What, exactly, architecture constitutes remains to be defined, even by architects themselves. Within the field, there's an impressive array of work that spans far beyond homes and funky-shaped high rises—everything from paper architecture to research architecture to furniture design can fall under the umbrella term, so the act of making architecture is simultaneously obscure and excitingly vast.
In relation to exurban locales, beyond cabins, tiny homes, and A-frames, there's landscape architecture itself. Projects within this architectural sub-field might look like Piet Oudolf's plantings spanning New York's High Line, Maya Lin's Wavefield at Storm King Art Center, or your neighbors new garden patio. There's no straight definition there, either.
Which brings us to Chile, where architect Pia Montero's Reconversion of the San Pedro Hot Springs is a landscape architecture project of the conservation and advocacy kind, designed to both protect and draw attention to a stunning (and relaxing) local landmark within the Andes Mountains.
Not much info about the hot springs' past is readily available online, beyond what has been documented in Montero’s proposal to repair the landmark, (Spanish speakers, this Talca Universidad short doc may shed some additonal light).
We do know the San Pedro Hot Springs were once a public landmark and a serene hideaway for travelers. But due to seismic activity in the mountain pass, the natural pools fell into disrepair and were slowly abandoned.
Montero's project has since revived the hot springs, which are located along the Paso Internacional Vergara mountain pass near the town of Los Queñes, bringing attention to its natural and cultural value once again.
The reconstruction appears simple, driven by subtle landscape interventions that play on the natural materials and color palette of the hot springs themself. A filtration system circulates water between the baths, while two reinforced beams create an elongated waterfall that drops water back into the neighboring Teno River. Montero kept the footprint of the site much the same, save for the insertion of reinforced concrete steps that create a passage between the site's varying topography. Lastly, a wooden deck creates a central hub for bathers and an excellent view of the surrounding Andes Mountains.
Alongside partners, Maria Jesús Molina and Antonia Ossa, Montero's project was recognized in the 2020 Young Talent Architecture Awards. Visitors can soak the San Pedro Hot Springs—or Baños de San Pedro in Spanish—any time of year, at no cost. To get there, take Paso Internacional Vergara (J-55) east from Curico or stay in the nearby riverside town of Los Queñes. The rest is up to you.