The Archaeology of the Territory
In summer 2018 forty-five students from Studio Tom Emerson of ETH Zurich and Taller 5 of PUCP in Lima built a light wooden-structure in the heart of a archaeological landscape in Peru. The project was intended to help the Museum develop their existing outreach programme, providing a space within the landscape where educational and community events can take place, helping increase engagement with the people that live nearby, and those in the wider region.
Text: Guillaume Othenin-Girard– 28.2.2019
Photos and drawings © Studio Tom Emerson
The sanctuary of Pachacámac in Peru is a most extraordinary constructed landscape: The site was first settled around 200 Common Era and flourished over thirteen hundred years to become one of the biggest and most important of such city-complexes in what is today Peru, extending over roughly six hundred hectares of land. The site is host to numerous overlapping layers of civilisation.
Today, Pachacámac is one of the most visited archeological sites in Peru. In 2015 a new complex of buildings by Llosa Cortegana Arquitectos was completed to house the museum and its on-going archaeological work. The northern two thirds of the site are still yet to be excavated; open land awaiting future studies. Its edges are constantly under the threat of encroachment by informal settlements and land invasions, the latest of which took place as recently as eight years ago.
A Room for Archaeologists and Kids
The design and build project was intended to help the museum develop their existing outreach programme, providing a space within the landscape where educational and community events can take place, helping increase engagement with the people that live nearby, and those in the wider region.
In the new structure, archaeologists make their first examination of artefacts emerging from the digs, shaded from the punishing Andean sun and in view of passing visitors and school children, who in turn, perform their own exploration in the sandpits across the courtyard. At each end, new finds are stored in rooms enclosed by woven cane walls before being transferred to the museum for permanent conservation
Territorial Survey: the Pachacámac Atlas
The first phase of the project involved a new territorial survey of the site and its surrounding landscape, drawing on a methodology Studio Tom Emerson has refined over the past decade. Through carefully made drawings and photographs the Pachacámac Atlas sought not only to represent the archaelogical structures of the site (which are already well documented), but also the contemporary reality of the wider landscape — of coastline, industry, housing, agriculture, leisure, building culture, ecology and infrastructure — hence, the overall title of the project: “The Archaeology of the Territory”. Such a survey of this unique landscape had never been made before, and revealed a new understanding of the place that enfolded its history within its contemporary condition.
A Collaborative Design and Build Process
The project began with an intensive design workshop, where the students worked in teams of three over two days. Each team developed ideas that dealt with the structure as a whole, how it would relate to the site, as well as structural and spatial ideas as to how the design could work, and how it could be made. The result was fifteen projects that were presented and discussed as a group. The challenge was how to integrate the best ideas, discoveries and insights produced by the fifteen teams into a single project. Over the following week, the team formed smaller groups, dividing tasks and responsibilities to begin developing the design for the structure that could be described as an “upside-down table”; a rigid assembly of beams and columns anchored in the ground, supporting fields of lattice-work.
Square, Prefabricated, Additive
Located on the western side of the sanctuary of Pachacámac, not far from the Museum of Pachacámac itself, the site chosen by the Museum for the structure was on a clearly defined square piece of land beside the Acllawasi, a complex of courtyard buildings that were largely reconstructed by the archaeological efforts in the early twentieth century.
The new pavillon is a timber structure 37 x 16,3 and 3,6 meters tall, which forms a covered arcade around a courtyard. The structure is made from twenty-eight square fields of 10 squaremeters, defined by a column in each corner, and with a lattice-work roof above. The five fields at each short end are enclosed by woven bamboo panels, set vertically, with a concrete floor to provide a robust surface. Outside, along the side nearest to the walls of the Acllawasi, adobe blocks aligned to the walls, and marking an underground channel, form a robust surface for events, where wooden tables can be placed. On the other side, the arcade is filled with earth, to provide a space where archaeological digs can be replicated by visiting school children.
Reinterpreting Generic Building Materials
The principal material of the structure is wood, specifically, sections of kiln-dried Tornillo, a tropical hardwood found in the rainforest in Peru and elsewhere in the Amazonian basin. It is very dense yet paradoxically extremely flexible. It is recognised as a general-purpose construction wood in South America, especially because it is naturally resistant to fungus and humidity, requiring no chemical treatment. In the persistently humid climate of the Peruvian coast, less resistant timber would begin to rot within months.
The columns and foundations were prefabricated and assembled on site. Fields of roof-lattices were individually prefabricated and raised using hoists on moveable temporary works. The joints were made either with stainless-steel bolts (primary joints) or nickel-plated screws (secondary joints). Lengths of white, polyester open-weave textile commonly used in agricultural greenhouses nearby, were woven in between the upper and lower planes of the latticework, and fixed with staples. The woven canopy provides two or three layers of shade, whilst retaining certain moments of views to the landscape beyond and the sky.