International Antarctic Centre to be built in Punta Arenas | Polarjournal
For those traveling to Punta Arenas by ship, the Centro Antártico Internacional will appear like an iceberg with its iconic architecture. It will house a center for world-class Antarctic research, a logistical platform, and an interactive museum. Image: Equipo Primer Lugar via Plataforma Arquitectura

From a distance, it resembles a table ice mountain that seems to float, its edges sculpted by waves, its outlines reflected in the waters of the Strait of Magellan – this is the impression that the Centro Antártico Internacional, the International Antarctic Center, is soon to give as you approach it. A team of architects from Santiago won the international competition announced in 2017 out of 54 projects submitted with their design proposal. With the construction of the Centro Antártico Internacional, Chile is pursuing nothing less than to create the most important gateway to the West Antarctic in Punta Arenas. A few days ago, the Ministry of Social Development gave the go-ahead for the project.

The team of architects from Santiago(Alberto Moletto, Cristóbal Tirado, Sebastián Hernández and Danilo Lagos) define their design as a hybrid building that “is formally and programmatically composed of overlapping, materially distinct layers that house different areas, each with its own character.” Image: Ministerio de Obras Públicas de Chile via Twitter

As one of the major initiatives of Chile’s Special Development Plan for Extreme Areas, the new International Antarctic Center (CAI) in Punta Arenas will provide world-class infrastructure for excellent Antarctic research and logistical support for expeditions to the white continent. According to the Consortium of Universities of Chile, more than 20 scientific laboratories and logistics will be available for 500 scientists per year. There will also be a large visitor area with interactive rooms, large aquariums, a dinosaur park, rooms with simulated Antarctic conditions, a replica of the Antarctic forest that existed millions of years ago, and with an auditorium for 600 people.

The entire architecture is kept very light and spacious and provides an overview of the center’s interior from almost everywhere. A seemingly floating circuit leads visitors to the upper floors. Image: Equipo Primer Lugar via Plataforma Arquitectura

The CAI is therefore not only intended to serve research and science, but also to make a specific socio-economic contribution by expanding the population’s and tourists’ knowledge of Antarctica with its diverse interactive program. The government sees the center as a strong driver for development, jobs, education, scientific research and tourism.

On the main level, visitors will be able to enjoy the fresh wind blowing across the Strait of Magellan and admire the recreated primeval Antarctic forest. Image: Equipo Primer Lugar via Plataforma Arquitectura

With plans to build the new Centro Antártico Internacional in Punta Arenas, Chile, competition has broken out in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean for the title of “Gateway to Antarctica”. Argentina, of course, does not want to be inferior to Chile and is planning a large Antarctic logistics center in Ushuaia (we reported). And the government of the Falkland Islands is equally determined to take advantage of its optimal geographical location and plans to invest 60 million pounds to provide logistics services in particular for the member states of the Antarctic Treaty in the northern hemisphere. Last but not least, South Africa is very taken with the Centro Antártico Internacional even before it is realized and is also emulating Chile’s plans. At the beginning of last year, a South African delegation was already in Punta Arenas to learn about the impressive project. As El Pingüino reported, the delegates are somewhat jealous of Punta Arenas’ favorable geographic location – it’s a much longer way to Antarctica from South Africa. Therefore, they do not want to get involved in the competition and are instead considering developing a smaller center that would bring not only scientific but also educational, economic and political benefits.

The aquarium and interactive areas will allow visitors to learn about Antarctic features. Image: Ministerio de Obras Públicas de Chile via Twitter
There will also be special rooms where visitors can experience Antarctic conditions. Image: Ministerio de Obras Públicas de Chile via Twitter

The nearly 33,000-square-meter building will require investments of about 65 billion pesos (70 million euros). The original schedule envisaged a construction period of around three years with the opening in 2022, but the review of numerous technical aspects took almost two years and approval could only now be granted. With funding now still to be finalized, some patience is required before the Gateway to Antarctica will open its doors. The center will be managed by the Chilean Antarctic Institute and the University of Magallanes.

The Centro Antártico Internacional is to be built directly on the shore of the Strait of Magellan. Perhaps some king penguins will actually stop by. Image: Equipo Primer Lugar via Plataforma Arquitectura

Julia Hager, PolarJournal

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