The city of Santiago is a vibrant up-and-coming cosmopolitan city nestled in an explosion of natural wonders and cultural extravagance. The capital of Chile in South America, Santiago is a cultural and economic center of the region, boasting a great variety of diversity. The architecture of the region is an excellent tool that reflects the cultural diversity, exhibiting the historical timeline of the country through buildings scattered all through the city. Several factors influence the style and the type of architecture, including geographical, cultural, social, and political dynamics.

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Statue of the Virgin Mary on the top of Cerro San Cristóbal overlooking the city _©

Geographical Influences

Santiago’s architecture is greatly influenced by the geography of the region. Its variety of geographical terrain and natural resources have affected building materials, construction, and designs, generally. Chile occupies a prime position on the “Pacific Ring of Fire” which makes it vulnerable to a large number of natural disasters, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods. This has resulted in building mandates which have transformed architectural design to cope with these harmful factors. 

In ancient times, locals used to build houses of half-timbered and smeared earthen walls to have lighter and more bouncy walls that would resist severe ground movement. Many developments in the structural and material application were devised to reduce the effect of these natural dangers to buildings, with many special building codes to ensure the building withstand seismic waves.

Today buildings in the city of Santiago, have strong columns and weak beams. They usually consist of concrete and steel reinforcements, with pile foundations drilled into deep holes, to measure the wave velocity, calculate natural frequency, and then allow the building to swing freely with the seismic waves. Designs like this help to buffer and release the seismic energy instead of resisting it, to withstand even 9.0 magnitude earthquakes, as required by the Chilean Building Code. 

The Gran Torre building in the city is a 300m tall structure, the tallest building in the area. Despite its great height, the building was designed with elements to withstand any major earthquake. This was done by increasing the diagonal structure of the building to support the building. It also penetrates the copper spring shock absorber into the main base and diagonal support steel column to cushion the damage of the building caused by the earthquake.

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The Gran Torre building designed by Barreda y Asociados Watt International and César Pelli, uses angled surfaces for a dynamic reflection of the sunset. It was designed with a unique structural support system to reduce the effects of earthquakes_©javier

Historical Influences

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La Moneda Palace, the seat of the president of Chile was designed in the neoclassical style in a from that represents strength and structure_©Miguel hernandez

The Santiago Province of Chile has a rich cultural history. The city has undergone several societal changes which have had direct implications on its culture and architecture. The arrival of the Spanish colonies to the city, during the colonial era, resulted in a Spanish translation of the local architecture. This includes magnificent plazas surrounded by cathedrals, museums, and palaces. Various buildings throughout the city exhibit a variety of architectural styles like the Neoclassical style, the Art Nouveau style, etc., which contributed towards elegant and enticing facades, and luxurious interiors. 

The Plaza de Armas was designed by the Spanish in the city using a common square grid pattern and surrounded by several significant buildings: Metropolitan Cathedral of Santiago, Central Post Office Building, Palacio de la Real Audiencia de Santiago, all of which exhibit grandeur and elegance in their Neoclassical designs. Today the plaza stands as a central landmark for various cultural celebrations, markets, and festivals.

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Plaza de Armas, Santiago Chile with ts architectural landmarks spanning several historical periods_©

Cultural Influences

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Santiago Metropolitan Cathedral in the Plaza de Armas is an example of Neo-Classical style_ ©PHeymont

Christianity has always been a central religion in Chile and this resulted in the design of a number of churches and cathedrals in the region. These churches boasted several historical styles, ranging from Romanesque to Spanish Baroque. After the independence of modern Chile, there was newfound freedom of expression and living. The city of Santiago now supported a multitude of religions. In response to this, there were a variety of religious structures erected throughout the city, to support this movement for secularity. 

The Bahai Temple, designed by Canadian architect Siamak Hariri, is a place of worship for the Bahai community. The structure uses a brilliant blend of transparency and monumentality to enhance spirituality with materials of glass and translucent concrete to support the concept of openness of the religion. The structure also possesses an anti-seismic three-pendulum friction insulation system.

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Bahai Temple stands overlooking the city with a floral form that represents several ideologies of the Baháʼí faith_©FOPF / Wikipedia

Political Influences

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Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral is a cultural center has seen many developments through Chile’s socialist, dictatorship and democratic governments _©Rodrigo Pizarro

The country of Chile has seen many political changes which have had direct implications on architecture and design. With the transition of government from the military dictatorship under Pinochet, to a democratic system, there were several major beneficial changes in Chilean society. Designs and planning changed to support a system of acceptance and equality amongst the public. It led to the revival of a more socially conscious architect, whose aim was to improve the urban fabric. This included the construction of more public buildings and housing units for the poor, with an increased level of expenditure and knowledge. 

Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect, works on the central philosophy of social change through architecture. These efforts of having “…a holistic understanding of the built environment and has clearly demonstrated the ability to connect social responsibility, economic demands, design of human habitat and the city,” led him to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2016.

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Ruca Dwellings by Undurraga Devés Arquitectos is a housing project for the Mapuche community using natural materials and historic techniques to create comfortable spaces, prone to earthquakes _©Rodrigo Pizarro

Santiago Today

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Siamese towers designed by Alejandro Aravena uses several innovative techniques to ensure comfort, functionality and sustainability  at a reduced cost_©Cristobal Palma

Today the city of Santiago has overcome a series of obstacles to have a complete transformation of its architectural style and expression. The city strives for maintaining designs based on the city’s great cultural, geographical, and resource diversity. It now focuses on bettering systems and models to improve the functionality and the aesthetics of the space using modern tools and technology for the refined feeling of the 21st century. 

Architects of the city like Aravena, Lateral, and Cristián Fernández architects and Cecilia Puga create designs based on a holistic approach through contextual setting, cultural ties, and user equality. Above all, the architecture of Santiago focuses on acceptance and adaptability through design, constantly changing itself to strive for a newfound perfection.


  1. 2021. Architecture of Chile – Wikipedia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
  2. <,exploring%20new%20forms%20and%20technologies.> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
  3. WikiArquitectura. 2021. ✅ Gran Torre Santiago – Gran Costanera Tower – Data, Photos & Plans – WikiArquitectura. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
  4. <> [Accessed 12 September 2021].
  5. ArchDaily. 2021. Ruca Dwellings / Undurraga Devés Arquitectos. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 September 2021].

Joshua Fernandes is an architecture student and an avid cinephile who always looks at the whimsical side of things. Hawaiian pizza, pop culture references, and writing are his true passions. He loves discovering new music and movies, being outdoors and believes that the beauty of the world lies in the smallest details hidden within.