There are no blobs or parametric follies in Chile or, if there are, they are well hidden. Established and fledgling firms have stayed loyal to the fundamentals of modernism, and to the traditional virtues of firmness, commodity, and delight. In a global culture that craves novelty and extols form for its own sake, Chile has stayed true to itself. In the affluent suburbs of Santiago and the fashionable beach settlements of Cachagua and Zapallar, the hills and coastline are studded with white cubist villas. Most of the public, commercial, and institutional buildings are equally rational and restrained. And yet, thanks to a deep-rooted design culture, many of these sober structures are varied in subtle ways, and reward close examination. Chile is no longer as cut off from the rest of the world as it once was by the barriers of the Andes, the Pacific and a vast northern desert, as well as its remoteness from other centers of population. A prosperous middle class travels widely, and architects are constantly flying off to study, teach, or build abroad. There’s a strong European influence and foreigners are investing and building here. But Chile remains an edge country - like Portugal, Finland, and Japan - that preserves a distinct identity in an increasingly homogenized world. It is highly centralized. Seventeen million people inhabit a narrow strip of land that is 4300 km long, but a third of those live at the mid point, in and around Santiago. Most of the leading architects were educated at Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) in the capital, and many live and work in its shadow. Though the power of the catholic church is waning, this is still a conservative country. The revolutionary impulses that Allende sparked and the brutal military dictatorship that followed were aberrations in the history of a country that has traditionally preferred the democratic middle ground, in contrast to its volatile neighbors. As a backwater of the Spanish Empire that achieved independence 200 years ago, Chile thinks of itself as a young country, which first achieved prosperity in the 19th century and is unburdened by a colonial heritage. It is also earthquake country. The shock of February 2010 (8.8 on the Richter scale) and the tsunami that followed were the latest in an endless repetition of devastating events. Like Japan and California, Chile has a tough seismic code that is strictly enforced. Concrete is the preferred material for residential and large-scale projects, and the imperative to build strongly is deeply embedded in the country’s DNA. “If there were any blobs they would soon be shaken down,” joked one architect. However influential the historic, geographic, and cultural conditions, architecture is the product of individuals, and Chile was blessed by a talented group that emerged from PUC in the late 1980s, as Pinochet’s power was waning. Older figures returned from exile to join a new generation. Teodoro Fernández, Germán del Sol, Mathias Klotz, Smiljan Radic, and Cecilia Puga pointed the way. Recent work by their contemporaries and a few younger firms is sampled in this feature. As elsewhere in Latin America (and southern California) upscale residences and other private commissions predominate, and the public realm has lagged, but that may be changing. Colombia provides an inspiring example of a country that has commissioned its leading architects to transform the lives of the poorest inhabitants, and ameliorate the worst slums. For all its newfound prosperity, Chile is an economically polarized country and a few architects - notably Alejandro Aravena - are creating model housing for the poor. Juan Pablo Corvalán takes pride in the church he created for almost no money in an impoverished neighborhood of Talca, and the house he is building from scavenged materials nearby. The Benedictine Chapel in Santiago, designed in 1964 by a monk with an architectural background, is widely admired for its frugality and the beauty of its rough, light-washed interior. Competitions have created new opportunities. More than a hundred architects vied for the commission to transform Valparaiso’s abandoned jail into a cultural park, and the winners were HLPS, a firm newly established by four PUC graduates. The government has mandated that every community must have at least one library, with the architect to be selected by competition. The Young Architects Program, instituted by New York’s Museum of Modern Art as a competition for young firms to design a temporary pavilion, has been extended to Santiago. This year’s winner was Jorge Godoy of Gun Architects. There are 25 private universities competing for staff and students in the Santiago area, and several have commissioned striking buildings to enhance their appeal. Nobody has excelled more in this area than José Cruz Ovalle, an architect whose ideas were shaped by his early years of practice in Barcelona. He has created two campuses for Adolfo Ibáñez University in which teaching spaces are wrapped around dramatic, multi-level concourses. Ramps leap through the void, bringing everyone together in an airborne village. Cruz made his reputation in Chile with the national pavilion at Expo 92 in Seville, and this organic masterpiece of wood construction, two wineries, and a hotel on Easter Island helped win him the prestigious Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award from Finland in 2008. His work stands apart and merits a feature to itself.