GAM – The Rebirth of a Relic

Looming menacingly over the Alameda like a colossal copper fortress, it’s impossible to miss the structure once known as El Edificio de Diego Portales.

Photo by Jose Miguel Vives
Photo by Jose Miguel Vives

Originally built in 1972, Diego Portales long split public opinion, not just amongst those who admired its visionary architecture or were repulsed by its brutality, but also due to its use as the main legislative centre of the military dictatorship. Despite a number of years as a convention centre following the return to democracy, for many it has remained a lasting symbol of a turbulent and tragic period in Chile’s history.

 Jose Miguel Vives
Jose Miguel Vives

Yet that looks set to change. A fire in 2006 gutted the interior and destroyed a large part of the edifice. This allowed a total revamp that, as part of the bicentenary celebrations, saw the redesigned building open in September last year as Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM). Set over more than 22,000 square metres across two buildings (with a third currently under construction), the centre contains several large spaces for music, theatre, art and dance, as well as a recording studio, multimedia library and two seminar rooms. A plaza also serves as an outdoor auditorium.

Each space has its own unique design, making it ideal for particular performances or exhibitions, whether that be contemporary poetry, visual imagery or ballet. Meticulous attention has been paid to ensuring the perfection of the acoustics and lighting, and the overall ambience of the centre is one of tranquility and innovation.

 Jose Miguel Vives
Jose Miguel Vives

The majesty of the building, designed by Chilean architect Christian Fernandez, also plays a part. Walking through the outdoor spaces, it is difficult not to be awed by the imposing scale and golden-brown shell of its copper coating that glistens brilliantly under the Santiago sun. Indoors it is airy and cool, and the open layout encourages the visitor to enjoy the works in a state of urban relaxation, not always the easiest thing to achieve in the heart of the city.

GAM is a fantastic addition to the blossoming arts scene of Santiago, a city that for many years of military rule was a cultural wasteland, but these days proudly boasts a powerful creative identity. Together with preceding centres such as MAC and Matucana 100, and those that will undoubtedly follow, GAM brings Santiago closer to other global cities that have always cultivated the arts and provides further proof that Chile’s cultural rehabilitation is complete.

Centro Cultural Gabriela Mistral (GAM)
Av. Libertador Bernardo O´Higgins 227, Santiago
www.gam.cl

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