Inside Antarctica21’s Explorers House, An Architectural Oasis in Punta Arenas

Explorers House has been designed by a renowned Chilean team. The leading architect on the project is Pedro Kovacic, who, among other projects, led the conversion of the Singular Patagonia Hotel. The interior design is by Enrique Concha & Co., the studio that was also responsible for the interiors of Magellan Explorer.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

In the heart of Punta Arenas, a remarkable structure stands as a beacon of architectural and design ingenuity. It is a testament to the fusion of history, sustainability, and modern design. Explorers House is Antarctica21’s newly inaugurated welcome center, which prepares guests for their air-cruise expeditions and immerses them in a space where history gracefully merges with the present. This architectural marvel is the work of the prestigious and renowned Latin American offices of architect Pedro Kovacic and interior designer, Enrique Concha, each bringing a unique vision to the project.

During your visit to Explorers House, you’ll be greeted in the expansive reception area upon entering the building. Guests feel they have moved into a unique, transcendent world where warm textures and materials invite relaxation. At the same time, the turquoise flooring evokes the appeal of Antarctica’s icebergs in an area of over 2,000 square meters (21,500 square feet) split between two floors. At Explorers House, you’ll have the opportunity to spend your time in myriad spaces: a theatre-style presentation room, a library, a garden area, a shop, a well-stocked bar, and a restaurant with regional Chilean fare.

Explorers House is an architectural marvel, the work of architect Pedro Kovacic and interior designer, Enrique Concha. Photo by Tere Pérez.

Explorers House is an architectural marvel, the work of architect Pedro Kovacic and interior designer, Enrique Concha. Photo by Tere Pérez.

Explorers House is more than a starting point for expeditions; it’s a gateway to the Antarctic experience. It’s a space that encapsulates the spirit of Antarctica21’s expeditions. It’s where guests from all corners of the globe begin their journey to one of the most remote and untouched places on earth. Together, the architect Pedro Kovacic and interior designer Enrique Concha have created a space inviting guests to step into a story – a prelude to their own Antarctic adventure.

In the words of Pedro Kovacic, “I want Antarctica21 guests who arrive at Explorers House to be surprised, to feel something unexpected, something that surpasses their expectations.”

As he set out to transform a historic warehouse into a modern welcome center, Pedro Kovacic approached the project with a deep reverence for the building’s history. “It used to be a place where wool was stored and pressed,” Kovacic explains, emphasizing the building’s historical significance. His approach was not to erase the past but to embrace it. “I didn’t want to touch the building’s history; I left it as it was, in its stained, natural state. It’s one of the few remaining buildings like this in Punta Arenas.’’ Kovacic reflects. His vision was to maintain the structure’s historical integrity while infusing contemporary elements to provide a comfortable refuge for travelers.

A view from the second floor of Explorers House. Photo by Tere Pérez.

A view from the second floor of Explorers House. Photo by Tere Pérez.

Kovacic’s architectural expertise shines through in how he seamlessly integrated modern elements while respecting the structure’s original essence, blending the old and new. The design maintains the building’s wooden structure, adding a black metal structure for protection and reinforcement, reflecting the ruggedness of Antarctica and Patagonia. “We had to redo all the foundations. The original structure is about 90% wood, and the rest is steel. We added steel cross beams that are functional but also give it a wonderful contrast,” he states, highlighting the contemporary interventions made to comply with modern building regulations and ensure the structure’s integrity.

Enrique Concha & Co., a design firm in Santiago, was tasked with the interior design of Explorers House. Enrique Concha has collaborated with Kovacic for over 25 years, including their work on the Singular Patagonia Hotel. Concha describes this project as challenging and rewarding. “We decided to use a color palette of black, turquoise, and red,” Concha notes, mentioning the distinctive elements that are a signature of Antarctica21. The design choice mirrors the Antarctic environment, setting a tone of adventure and exploration for the guests.

There are several comfortable dining areas across two floors of Explorers House. Photo by Tere Pérez.

There are several comfortable dining areas across two floors of Explorers House. Photo by Tere Pérez.

Drawing parallels with the company’s previous work on the Magellan Explorer ship, Concha explains that ‘’Magellan Explorer’s identity is that of an elegant, harmonious, and sophisticated superyacht, which is quite challenging to reproduce in the warehouse – to make old wood, turquoise floors, recycled corrugated sheets, and brass components harmonize and create a magical place. Controlling the aesthetics, managing colors, shapes, proportions, lighting, shadows, and so on, was quite a task’’. On the other hand, Kovacic allows the place to speak for itself and provide inspiration. Designing and finding materials comes from observation and interpretation of the site itself, much like a puzzle putting pieces together that naturally dovetail based on similarities, contrasts, preservation, and unique qualities that converse and intermingle with each other on-site.

Kovacic and Concha’s collaboration has resulted in a space that is not only functional but also deeply inspirational. Concha explains, “It’s the spirit of Antarctica21, our client, that we wanted to capture, their regional, Patagonian spirit. Antarctica21 tackles all their projects fearlessly, daring to undertake ventures of considerable scale to create memorable experiences.” This spirit is palpable in every corner of Explorers House, from the choice of materials to the color palette and reflections that resonate with Antarctic ice and sea.

Explorers House is also a testament to the possibility of creating something new while celebrating the past. It’s a space where guests can begin their Antarctic journey, surrounded by layers of history and modern conveniences. That spirit is now indelibly linked to Explorers House, making it a unique and essential part of the Antarctica21 experience.

Architect Pedro Kovacic furthers Antarctica21’s commitment to sustainability by incorporating sustainable elements, like rainwater harvesting and a solar panel system on the roof. There are radiant heating floors that use solar energy, in addition to upcycling much of the original materials of the building. “Much of the upholstery is made from industrial waste and recycled into fibers. Several wood products are recycled, made from recycled materials,” added Concha. This resourcefulness even extends to the interior’s aesthetics, where rusted corrugated iron sheets, typically discarded, are repurposed to add a unique character to the space.

Enjoy relaxing, plush seating at Explorers House. Photo by Tere Pérez.

Enjoy relaxing, plush seating at Explorers House. Photo by Tere Pérez.

The opening of Explorers House marks a new chapter for Antarctica21. It embodies the company’s commitment to providing an experience that starts even before guests set foot on the Antarctic continent. With the artistic vision of Kovacic and Concha, Explorers House symbolizes the adventurous spirit and respect for nature that define Antarctica21’s expeditions.

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