Interview with architect Cazú Zegers

Chilean native Cazu Zegers, the architect behind Magnolia Hotel, has completed numerous projects and constructed several buildings in South America. The themes of her work derive from Art, Imagination, Rigour and Love. Find out more about her passions, the inspiration and approach behind Magnolia Hotel, plus what she’s working on next.



Tell us about yourself.

That’s a very open question – I am a woman, an architect, and an artist with a fiercely artistic approach to life and the creative process; all my projects need to be conceived from a starting concept. The name of the project is always connected in some way with the concept that underlies it.

At the same time, I’m a keen adventurer with a strong passion for nature and the outdoors, I’m an extreme skier, a dancer and very interested in physics and the metaphysical. I love traveling, music, cinema and dancing. I have one daughter, Clara (25), and a dog, Atilio. I love spending time with friends but enjoy the solitude of creation.

My home, Casa Soplo, (read more on Archdaily) is my sanctuary, connected to the mountains, I try to grow everything that I eat in my garden.


What was the inspiration behind Magnolia Hotel?

They are many interesting stories to do with this project, the first of which is that the architect of the original building, Eduardo Costaval Zegers, was my grand-uncle and the structural engineer was my grandfather, Alfonso Zegers Baeza. It’s a complete coincidence that I happened to be the architect for the restoration.

When I was contacted about the project my first thought was that the building had the “perfect proportions”, the big challenge was to build three new floors on top of it. Then, of course, there was the opportunity to reclaim the previous intellectual and cultural movement that had been associated with the city center, mainly with the Municipal Theater which is nearby.

It also was an opportunity to build within our traditions; although Chile has only been a country for 200 years, and because of all the earthquakes we don’t really have any great love for tradition, so I really wanted to make a statement about this. And of course, there is a requirement to provide the best rooms possible, with a lot of charm and creativity. Very much to do with the concept of being a small neighborhood hotel, local and friendly, but sophisticated at the same time.


How did you approach the project?

As I said, the most difficult challenge was to build three new floors over the ‘perfect’ original building. Then to introduce light into the “catacomb”, the original building, as with all buildings of that time, had very little natural light and ventilation. So I decided to work with the existing courtyards and open them up to the sky, this idea took the form of an old attic that is clad with wood, the new rooms are also completely covered with wood; the floor, walls and ceiling, so you have the sense of being in an old house in Valparaiso.



I also decided to reuse the old timber flooring, untreated, just the way it was in order to cover the walls of public spaces.

The architecture, decoration and graphic design of the hotel branding follow the same concepts, so all the parts are in harmony, a dialogue between the traditional and the contemporary.



What were the main challenges you found?

Getting the proportions right, making the small rooms of the old building with little light and restricted views as nice as possible. And convincing my client, the owner of the hotel, that the most important space was the roof terrace, and to finish it the way it was originally intended. We have just finished adding the furniture.


The roof terrace is the core of the building, the space that connects it to the surrounding territories, the mountains of Santiago, Cerro Santa Lucia, where Chile’s first observatory was constructed. The Cerro El Plomo at 17,783 feet is the highest mountain visible from Santiago, it was a sacred place for the Incas who inhabited this valley and constructed their main square under the foundations of the current Plaza de Armas, built by Spanish conquistadors. The Inca square which was aligned with the Apu Plomo (a mountain considered to be a living God by the Incas) in a straight line on axis with the summer solstice and of course the San Cristobal promontory. You can see all these three hills from the roof terrace. I hope that one day we will fully understand their importance.


What was the inspiration behind the final result?

The inspiration is the “resonance” between the old and the new, the new is the reflection of the old like the reflection on a pound of very clear water.
What I call the “resonance” consists of the new, using new materials, like the glass in this case, that speaks about our contemporary paradigms, reflection, transparency, no limits, lightness, etc..



Can you tell us about any projects that you are currently working on?

Right now I’m working on very different types of projects, an interior fit-out for a lawyer’s office. Three residential projects, Casa LLU (South of Chile, Lake district), Casa Callumapu (near Valdivia City) and Casa K, in Santiago. And several hotels. I’m designing Chilco Lodge (altos de Coilaco, Pucon), COLONOS 2.0 in the city of Frutillar and undertaking feasibility studies for sites at the Bahia de Huanaqueros (IV Region). As well as a landscape project and a workshop on the Andes region.


Related posts:

The Hotel Magnolia. Early 20th Century meets Modern Design.