Santiago Caprio: HM of the Himalayan Thermal Bath

+ Santiago Caprio 🇸🇻

Honourable Mention of the Himalayan Thermal Bath


1) Could you briefly introduce yourself?

I am an architect, urban planner and researcher specialized in urban design and planning with a focus on sustainability, quality of life and a holistic vision for problem solving.

Always caring for the well-being of the individual and the community as the central axis, my work is characterized by the design of transversal projects that promote human, natural, and economic development in diverse regions.

I am grateful for having developed a solid international career. I have had the honor of collaborating with prestigious educational institutions and participating in research projects of great relevance for cities and governments in Argentina, Italy, China, Switzerland, Thailand, El Salvador, among others. I have been awarded the “RESILIENT HOMES DESIGN CHALLENGE” by the World Bank and the United Nations and the “GLOBAL WARMING MITIGATION AND ADAPTATION BY SUSTAINABLE ENERGY MANAGEMENT” in Thailand.

Currently, I serve as Director of the PolisMaker Lab of the Polytechnic of Milan and Chief Future Development (CFD) of ufficiis – an interdisciplinary consulting and research studio focused on the resolution of urban and architectural problems.

2) What inspired you for the Himalayan Thermal Baths?

In some ways, what we are trying to understand is the ways in which people have managed to live in those extreme realities: in those border towns where living in a small range of temperatures and narrow climates has allowed them to produce the minimum but the enough to survive.

We find the answers in the vernacular, in the ways of life of the people in these places who know precisely what it means to stay and endure, seeing necessity as the engine of innovation and relating it to a life of well-being, I mean be well with ourselves, with our loved ones and our environment, also understanding that the smallest things are what make us happy, but none of that can be enjoyed if we cannot survive.

So this is why the homes of these people inspired us to simplify and crown the shape that our project should be, a compositional shape that helps us filter the light, which can stand out in a very dramatic geographical and topographic context, as a gesture that calls attention to these lives, to this vernacular form but above all to that introspection of the richness of having learned to survive.

3) Can you describe any particular challenges you faced during the design process and how
you overcame them?

For Ufficiis, there’s a guiding principle beyond just our name, which is derived from the conjunction of the “U” representing urban systems and “officiis,” a treatise by Cicero on the duties and obligations of individuals for societies to function. Moreover, there’s a significant element for us: an image from a French geographers’ publication. It features a pictographic depiction of all the mountains flattened out, illustrating all the land surfaces rising above sea level, accompanied by the phrase “Humans and the Lands.” This portrays the anthropization of territories, a key concept for us.

The Himalayas (from Hima, ‘snow’, and ālaya, ‘abode’, ‘place’) is an extraordinary part of Earth, prominently featured in our visualization. With one of its highest peaks at 8,850 meters, at least 100 points over 7,000 meters in altitude, and about 15 above 8,000 meters, this region posed a formidable challenge for us. We endeavored to conceptualize sustainable living while grappling with the adversities of climate change. Recognizing that as the planet warms, these regions are undergoing transformations, we reflected on the dichotomy between the nomadic existence and the definitive act of staying. The challenges we faced included reconciling urban thought and characteristics with wildlife – a life that is more rugged and the critical importance of resilience. We were tasked with contemplating a moment where humanity faces a pivotal decision: to stay or to leave, to be pushed out, expelled, or welcomed.

This project forced us to deeply consider how to portray this enchanting and awe-inspiring place. We thought about the rivers originating in the Himalayas and their journey. We were convinced that this place should not be romanticized but portrayed more dramatically. The landscape shouldn’t be seen through a humanized lens but as wild and natural. Observing animals, whether up close or from a distance, is not just about their proximity to humans, but also their inherent ability to exist, to live, and to enlighten us. We contemplated the water level surfaces, when lakes become navigable during warmer periods. Being near these places evokes a certain nostalgia, reminding us of the essence of life. This is also vital during spa-like moments and experiences of wellbeing. This was our experience as we faced this challenge, realizing we didn’t have many tools at our disposal. We sought answers through questioning, note-taking, and team discussions.

4) How do you think your educational background or professional experiences influenced your winning design?

All experiences help us prepare for what’s coming next. Everything shapes us. And our way of approaching project work and design as a craft, as actions that allow us to respond to real problems, also shapes us. To generate healthy benefits.

We are convinced that around our existence, a series of events and conditions occur that not just allow us but compel us to give: to give ourselves as what we are. It’s a path forged around how we navigate, ride, walk, travel, pilgrimage, and make furrows within ourselves. It is built through our education, both formal and informal. It is shaped by our successes, but especially in our failures – or in the things we have not considered achievements.

Beyond educational or professional training, we are influenced by a sense of responsibility and an ethic by which we must be sensitive in our role as a coherent resonance box with the emotions we want to convey. So we are convinced that both this grace – or this way of distancing ourselves from prejudices and approaching meanings and signifiers – allows us to have greater potential towards these types of situations.

In terms of experience, we try to rethink ourselves in different tasks, in the meanings of things, processes, in learning. Experiences and situations are not just a perception, but also contribute to the results. It is about an education that seeks to create awareness and understanding, through sensitivity and active listening but above all from one’s own reason and autonomy in reasoning freely.

These experiences bring us closer to perceiving the intrinsic value in these border towns, in these healthy economies, and in these super empirical ways of living in well-being, which allow us to approach knowledge that goes beyond the technical to approach the development of human, environmental, scientific, and spiritual knowledge.

5) What advice would you give to students or young professionals looking to excel in architecture competitions?

Walk with your shadow, with your movements, with your form, with your way of looking. And re-learn when it’s enough. What you do, do it again, repeatedly and healthily, to learn. But don’t do it alone, do it with others.

This allows us to discover and discover ourselves, in a way. To get to know ourselves better. And, in this way, to be able to give ourselves in a better architecture that speaks of the locus – the place – that speaks of time and that is a distinctive feature of our race, here and now.

6) What are your future aspirations in the field of architecture?

Our aspirations for the architecture of the future are for it to be increasingly livable; more in tune with emotional needs, and; more aligned with values that are often less sought after for their form.

For it to become a healthily modest architecture that lacks nothing but is not deprived of anything, so that it shines and is not just a mere construction but becomes a stage to give users the best place: a place to meet their needs, from the most basic to those of transcendence. From the material to the immaterial. That is an aspiration: that architecture increasingly covers those immaterial needs.

And, finally, for it to be a more sustainable architecture. Just as the most sustainable thing in fashion is vintage, the sustainable in architecture is what is already built. And just as we believe that we all deserve a second chance, so does a brick deserve a second chance.


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