Story at a glance:

  • A Chilean fishing industry innovator teamed up with a local design team to create this boundary-pushing workspace in Puerto Varas.
  • Keepex’s new headquarters in Chile uses laminated wood and Isopol prefabricated panels.
  • LAGAR designed the project to orient the space for expansion inside or future additions outside.

Just outside the Chilean city of Puerto Varas, Keepex’s new headquarters sits tucked against a forest.

The building is unassuming. It’s built to resemble a large metal barn—it is a barn—but, inside, Keepex solves Chile’s fishing industry puzzles in a serene playhouse of sustainable innovation.

The 8,600-square-foot barn, a skeleton of certified laminated wood encased by black Isopol prefabricated panels, has a low energy consumption thanks to the placement of windows and shades that can be adjusted to reflect light into the building. Nearly 18% of the building surface is open to light, combining mainly north-facing windows and skylights, to achieve even and continuous illumination with low electric demands.

Inside, the black surface of the barn gives way to an inviting workspace built by local artisans in keeping with Puerto Varas’ history of wooden architecture. Keepex staff maneuver through and work in a warm and open but modular space, with room to expand and collaborate as needed and work hours limited to the times natural light is available.

modern barn Andrés Laborde

Keepex sits on a lot next to the Maullín River, 4 kilometers from the urban center of Puerto Varas, among the trees, protected from the wind, and oriented to the sun. Photo by Nicolás Saieh

Andrés Laborde and Constanza Garcia are the husband and wife duo of Puerto Varas and Santiago-based LAGAR architecture and the minds behind Keepex’s new space. Both are familiar with Puerto Varas and its local history of architecture and building, and they offered fresh ideas more competitive than the more typical design firms in Keepex’s rolodex. “Keepex called us because we work with local materials and because of the flexibility of our office,” Garcia says. “Exciting ideas move us to work and collaborate.”

The duo’s first big idea came along when resiting the project’s location. Keepex originally planned to build in a space near the local highway, but the site didn’t connect with Keepex’s goal of giving employees a space where their creativity could thrive. “They wanted new ideas, green ideas, and to work with water,” Garcia says. “We started to look for a new place for the building to connect with nature and the development of ideas.

keepex Andrés Laborde

Chile typically imports much of its materials from long distances, but Keepex wanted its workspace to be as efficient, green, and sustainable as possible. Material decisions were made even more difficult because Puerto Varas’ weather can be harsh with long winters, lots of rain, and heavy winds. Photo by Nicolás Saieh

They wanted to put their feet in the mud and take care of the river.” The new site was much closer to the Maullín River, surrounded by ancient trees that create an oasis for native and migratory fauna and flora.

The barn design came as a natural extension of proximity to nature, fitting in with the local landscape as unobtrusively as possible. The barn style blends well with the farming neighborhoods in the surrounding area, and it gave the architects the ability to orient the space for expansion inside or future additions outside.

spiral staircase Andrés Laborde

“Keepex wanted a space to create new ideas—industry often asks employees to be efficient or to create, but the environment doesn’t allow you to do that,” Garcia says. “Keepex started with ‘How do we create places to give people new ideas?’” Photo by Nicolás Saieh

Keepex is focused on the future, with an ever larger staff of bright, nimble minds. “They are growing, and growing very quickly,” Laborde says. But his client didn’t know exactly what it needed the size of its new building to be two or three years from now. “Our challenge was, ‘How can we give them these spaces that are creative and how can we be flexible and adapt to a growing industry that is every day asking for more?”

keepex building model

Project Credits

Project: Keepex Lab
Architect: LAGAR
Location: Puerto Varas, Chile
Completion: October 2019
Size: 8,611 square feet
Cost: $1.1 million
Engineer: Ingebau
Contractor: LAHUEN
Interior Designer: SURDECO
Civil Engineer: Reinaldo Cerna
Landscape Architect: Paula Bravo
Water Features Consultant: Reinaldo Cerna
Specifications: Ceruti & Associates

Inside, the space is bright and welcoming but also large and flexible. Employees store their work and projects in large lockers that can be pulled out or put away as needed. A dining space doubles as a team meeting space, with doors and a full wall of windows that flow into the main work space. Above the dining and meeting space are more flexible rest and work areas that connect to the bustle below.

Keepex is an open-door company inside and out. Nothing restricts locals and local fisherman from visiting the surrounding land, to walk through the thicket of native forest and access the river. “Inside the forest a pedestrian path lets you walk in the woods to get to the river. People have reunions and gatherings there,” Garcia says, adding that Keepex’s next project is to develop outdoor places to work and to take the Keepex office into nature, “always respecting what’s happening with the river.”