During the 20th century, new social actors inspired the transformation of Santiago’s urban and social landscape. In addition to the processes associated with of the migration field-city, it also appeared the positioning of the middle class that caused a housing crisis, Eduardo Frei’s government faced it through several institutions. The inauguration of Villa Frei neighborhood on July 27 in 1966, was an important milestone for this group of employees and professionals that belonged to the middle class, because its urban and architectural features represent the implementation of the principles of the modern architecture in our country.
In Frei’s government, there were several institutions linked to housing matters, such as Corporación de Mejoramiento Urbano (Cormu), Corporación de Servicios Habitacionales (Corhabit) and Corporación de la Vivienda (Corvi), among others. These institutions jointed together to create the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development, which sought to assist the public and private action for the housing construction. The construction of the Villa Frei neighborhood was part of the projects lead by the Corporación de la Vivienda, with the objective of providing housing solutions for middle class people.
The modernity in the Chilean architecture could be observed in the first decades of the 20th century, characterized by a new expressionism in the use of materials, primarily steel and concrete. This new way of expression, that was born in Europe, has an own story and a particular way in our country. In the first decades of the last century, Chile was still attached to aesthetic conceptions ruled by naturalists and impressionists concepts. Therefore, in Chile, the creation of the architecture characterized by modernism was linked to the work of intellectuals and architects who adopted ideas from the European architecture, rather than a generalized movement.
With the mechanization of life through technology products, and the adoption of the notion of efficiency that influenced Chilean cultural environment during the first half of the twentieth century, the cultural foundation that would give advantage to a modern architecture in our country was developed. This was followed up with the challenge that the State assumed to initiate a process of national industrialization, which in turn mobilized the industrialization of construction processes. Steel, concrete and glass were at the center of what was known as modern construction.
New materials and new technical developments were part of a new esthetics in terms of comfort, efficiency, rationalization and mechanization. The consolidation of modern architecture was expressed in works of urban and institutional importance, especially from the second half of the century. In 1957, The Universidad Técnica del Estado, the Naval Academy and finally the CEPAL building tender in 1960, reflected the acceptance of the modern principles by the architects and also by the State organizations. The Corporación de la Vivienda (Housing Coorporation) was formed by architects who adopted these ideas and the housing policy of which was a part, not only the construction of the Villa Frei neighborhood, but also the Villa Portales and the Villa Olímpica neighborhoods were an expression of that exchange between theory, practice and actors.
The Law Ranking-Decree (DFL) No. 2 of 1959, Article 60, stated that the Housing Corporation had to use only the system of public bidding for hiring construction and the tender system for their projects. It was under this regulation that in 1964 this institution made a public call for the creation of a large scale housing complex, a large neighborhood unit with three sectors, including different buildings and several services: buildings, civic center, school group, shopping center, clinical center, and firehouse, and also single-family homes. The Caja de Empleados Particulares (an organization of private employees) responded to this call and the winner of the draft was the office of architects Jaime Larrain, Osvaldo Larrain and Diego Balmaceda.
The Caja de Empleados Particulares (Private Employees Fund) was a pension system that existed in Chile since 1925, along with the Caja del Seguro Obrero, the Caja Bancaria de Pensiones, the Previsión y Estímulo de los Empleados del Banco de Chile, among others. These organizations were aimed at creating a common fund from the contributions made by members with a part of their salaries, and then to apply and access to the benefits: pension benefits and conceivable benefits, such as widowhood or invalidity of workers. In 1952 the Law 10.475 also empowered it to invest the surplus in construction, to give housing to its depositors. Thus, in 1963 the farm “Chacra Valparaiso” was bought to related families Cruz Garcia Huidobro, de Valdes, Barros and Irarrázaval and the process of building the Villa Frei neighborhood began.
The residential complex was inaugurated on June 27, 1968, and was highlighted in the media as the “biggest residential complex” built in the country. The ceremony brought together various authorities, who became part of an enjoyable and close activity, in which the ex-President had the opportunity to share with the residents of the neighborhood. The residential complex was blessed by the Cardinal Archbishop of Santiago, Monsignor Raul Silva Henriquez, in a ceremony attended by Orthodox, Protestant and Jewish religious leaders. After the raising of the national flag, the Vice President of CORVI addressed the attendees and handed over the neighborhood to the President of the Caja de Empleados Particulares. Also present were the Ministers of Housing and Labour, John Hamilton and Eduardo Leon; the Mayor of Santiago, Sergio Saavedra; the Vice President of CORVI Hector Valdes; the Vice President of the Caja de Empleados Particulares Roberto León, and the municipal authorities of Ñuñoa, along with leaders of the new neighborhood councils.
Before the inauguration, at a meeting organized by the future residents of the Villa, it was decided to rename Villa “Chacra Valparaiso” to the current name “Villa Presidente Frei”. Considering this, during his opening speech, the ex-President asked the people to revoke this decision, because, although he was honored, he did not want that a work inaugurated during his government was named after him.
The Community: Difficulties and Learning
During its early years, life in the Villa Frei neighborhood was full of work and commitment to the community, since its establishment was not without problems. Housing delivery and squatting in the apartments was, many times, irregular; a situation justified by the authorities and by the same Caja de Empleados Particulares, due to the urgent need to occupy the homes. The lack of water, the removal of construction debris, the lack of food and the large amount of weeds found by the neighbors encouraged an organization and a self-management to find common solutions to the problems that affected them. This form of organization adopted by the neighbors to resolve their initial difficulties, came up under a legal framework based on Eduardo Frei Montalva’s political project called “popular promotion.” Along with the first two neighborhood councils, other community organizations that consolidated the identity of the Villa and its residents were created, Mother Centers, Parents and Tutors Centers, Cultural Centers, Youth and Sports Organizations, Choirs and others, represented and promoted the communal living.
Undoubtedly, this initial experience has become a powerful identity sign among the residents of the Villa, currently expressed in the organization as “Comité Barrio Patrimonial Villa Frei-Parque Ramón Cruz” which made the National Monuments Council declare Sector I of the Villa a Typical Zone in December of 2015. Thus, committing to taking care and protecting it, and recognizing the value of this residential complex in its architectural and social dimensions. The Villa Frei neighborhood is the materialization of a vision of the country promoted by Frei Montalva’s government, but it is also the expression of neighbors’ coexistence and a way of life that is currently protected by the work of the neighbors. They are protecting its history and heritage with the same initial commitment.