Utopia and Marginality: Habitability on the Edge of Valparaíso
An essay by Jorge Ferrada Herrera

28 Giugno, 2024

Jorge Ferrada Herrera’s essay reflects on the quality of the landscape and, more precisely, on the notions of limit, border and margin in urban planning, all related to each other but with different characteristics. Specifically, due to its geographical conformation, the city of Valparaíso is the exemplary place for this reflection, wedged between the coast that faces the ocean, with its sandy and rocky beaches, and the city limit. It is in this space, according to Ferrada, where the architect’s creative gesture can intervene and give life to the utopia of “transforming a geographical site into a place.” A vocation that finds maximum expression in the “marginal” space, called the architectural margin. It is a location, between the urban edge and the natural shore, and with some slight form of habitability – which allows us in Valparaiso, due to its topography and urban configuration, to see a historical continuity in the dispute between territory and land. The territory is a support of the ground, and it is this ground that must be invented through the architectural gesture so that the marginal space exists and comes to light.

Jorge Ferrada’s text thus develops the theme of utopia, which, as Marc Augé comments in the introduction of the book, for the author is not understood as a “non-place”, but rather as a specificity that aspires to become a “place” with full identity. In this sense, Valparaíso, a port city and therefore an open city par excellence, becomes an example of the urban vocation that is to welcome the movements of “coming and going”, where “arriving is discovering a place”, while “returning means finding a place”.

The word to the Author

Marta MORETTI – The city of Valparaíso, at the center of this essay, had to deal with its geographical location squeezed between the immensity of the ocean, and the mountain range. What situation has conditioned its development?

Jorge FERRADA HERRERA – From the beginning, the city develops a mandatory stopover for the supply of the towns founded by the Spanish in the interior and an arrival point, after overcoming the onslaught of Cape Horn. Valparaíso appears as a primordial city on this side of the world, which is being built inch by inch in the challenge of inhabiting in lack of land, and in front of an insurmountable extension. It is, for this reason, a city on the limit, which avoids its marginal being, in the sense of remaining in the construction of its urban edge, which is mainly the construction of a back.
This book is formulated with the intention of showing the existence of an architectural space that has not been seen or named as such, and that is an integral part of the places that acquired value in the rethinking of waterfronts.

What exactly do you mean by architectural margin?

In the built and cadastral city, there are marginal spaces that are not visible and with limited accessibility. This deprived space can be considered an architectural margin because it has the virtue of being inhabited – even if ephemerally – and because of its location, between the urban and the natural edge. The margin is not exactly an extension of the city, nor an extension of the natural space, but rather an internal space that acts as a connector, in which freeing up the existing habitable space.

Let’s go to the concept of utopia in architecture.

Utopia refers to an aspect that anticipates the architectural space: it refers to the idea where the utopian becomes possible. The project is a real way to make something possible. When we talk about utopia, specifically in architecture, we are talking about a reality exceeding the possibility of realization, and therefore becoming a desire.
If we call site the soil that supports the possibility of becoming a place, and place the space what is built in it, we can then say that a territory is a set of sites and places that emerge from the natural space to be named, which indicates the field where architectural poetics give to these places a form.

Let’s talk again about Valparaíso and its function as a port city.

Valparaíso is a city that as a port is located on the shores of a very particular environment, an ocean. The port of Valparaíso and the city are a unit embodied by an abrupt topography that has been developing a peculiar architecture over 500 years. Valparaíso has the Pacific as a destination, and this denotes a kind of isolation through which the city establishes itself as a terminus, terminal, or end. It is, it must be said, where things arrive and not in the strict sense of a city whose continuity is based on the flow of its coming and going. The city takes advantage of the fact that things come and go, giving them a way to arrive and leave. The act of arriving is what happens when you meet a place. The act of returning, the one whose purpose is to find your place again, where you left from.


Jorge Ferrada Herrera
Utopía y marginalidad: Habitabilidad en el margen de Valparaíso

Ediciones de la Escuela de Arquitectura y Diseño de la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, 2023
165 pages
ISBN 978-956-8192-26-6

Author’s Biography


Architect. Doctor in Architecture from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and professor at the School of Architecture and Design of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso (PUCV). He has been a member of various commissions and boards of directors; among them, director and member of the Amereida Cultural Corporation; member of the International Association Città d’Acqua, in Venice; of the Space Semiotics Association, in Lyon; and director of the Fundación Roberto Hernández. Currently he heads the Center for Heritage Studies of the PUCV.

Article reference for citation:

MORETTI, Marta. “Utopia and Marginality: Habitability on the Edge of Valparaíso”. PORTUS | Port-City Relationship and Urban Waterfront Redevelopment, 47 (June 2024). RETE Publisher, Venice. ISSN 2282-5789.
URL: https://portusonline.org/utopia-and-marginality-habitability-on-the-edge-of-valparaiso/

MORETTI, Marta. “Utopía y marginalidad. Habitabilidad en el margen de Valparaíso”. PORTUS | Port-City Relationship and Urban Waterfront Redevelopment, 47 (June 2024). RETE Publisher, Venice. ISSN 2282-5789.
URL: https://portusonline.org/utopia-and-marginality-habitability-on-the-edge-of-valparaiso/

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