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Ruca Dwellings
Huechuraba, Chile
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The first social housing adapted for origin Mapuche commune.

image: Cristián Undurraga | © all rights reserved
in use
Undurraga Devés Arquitectos
23 October 2015

How can architecture enhance the sense of belonging of an indigenous community, in a context where cultural identity and tradition are increasingly challenged by the process of rapid urbanization?

"The challenge we have as a society is to reconcile those aspects in which globalization has brought progress for humanity with the values ​​of the cultures that preceded us and that now struggle to keep their identity alive.", said Undurraga Devés Arquitectos.

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cultural and social context

The Huechuraba commune is located in the northern outskirts of Santiago; today it combines residential, industrial and commercial zoning. Since the colony, Huechuraba had a popular character and was an important site for farming and agriculture. By the late 1940´s the pressure of a growing Santiago encouraged the partition of lands and consequently the sales of lots. A passive response from the State led to an increasing deficit of housing and services especially in popular regions[3]. These deprived conditions were common to many; the residents of Huechuraba got organized, started occupations and provided their own services, as well as formed cooperatives and negotiated with government officials[4]. These settlements and campsites were the origin of various sectors of the commune such as La Pincoya; their cornerstones continue to be the active social groups and their resilience.

In 2011, a large social housing project was built in a former settlement in La Pincoya- 415 houses-, inscribed in the policies of the Fondo Solidario de Vivienda (Solidary Fund for Housing) and seeking to address the precarious conditions that remain in the area. Among the beneficiaries there was a community of Mapuches; they wanted to live in the city without giving up their traditions. Here is where the ´one size fits all´ condition of social housing was challenged; the ´users´ had requirements that were not negotiable.

Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Mapuches inhabited the territories that now are part of Chile and Argentina; currently, they are the largest indigenous group in Chile. The ´People of the Earth´ -meaning of the word Mapuche- and their traditional house or ruka are the most representative form of Chilean indigenous architecture. In their world vision, men and earth have to maintain equilibrium; this indicates the temporal character of the rukas as well as its orientation, materials and relations. [5] With the hopes of translating these traditions into their new homes, the group of Mapuches in Huechuraba actively participated in the design of 25 dwellings with the architect Cristian Undurraga. Although the project had to face and comply with strict housing regulations, the community got together, they got organized, saved and after years of meetings and negotiations, they finally got their homes. [6]

More than architects, Undurraga says, ´we were a bridge between the Mapuche hopes and reality; this journey would necessarily bring a mix of cultures´.[7] The project was also a result of the collaboration between the Housing and Urbanism Ministry, the local municipality, un Techo para Chile (a Roof for Chile NGO) and the Corporación Nacional de Desarrollo indígena (National Corporation of Indigenous Development).


materials and building techniques

In the language of the Mapuches, the word for door simultaneously means ´where the man enters and exits and ´where the sun enters´[8]; therefore, it was fundamental to situate the houses facing east to the rising sun. The facades present a particular scheme combining the traditional use of concrete and brick with the natural fibers that shape a ruka. While the diagonal beam strengthens the structure, it also symbolizes the link between the universe and the Mapuche world. The screen of coligüe -a type of cane- provides the shaded atmosphere of a traditional ruka where the inside should be isolated from the outside, allowing a perception of a time in the house that is different of that in the city.[9]

The housing units have 61square meters distributed in two floor plans. The main space in the ground floor is devoted to the kitchen, as it is to the fogón (stove) in the rukas. The upper floor allocates sleeping rooms allowing the headboards to be oriented to the north, and the bathroom, which had to be as far as possible from the kitchen. In the traditional ruka the bathroom areas are outside of it.

In form and materiality, this project integrates modern and ancestral building techniques; however, it also posed a challenge to strict institutionalized social housing regulations often blind to cultural singularities. Beyond any shortcomings the project may have in terms of aesthetics or scale or location; the 25 Ruca dwellings are an opportunity to revalue traditional local knowledge and to contest the homogenization of our cities.



[1]. Santiago Mapuche

[2]. Ibid.

[3]. La lucha por la vivienda

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. The Ruka Mapuche

[6]. Mapuches de Huechuraba

[7]. Viviendas Ruca 

[8]. The Ruka Mapuche

[9]. Complejo de viviendas Ruca


Sources & websites

Gissi, Nicolás. “Segregación Espacial Mapuche en la Ciudad de Santiago de Chile: ¿Negación o revitalización identitaria?” Available at [Accessed August 20, 2015]

Royo, Manuela. La lucha por la vivienda: El movimiento social de pobladores ayer y hoy (1900- 2005) Available at

Quintana, Jenniffer Thiers. “ Santiago Mapuche. La dimension indígena del espacio urbano en Chile” XIII Coloquio Internacional de Geocrítica. Barcelona, 2014 Availabe at [Accessed August 20, 2015]

Whitman, Christopher J., Armijo P, Gabriela., Turnbull, Neil J. “The Ruka Mapuche: clues for a sustainable architecture in southern Chile? Available at [Accessed August 20, 2015]

Complejo de viviendas Ruca, en Huechuraba, Chile. Available at [Accessed August 18, 2015]

Viviendas Ruca / Undurraga Devés Arquitectos. Available at [Accessed August 18, 2015]

Las casas-ruca, la nueva apuesta de Huechuraba. Available at [Accessed August 19, 2015]

Mapuches de Huechuraba ahora viven en rucas 2.0. Available at [Accessed October 3, 2015]

Undurraga Deves Arquitectos 


earth and climate

Santiago has a mild weather with two identifiable variations: a dry season and the cold in the Andes mountains; the lands situated at 3000 m.a.s.l. or more have permanent snow and ice. The averange anual temperature in Santiago is 14ºC although during the summer it can reach over 30ºC during the day.  


image gallery
One of the main facades of the ruca houses and a Mapuche woman in her traditional outfit.

image: © all rights reserved

image: © all rights reserved
A Mapuche family and their house.

image: © all rights reserved
The houses were delivered as habitable units...

image: © all rights reserved
each family added their preferred interior finishings.

image: © all rights reserved
Interior of a traditional ruka

image: By jovengandalf (ruka) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons | CC-BY-SA_black.png some rights reserved
technical drawings
Ground floor plan

image: © all rights reserved
Second floor plan (with extension)

image: © all rights reserved

image: © all rights reserved

image: © all rights reserved

image: © all rights reserved
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