The now infamous Chilean Mines are located in the country's northern Atacama Desert -- one of the most inhospitable places on earth for life. Our demand for energy and minerals keeps growing, so finding a way to inhabit one of the driest and sunniest places on earth was the challenge presented to AATA Architects when they were asked to design a low-cost but effective shelter for miners. Their solution was to create a large apartment complex out of shipping containers and drape the entire campus with canvas to protect it from the region's relentless sunshine.
The unique solution was based on clustering prefabricated shipping containers to form housing pods. Six units per pod were stacked two units high and then connected to each other in a ‘C’ formation that allows natural ambient light in but blocks extreme temperatures during warm days and cold nights. Five containers are for sleeping and one is a dedicated restroom. In all, 16 pods can house 320 people.
The huge canvas roof is the key to the design’s success. Set on steel trusses, it creates a micro climate that tempers the harsh environment. The roof provides ample protection from the sun in one of the hottest and driest places on the planet, and it also encourages cross breezes while blocking harsh winds. The roof also helps keep heat from radiating out at night — the project is situated approximately 1,500 meters above sea level so the evenings get cold.
The design works so well that patches of grass could be placed at each pod, providing a humble but critical micro climate in one of the most extreme places on the planet.