ALMA’s Oasis in the Desert

Observatory’s hotel residence contract signed

21 December 2011

ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, will soon have its own “hotel” for the astronomers, engineers, and other staff working at the observatory. The European Southern Observatory (ESO) — the European partner in ALMA — is providing the accommodation and living complex for the project, and has just signed a contract for the detailed design with the Finnish architects Kouvo & Partanen.

The hotel residence will be built at 2900 metres above sea level, at the ALMA Operations Support Facility in the Atacama Desert, in the foothills of the Chilean Andes. The design phase is planned to last six months, followed by the procurement actions for the construction. Completion of construction is expected in 2014.

The buildings’ architectural design will be integrated into the landscape by using local materials such as stone, copper and volcanic rock. Their facades and structures will use the colours and tones of the surroundings, and the natural landscape will be preserved as much as possible. The buildings are designed for energy efficiency, using natural light wherever possible, and collecting solar energy for hot water and heating. The intense sunlight has influenced the design in other ways, too: the entrances and access ways will have canopies made of local materials and natural stone, to provide protection from the strong ultraviolet radiation at this high-altitude site.

The dormitories are designed as modules, each with two sets of ten bedrooms, and individual balconies. The dormitories will branch out from a central building, which will contain numerous communal spaces. These include a lounge, dining room, and an outdoor terrace for barbecues and sunset viewing over the Salar de Atacama. The residence will be a welcome oasis in the harsh conditions of one of the driest places on Earth, and will offer an environment that is both relaxing and stimulating — perfect for the staff working round the clock at the world’s most complex ground-based astronomical observatory.

The roof terrace will provide scenic views of the breathtaking landscape: the Salar de Atacama stretching below, the extinct Licancabur volcano about 35 kilometres to the north and the active Lascar volcano about 50 kilometres to the south. There will also be an observation point for stargazing with an amateur telescope.

The total floor area of the hotel residence with 120 bedrooms and the main building will be about 5900 square metres. The leaders of the design project at Architectural Office Kouvo & Partanen Oy are architects Arch Safa, Erkki Partanen and Sinikka Kouvo.

ALMA’s Operations Support Facility, where the hotel residence will be built, is near San Pedro de Atacama in northern Chile. The telescope itself is located 28 kilometres away, at the higher altitude of 5000 metres on the Chajnantor plateau. Once completed, the telescope will consist of an array of 66 high-precision radio antennas, 12 metres and 7 metres in diameter, working at millimetre and submillimetre wavelengths. The observatory began scientific observations at the end of September 2011 with a partial array. ALMA will study the building blocks of stars, planetary systems, galaxies and life itself, letting astronomers address some of the deepest questions of our cosmic origins.

ALMA is a global partnership between Europe, North America and East Asia, in cooperation with the Republic of Chile. ALMA is funded in Europe by the European Southern Observatory (ESO), in North America by the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) in cooperation with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC) and in East Asia by the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS) of Japan in cooperation with the Academia Sinica (AS) in Taiwan. ALMA construction and operations are led on behalf of Europe by ESO, on behalf of North America by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), which is managed by Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI) and on behalf of East Asia by the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ). The Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) provides the unified leadership and management of the construction, commissioning and operation of ALMA.



Fabio Biancat Marchet
ESO ALMA Deputy Project Manager
Santiago, Chile
Tel: +56 2 463 3088

Douglas Pierce-Price
ESO ALMA Public Information Officer
Garching, Germany
Tel: +49 89 3200 6759

About the Announcement



The ALMA Hotel Residence (artist’s impression)
The ALMA Hotel Residence (artist’s impression)
The ALMA Hotel Residence main hall (artist’s impression)
The ALMA Hotel Residence main hall (artist’s impression)