Facultad de Medicina by Alejandro Aravena

Architecture, Education

Facultad de Medicina, Uni­ver­si­dad Católi­ca de Chile designed by Alejandro Aravena.

Facultad de Medicina (School of Medicine), Cam­pus Casa Cen­tral Uni­ver­si­dad Católi­ca de Chile designed by Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena. They were asked to build all types of class­rooms (from au­di­to­ri­ums to small sem­i­nar cells, from anato­my labs to com­put­er lounges) and a new li­brary for the Med­i­cal School, in an ex­treme­ly dense con­text.

This con­text placed them in front of 2 prob­lems:

1. The build­ing had to com­plete the miss­ing fourth side of a court­yard where all 3 pre­ex­ist­ing ones were dif­fer­ent from each oth­er. So, how to choose an ar­chi­tec­tural lan­guage for this fourth side?
2.  The lack of space forced them to go high. So, how to deal with mas­sive stu­dent oc­cu­pan­cy far away from the ground floor, know­ing that there’s enough ev­i­dence show­ing that such a thing does not work?

They tried to solve both is­sues in one sin­gle move: In­stead of try­ing to avoid the height of the vol­ume, they de­vel­oped an ar­chi­tec­tural lan­guage for the façade of the fourth side of the court­yard that could be seen as a mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the ground floor. This build­ing is a kind of Ver­ti­cal Clois­ter. They care­ful­ly stud­ied the way and the con­di­tions un­der which peo­ple gath­ered in the oth­er clois­ters and por­ti­coes, and de­vel­oped a struc­ture that could be seen as ma­chine of el­e­men­tary sit­u­a­tions in height.

They de­vel­oped a sys­tem of stacks which are some­times in­tro­vert­ed to ac­com­mo­date more in­ti­mate sit­u­a­tions (read, flirt, eat alone), some­times ex­tro­vert­ed to host the more pub­lic ac­tiv­i­ties (chat, dis­cuss, rest).

But the dense con­text had oth­er con­se­quences on the pro­ject: there were too many rooms that had to con­nect smooth­ly with the pre-ex­ist­ing net­work of cir­cu­la­tions. It was like pack­ing an ex­ces­sive num­ber pieces of clothes in a rel­a­tive­ly small suit­case. So they start­ed by be­ing as reg­u­lar as pos­si­ble while or­ga­niz­ing the pro­gram.

The dif­fi­cult part were the au­di­to­ri­ums (5), which were packed as if they were shoes: al­ter­nat­ing their slopes in a kind of tow­er, leav­ing the “soles” al­ways to­wards the out­side. De­spite our ef­forts, one piece had to re­main out­side the suit­case: they chose the stu­dent’s lounge, (maybe the most pre­cious part of aca­dem­ic life) which al­so per­forms as a hang­ing shel­ter when en­ter­ing from the south.

Un­for­tu­nate­ly there was no space for dou­ble or triple heights that could give some sense of the scale of build­ing from the in­side; so the on­ly way they found to show from in­side the in­ter­nal re­la­tions, was through some “void shots” that cross the build­ing in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions.

For the li­brary there was no oth­er choice than go­ing un­der­ground. The prob­lem, of course, was to bring light down. Louis Kahn de­scribes the pro­gram of a li­brary as the act of tak­ing a book from a shelve and bring­ing it to the light to read it. In this case, they in­tro­duced some voids in the struc­ture as if they were light box­es you ap­proach with a book in your hands, sit down and read it. At the bot­tom of the li­brary, 10 me­ters be­low ground, they mag­ni­fied that idea by do­ing a huge table with a tree, maybe the ul­ti­mate sign that light is ar­riv­ing.

Ar­chi­tects: Ale­jan­dro Ar­ave­na, Fer­nan­do Perez.
Col­lab­o­ra­tors: Luis Lucero, Lore­na An­drade, Marcela Gue­vara, Ri­car­do Ser­pell, Philippe Blanc, Car­oli­na Ro­dríguez, Clau­dio Valen­zuela, Tomás Re­ta­males.
Pro­ject: 2001.
Con­struc­tion: 2004.
Lo­ca­tion: Cam­pus Casa Cen­tral Uni­ver­si­dad Católi­ca de Chile.
Built Area: 9000m2.

Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena established Alejandro Aravena Architects in 1994.

1967 born Alejandro Aravena, architect Universidad Católica de Chile (UC), established Alejandro Aravena Architects in 1994. He was Visiting Professor at Harvard GSD (2000-05) and is currently the Elemental-Copec Professor at UC. He is a member of the Pritzker Prize Jury and has been named an International Fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects. Professional work includes educational facilities, institutional, corporate and public buildings, museums, houses and housing. Awards include the 2006 Erich Schelling Architecture Medal (Germany), the Silver Lion at the 2008 Venice Architecture Biennale, the 2009 Avonni Innovation Award, and the 2010 Marcus Prize for Architecture, among other prizes. His Books include Los Hechos de la Arquitectura, El Lugar de la Arquitectura and Material de Arquitectura, as well as a monograph on Elemental published by Actar that will be published in 2010.

Publications on his work include the monograph Alejandro Aravena, progettare e costruire published by Electa; Kenneth Frampton’s fourth edition of Modern Architecture; a Critical History; Thames & Hudson’s 60 Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future; and books by Phaidon and Taschen. Magazines include GA (Japan); Icon, Monocle and Architectural Review (UK); Casabella, Lotus, Abitare, The Plan and Domus (Italy); Arquitectura Viva and Verb (Spain); Detail and Arch+ (Germany); Mark and Volume (Netherlands); Architectural Record, Dwell, Praxis and Perspecta (United States); and others in more than thirty other countries. Exhibitions on his work have been held at Harvard GSD (2004), Sao Paulo Biennale (2007), Venice Architecture Biennale and Milan Triennale (2008), among other places. Since 2006 he has been Executive Director of ELEMENTAL S.A. a for profit company with social interests that works on projects of infrastructure, transportation, public space and housing, and is partnered by the Universidad Católica de Chile and COPEC (Chilean Oil Company).

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