Decades ago, artists began moving into vacant warehouse spaces in the cast-iron buildings of New York’s SoHo neighborhood, eventually transforming the architectural gems of the previously down-at-the-heel into a center for Manhattan’s creative class and today one of its most fashionable districts.
In the last few years, Santiago architects have taken their cues from SoHo and begun converting the historic houses of downtown Barrios Brasil, Yungay and República into lofts for young creatives and professionals.
A major project in 2007 is exemplary of the trend. In looking for a location to construct a new building in Barrio República, the young real estate firm Deisa found an interesting property in José Miguel Carrera Street that included an auto repair shop and a large historic house. “The house had 40 centimeters of trash on the floor and holes in the walls,” said Gonzalo Santolaya, the commercial director of the real estate firm, to La Tercera.
Rather than choosing to demolish the building, though, the firm chose instead to gut the space and construct ten loft-style apartments behind its preserved façade. At about 750 square feet (70 square meters) each, the apartments have largely appealed to young people looking to move into a historic neighborhood, and particularly in this area of Santiago renowned for its youthful population, thriving bar scene and arts institutions.
Though the push to create similar spaces began as early as the 1990s, the boom did not begin until the first years of the 2000’s. A decade later, these neighborhoods are seeing a steady growth in this type of construction, often preserving historic facades and connecting them with newer, adjacent structures.
More recently, the company behind the project on Carrera Street – where 20 percent of the spaces have been sold in the as-yet incomplete structure – began looking for a new location suitable for a similar project. The project, which will renovate a 1911 neo-classical building, first had to be approved by the Council for National Monuments as a conservation project. When complete, the space will include 30 new lofts.
The transformation of these buildings gives some of Santiago’s most romantic streets and elegant 20th century structures a new lease on life, returning the colorful streets of the area to their original splendor and reincorporating them into the ever-changing urban fabric of this dynamic capital city.