Travelling as a didactic experience

Words by Tommaso Brighenti

Unveiling the fascinating story behind the Travesías and the Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño PUCV of Valparaíso in Chile.

"Mi oficio es andar andando" (literally translated "My job is to go going") was the answer that Dionisio Faúndez - poet and wanderer - gave in 1778 when he was arrested and was asked what he did in life. [1] His words and their poetic meaning were chosen by the Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño - known as e[ad] - to represent the approach of the school towards architecture and education.

Initiated in 1952 - for the will of the faculty of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso - and directed by Argentinian poet Godofredo Iommi (1917-2001) and Chilean architect Alberto Cruz (1917-2013), along the decades the school became one of the most original experiences in the domain of architectural education.

Promoting a balance between theoretical researches and practical experiences, the founding members were profoundly convinced of the importance of living and working together, addressing architectural issues in a collective way. Basing its training on a series of strong principles - such as the poetic approach to architecture, the process of construction as a group action, and the improvised design of objects with natural resources and poor materials -, the e[ad] still underlines the importance of community in all its projects.

Among the most significant aspects of its didactics are the Travesías [2] - a series of discovery trips throughout South America, organised in collaboration between professors and students and thought as a collective reflection on the cultural origins of the continent.

The idea of the Travesías was born in 1965 when a first group of participants decided to cross South America along an itinerary that went from Cabo de Hornos (Patagonia, Chile) to Santa Cruz de la Sierra (Bolivia).

The trip was interrupted prematurely because of the clashes carried out by the Bolivian guerrillas. Despite the interruption, however, the experience was celebrated as a symbolical conquer of the continent and of the group’s own identity, as well as a way to reflect on the critical and creative role that the school could have in the South American panorama.

Not getting to the final destination was truly significant and was interpreted as a poetic fact - underlining that what matters is not arriving to the end point, but continuously aiming for it. Under the direction of Godofredo Iommi, the poem Amereida was written. By adopting Virgil’s philosophy of the travel as a way to develop knowledge, the poem became the first and most important document of the school and of its way of understanding life and architecture.

Moreover, during a poetic act, a new map of the continent was drawn, where the standard geographical orientation was overturned, becoming the distinctive mark of Amereida.

The drawing of the Southern Cross constellation was superimposed on the map, the words “Anchor”, “Origins”, “Light” and “Adventure” were used to name the four cardinal points and the intersection of the two axes came to identify the poetic capital of Latin America: Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Since 1984 the Travesías are an integral part of the training of the students, who every year undertake a trip across South America and build small architectures along the way.

The constructions that are developed during the Travesías are diverse. They can be simple signs within the landscape - such as sculptures and installations - or 1:1 buildings that the local communities can use - such as theatres, observation decks, little shelters or covered paths.

These are not charitable works, but instead are considered as presents from the professors and the students to the local communities. Being presents, these can be welcomed and appreciated, but can also not be used. To accept them means to recognise their value and commit to their safeguard.

As the representatives of the school affirm, the architectures developed during the Travesías “open people to architecture” and teach the students to look at the world with “American eyes” - a point of view that is nurtured during their trips, along which they discover their own Latin American identity.

[1] Espinoza, A. A. and M. Carmagnani (1999). Ociosos, vagabundos y malentretenidos en Chile colonial, Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos; [2] The term “Travesías” comes from nautical terminology and is used by the teachers of the e[ad] to name their discovery trips; [3] Among them were the two school founders Alberto Cruz and Godofredo Iommi, British poet Jonathan Boulting, architect and Alberto Cruz’s nephew Fabio Cruz, French poet Michel Deguy, philosopher and Heidegger’s disciple Francoise Fedier, Argentinian sculptor Claudio Girola, Chilean writer Jorge Perez Roman, Brazilian poet Edison Simons, French poet Henry Tronquay; [4] The poetic acts represent one of the essential moments for the e[ad] and take their inspiration from the theoretical methods developed by French poet André Breton and his fellow Surrealists, according to whom a poetic action must be organised collectively, focusing on unconsciousness and mysteriousness;;

All images © Archivio Historico Jos‚ Vial, PUCV, Valparaiso:
Cover_Travesía de Amereida, 1965; 1_Travesía Bahia Errazuriz, Region de Antofagasta, Chile, 1990; 2_Travesía de Amereida, 1965; 3_Travesía de Amereida, 1965; 4_Drawing of the itinerary of the first Travesía, 1965; 5_Cover of the Poema Amereida; 6_Drawing of South America with superposition of the Southern Cross constellation. Realised during a poetic act, during the first Travesía, 1965; 7_Travesia Puerto Williams, Cerro Bandera, Chile, 2006; 8_Travesía Caldera, Cerro Montevideo, Chile, 1986;

Published: 13 Mar. 2017

#Pioneers #Amereida #Travesias #EscuelaValparaiso #Architecture #Education #Travel #Chile #TommasoBrighenti


About the author
Born in Parma, Italy, Tommaso Brighenti studied architecture at Politecnico di Milano, where he obtained his Doctorate in 2015 with a research on teaching methodologies for architecture. In order to deepen his knowledge about the subject, during his Doctorate years he visited various schools, among which was the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (Chile), where he participated to a Travesía in 2013. Tommaso is currently Adjunct Professor at Politecnico di Milano and editor-in-chief of FAMagazine.

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