Architect Smiljan Radic’s striking redo of Chile’s pre-Columbian museum

Architect smiljan radic's striking redo of chile's pre-columbian museum
Photograph © Carolina A. Miranda / Los Angeles Times

Chilean architect Smiljan Radic is best known for seemingly coming out of nowhere to create the 2014 summer pavilion for London’s Serpentine Gallery, which each year chooses a different architect to design a temporary structure open to the public for three months. Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Peter Zumthor and Oscar Niemeyer are some of the series’ previous architects.

For his pavilion, Radic produced a form that was somewhere between a neolithic doughnut and a luminous alien egg (its thin fiberglass shell allowed light to escape at night). The whole structure rested on array of over-sized rocks. The unusual piece was well-received by critics. A writer for the Telegraph described it as “heroically peculiar,” a structure that “seems to stand out of time.”

Radic may have been little-known abroad before his Serpentine pavilion, but he has far more acclaim in his native Chile, where he has designed homes, restaurants and a winery. One of his more notable public projects inside Chile is the redesign of the Chilean Museum of Pre-Columbian Art in Santiago, housed in what was once a royal customs house. Visiting the museum and wandering the halls of Radic’s freshly reworked space was a chance to indulge my interest in the intersection of art and architecture.

And, like his alien egg, it does not disappoint. The architect has taken a somewhat dour neoclassical building from the late colonial era (c. 1805) and turned it into a remarkable space in which to look at pre-Columbian art. ….