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.
Location: Campus Casa Central Universidad Católica de Chile.
Built Area: 9000m2.
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).