Seminar Presentation: Juan Borchers, Architect (1910-1975)

By Patricio De Stefani


Juan Borchers was a late-modernist Chilean Architect. A humanist and theorist, throughout his life he was devoted to architectural theory and research. He was also author of significant projects and built works in Chile.

During his childhood and youth he lived and studied in Punta Arenas. In this southern city he developed his affinity for poetry, storytelling, drawing and art. His father (a ship-owner) instilled in him notions of mathematics and navigational instruments, as well as his desire to travel. At the University of Chile he studied the texts of Le Corbusier, Matila Ghyka, Rimbaud, Poincaré and others. In 1937 he was expelled from the university due to his involvement in the student movement that attempted to reform architectural education to include the principles of modern architecture. After his graduation, he travels to Paris to meet Le Corbusier. In 1939 he returned to Chile due to the beginning of the Second World War. In 1948 he travelled to Europe again, this journey lasted ten years where he lived in multiple locations, being the most permanent Paris and Madrid.

The main categories and concepts used and developed by Borchers in his theory of architecture were derived from multiple sources such as Uexküll, Husserl, Descartes, Kant, Wittgenstein, Alberti and Palladio. These theories coupled with his vast knowledge of mathematics and geometry. In 1968, Borchers published his first book called Architectural Institution where he develops an ontology in which architecture is seen as a fundamental phenomenon of human will and only secondarily of human senses. Architecture is generated through an Artificial Order based on mental laws that contradict the laws of the Natural Order found in the Umwelt or surrounding world. The human body is the origin of all architecture and has a dual character that Borchers called the Plastic Organ and the Organ of the Will. From the Dutch architect Hans van der Laan he took the notion of architecture as a harmonious mediation between humans and the natural world, and also the plastic number as the basis to develop his own arithmetic series based on the geometric properties of the cube which he named as Cubic Series. His second book, entitled Meta-Architecture, was published posthumously. In it, he develops a practical approach to his theory through concepts like number, magnitude, the act, plastic relation and the series.

Since 1940 he developed multiple designs but none of them was finally built. In 1960 he with others two architects developed the design for the Electric Cooperative of Chillán (COPELEC), where they put into practice the principles of Borchers’s theory. The building was pronounced National Monument in 2008. In 2010, a book containing part of his memories, entitled Hiperpolis, was published. Also part of his work was exhibited at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid. Borchers’s influence has not been widespread in Chile, in part due to its complexity but mostly because his theory posed a radical critique to architecture and architectural practice.


About patriciodestefani

My main focus is on the role of architecture within capitalist society and the search for a radical alternative practice.
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