Historic Santiago neighborhood reborn through young design

Barrio Esmeralda, which runs along its namesake street from Miraflores to San Antonio, has undergone the first stages of a renaissance in recent years, becoming an important center for young Chilean designers.


On Friday Dec. 10, an exposition of young Chilean designers drew 200 people to Plaza Corregidor Zañartu in downtown Santiago, the heart of the newly-dubbed Barrio Esmeralda.

The First Urban Fashion Show of Independent Design was the first of its kind in this neighborhood. Organized by Paulina Duarte and Alejandra Rosas, the show was just the most recent event in a larger project to transform this neighborhood into Santiago’s center for new Chilean design.

Until recently, an event like Friday’s fashion show would have been unthinkable here. For many years, Plaza Corregidor and the strip of Esmeralda Street running between Miraflores and San Antonio was one of Santiago’s more down-at-heel barrios, despite its picturesque main square and stately, turn-of-the-century mansions.

Duarte and Rosas first noticed the unique potential for the area about four years ago. Around that time they opened the popular La Boa Torio Cafeteria, which specializes in teas, sandwiches and salads.

Following the earthquake in 2010, historic buildings in the Santiago’s central neighborhoods suffered serious damage, with a large 1927 mansion along Esmeralda nearly collapsing at its center. Duarte and Rosas leapt at the opportunity to buy the building at a good rate and restore the space, recreating it as the area’s design centerpiece.

Now named Barrio&Deseño and home to 10 shops owned by young, independent designers, the mansion allowed Duarte and Rosas to begin realizing their goal of preserving the neighborhood’s historic architecture while utterly changing its personality.

“Right now the area is part of Bellas Artes, but we wanted to transform it into Barrio Esmeralda,” Rosas says, “with its own identity as a destination for independent design.”

Future plans include another fashion show on Plaza Corregidor in March, while long term goals include the construction of a theater in the vibrant green building at Esmeralda 728 on the Plaza’s south side. The project in Barrio Esmeralda may be new, but, Rosas notes, “it is amazing how much people have changed their views on the neighborhood.”

Ultimately, the goal for Rosas and Duarte is not financial gain, but rather to revitalize a historic district by using it to foster the energy of young, creative Chileans. “Our pay,” Rosas says, “is hearing from people what a difference our project has made. It’s a new neighborhood.”