The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Cristian Olmos Herrera

Nationality: Chile

Year of entry: 2013


Cristian is an architect and urban designer, who is currently researching “Territory’s fragmentation: The territory of aboriginal communities in the process of mining expansion: The case of Atacama Desert, Chile”. His undergraduate education was in the Architectural school at the Catholic University of the North (UCN), Chile. After finishing it, he studied a postgraduate diploma on Multimedia Digital Production at the University of Chile. Cristian holds an MSc in Building & Urban Design in Development from the Bartlett/UCL, where his research focused on the relationship between the body and its territory in participation processes. He has ten years of work experience in the public sector, specifically in the field of improvement of urban spaces, housing projects, policies, reconstruction and recovery programs, mainly in isolated, rural and aboriginal communities.


Territory’s fragmentation: “The territory of aboriginal communities in the process of mining expansion: The case of Atacama Desert, Chile.”


Territorial Identity, Resistance, Water, Fragmentation, Mining


This research examines the resistance to the neoliberal exploitation of resources in the Atacama Desert through the use of vernacular architecture. The use of the territory in the desert has its own structure of relationships with the immediate space. In other words, the landscape sets the parameters for the configuration of the territory. However, the Atacama territory, and especially the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples in Chile, is polluted, looted and devastated, particularly for mining projects that fragment the space of many communities. Thus, the model of extraction of natural resources controls the territory, particularly in regards to water, an element that has structured the identity of these communities. This leads to the degradation of territorial identity and the opportunity to resist the advancing neoliberal state.

This lack of territorial identity is expressed by dehydrating natural water sources for human consumption by mining companies; loss of ancestral water rights for agriculture, livestock, construction and tourism; degradation of habitat and indigenous ecosystems; pollution of the sources and water courses by industrial, mineral and chemical waste; displacement and migration of populations; alteration of their traditions and customs; and loss of ancestral and vernacular techniques.

The objectives of this study are on one hand to determine and understand this fragmentation of the territory, especially in the sense of appropriation of space in the Atacama Desert, thereby finding out a way communities can recuperate their rights and sense of belonging to this territory. On the other hand, to explore how communities can, through vernacular constructions, perform acts of resistance to counter territorial destruction.

The first phase of this study is concerned with a literature review on the topics of territory, place, vernacular techniques, identity, water rights and power in order to comprehend the discursive prose and principles to identify unbiased and valid studies for the specific area of study. Further, maps and visual data about this territory, under a multidimensional perspective (power relations, identities, networks and nature, as well as all relations immanent to everyday life), are reviewed in order to identify tensions and patterns in the current context of the Atacama Desert. The second phase involves collecting information and conducting a workshop with a community, where participant observations and in-depth interviews will be carried out with actors across the sectors involved in the development of the politics of mining in the region.


Dr Alexandre Apsan Frediani
Dr Caroline Newton


Becas Chile, CONICYT