modulation.

“The site had to be a large structure to contain the different demands and situations of an advertising agency”

The materials were chosen for quick assembly and consisted of steel, glass and Isopol panels. Made out of prefabricated polyurethane sheets wrapped in tin, the panels were developed for industrial use in refrigeration chambers for meat storage. They have great thermal capacity, and they were also chosen for their rigidity, versatility and low weight, allowing them to be easily transported to the factory. “The project can be disassembled and relocated since the dimensions and constructive system are designed for this purpose,” Stambuk explains.

Examples of Pullpo’s visual work form an integral part of the project, and add to the surrealist feel of the space, as do the plants and trees planted inside the old factory. “I suggested the size and placement of the Pullpo photography so that the glass surround spaces would appear as large aquariums, so it looks like there are octopuses swimming in enclosures next to people passing by,” Stambuk explains.

The lighting has been kept bare and basic to complement the industrial aesthetic, as does the steel cabling that supports the structures, and the bare strip-lights over the car park.

Stambuk describes the project as architecture reinvented as advertising metaphor, where astonishment and fiction rival reality. Although she has worked on projects like this before, she says: “I was younger and not as daring. Now, I endeavour to build what I imagine.”

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