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Past Watch Site
MONTEMAR INSTITUTE OF MARINE BIOLOGY
Viña del Mar, Chile
- WMF Program:2008 Watch
Designed by Chilean architect Enrique Gebhard, the Montemar Institute of Marine Biology has been described as one of the most successful examples of South American modernist architecture. Built in two phases, between 1941 and 1945 and 1956 and 1959, Montemar is considered Gebhard's most important work, and the structure's synergy with its environment and the preexisting activities at the site made it an important model for later Chilean architects working with a modernist vocabulary.
The building was constructed as the field station of the Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Chile. The Institute was founded to work in partnership with local fishermen; in exchange for specimens collected by the fishermen, researchers helped improve fishing methods and taught fishermen sustainable management of marine species. When the University of Valparaíso was formed in the 1980s, it was granted ownership of the Institute's building, which is now home to the university's Faculty of Ocean Sciences.
The Institute was listed on the 2008 World Monuments Watch due to renovations that have and will damage the integrity of the original design. The building's first addition was constructed in the 1990s, when an extra floor was added onto the area that had originally been a rooftop terrace over the complex's laboratories, changing the architect's intended view of the horizon. Another addition is being constructed alongside the original building, and this will undermine some of the signature elements of Gebhard's design. It will block the large window in the auditorium, and reduce the area available to fishermen by 50 percent, which could lead them to abandon the site for another one farther away.
Public awareness of the threat to the Montemar Institute was greatly increased through the 2008 listing of the site, along with newspaper articles opposing the addition, letters to editors, meetings with university authorities and the Chilean agency for national monuments, and the involvement of organizations such as Docomomo. Through these efforts the extension was completely demolished in December 2010, even though construction had already commenced. November 2014