The mobile phone. One of the most pivotal technological advances of the 20th century. Mobile phones and telecommunications have affected almost every single aspect of human life. If you had a major telecommunications company, how would you show the world your company’s technological superiority, and what sort of headquarters should you build? If your answer is to build your country’s tallest ever tower in the shape of the latest cell phone model, you need to get to Santiago Chile, there you will see first hand why you should never use your phone to inspire architecture.
Purpose and Construction
After entering the Chilean market in the late 1980s, Spanish multinational Telefónica needed to create a national headquarters for their operations in Chile. Designed by Mario Paredes & Arquitectos Asociados, Torre Telefónica was constructed in 1992 at a cost of $75 million (USD). The pride of the nation, the 143-meter skyscraper was the tallest building in all of Chile and symbolised the modernity of Santiago, and boosted Telefónica Chile in the local market. Now using the brand name Movistar, the company today has the largest mobile network in Chile.
What can only be described as a modernist skyscraper, Torre Telefónica design was inspired by most modern cell phones of the early 1990s. These were amongst the first phones to be able to fit in your pocket, assuming you had huge pockets. The façade has two main sections of diagonal squares, the largest section representing the keypad, and the top section, slightly protruding out is the earpiece. The most iconic feature of the façade however is the aerial, sticking out of the top on one side is a nostalgic reminder of the old analogue phone networks of the era.
Of all pieces of modern technology, mobile phones are probably the fastest evolving. With a few years of opening, the phones it was based on would be considered “bricks”. It could be seen as a nostalgic design, but it misses the mark on that value. It’s not a style of phone you easily recognise from cult movies, instead the design is of a phone at transitional point of phone evolution, early mass production, before any unique and iconic designs were developed. When you first see it, you’d simply think it’s a boring ugly office building, and you won’t be wrong.
The tower is flanked by Plaza Baquedano, a popular gathering spot for locals and the lower levels are accessible to the public. On these levels there are conference halls a café and a telecommunications museum.
As hideous as this building is, it is a fresh reminder of the pace of technology and lesson on why not to create permanent structures based on fleeting fashions that quickly become obsolete. In a city surrounded by the majestic Andes, this building breaks the skyline like an architectural middle finger to tell the story of when Santiago decided to take telecommunications seriously.