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Oil industry in Chile: construction and projection of a national industrial heritage system

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The discovery of oil in Chile in 1945 launched a process of urban and territorial transformation, which must be considered fundamental for the industrialization of the country. Based on this finding, the State executed a plan for the oil industry development that involved an important part of its territory, and that it was believed would allow energy self-sufficiency and the sustenance of the ongoing growing industrialization of Chile. Altogether involved the constitution of a specific legal framework and institutions, as well as the construction of infrastructures related to production and connectivity, permanent and temporary human settlements, and architectural works (housing and equipment) in different regions along the country. Between 1945 and 1981, the State planned and executed these interventions in seven regions from both extremes, north to south of Chile (Antofagasta, Valparaíso, Metropolitana, O'Higgins, Maule, Biobío and Magallanes region), in order to exploit, refine, process and distribute oil products for industrial and home consumption throughout the country. In this way, the constituents parts of the productive system were inscribed in a spatial and economic planning of the different territories that facilitated industrialization and modernization in the second half of the 20th century (Pérez, 2017, p.17), which, even today, constitute evidence of both a process of industrialization and later deindustrialization developed in the last century. Only a few of these works have been considered as objects of heritage value, mainly in Tierra del Fuego and in the Strait of Magellan (Puga, 1991; Garcés et al., 2013; Matus and Cvitanic, 2016 and 2018; Cvitanic et al., 2018), including declarations of protection from the Council of National Monuments (MINEDUC, 1976 and 2014). For some authors (Pizzi et al., 2009), the main difficulty in considering the material remains of industrial activities in Chile as heritage has been the ways in which productive interventions have been interpreted in the territory, where heritage has been read as isolated facts and objects (Capel, 2014). In this sense, for Álvarez (2008), the interpretation of industrial heritage should be carried out in its territorial context since the industry is “a direct consequence of the use that society makes of the natural environment” (p.6). In this context, we have started from the basis that the planning and strategies that determined the production process of the oil industry constituted a structured and hierarchical spatial system, composed of infrastructure networks, which transcended the areas of exploitation and production, and where human settlements that concentrated specialized labor were located. In this context, and in line with reflections that associate heritage with a territorial resource (Landel and Senil, 2009), this communication is based on the assumption that these oil industry works in Chile potentially compose a national-scale industrial heritage system capable of integrating cultural landscapes, ensembles, and patrimonial elements, registering them as useful resources for the sustainable development of the different regions involved. Based on our research work on the oil industrial heritage (Matus & Cvitanic, 2016 and 2018; Cvitanic & Matus, 2018 and 2019), this communication aims to identify and relate the parts of the spatial system defined by the oil industry from the north of the country to the extreme south of the American continent, putting into discussion the territorial, urban and architectural scales of its constitution that can sustain an articulated and sustainable management by the State of the oil´s industry heritage. In this regard, a reflection that accounts for the systemic dimension of industrial heritage is considered necessary (Ibarra, 2015), which would broaden the restricted debate around it, and propose an interpretation that may lead to establish criteria for a sustainable and coherent management of the territories.

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