The hidden poetry of the Chilean capital’s skyline

Poet Rodrigo Rojas adds a level of artistry to the city’s buildings through their names.

As Chile’s economy grows, so do its skylines. The buildings get higher and higher, and many people fear the loss of culture and art in place of progress and efficiency. One poet, Rodrigo Rojas, teamed up with a development firm to bring something special to some of Santiago’s newest high rises, a unique name.

Rojas, who describes himself as a literature professor who writes poetry, was brought in to give names to new projects — devising the name from plans and drawings in order to help preemptively sell the spaces before construction began.

“My job consisted of a very simple thing; I had to give a name to the building,” Rojas said on the architecture radio show 99 percent Invisible.

But, as he explains, he went beyond static brainstorming.

“I had to walk around a lot, get to know the different neighborhoods and see what characteristics that neighborhood had and what characteristics the people who would buy those apartments be looking for,” Rojas said.

“People aspire to be something else, they want a better life,” Rojas added, “so they have a dream and I had to walk around the neighborhoods thinking of what kind of dream that person is looking for and I had to devise a name for that dream.”

Rojas named over 40 buildings across Santiago in the course of a year.

“You might consider it to be my first publication of very short poems,” Rojas joked.

In one case, he named a group of buildings located in a particularly humid neighborhood Cancún, imagining its inhabitants dreaming of the beach and sunshine. The developers were so excited about the idea they included palm trees in the design, not a typical sight in Santiago.

On another project, Rojas invented a story about a ship, The Zanzibar. This romantic tale follows a luxury cruise liner designed in the same era as the Titanic, but which avoided the notorious fate of its peer. The idea of naming a building from this was immensely popular with his clients.

“When you mix luxury with the survival of tragedy, it’s very important for Chile. It’s the search of status, and the survival of earthquakes,” Rojas said.

Although a name may seem like a miniscule aspect of creating a building, by creating stories, poems for each new structure joining Santiago’s skyline, Rojas was connecting with the dreams of what the city could become.

“I think it is a story that should be told because it is a story of the dreams of people,” Rojas said.