Going down the history lane of architecture, the so-called Brutalist movement took wings during the decades between the 50’s and the 70’s – with architectural works vaunting their totalitarian ‘fortress’ like facades with exposed concrete and imposing sense of scale. Well, it seems the Brutalist trends are back in vogue, as is evident from Chilean firm Elemental’s ‘brutal’ treatment of the 8,176 sq m (88,000 sq ft) Innovation Center UC, inside the campus of the Universidad Católica de Chile, in Santiago.
The seemingly absolutist structure accounts for fourteen floors, with three floors being placed at the subterranean level. All of these floors are contained within a strict geometric framework which sort of gives us the illusion of a solid, monolithic volume. However, in reality, as studio director Alejandro Aravena explained, the facades are actually made from stacked concrete-blocks that are arranged in such a way so as to allow deep set three-floor-high windows in between.
Considering all of these nigh austere design components, it certainly begs the question – why did the architects opt for such a stern and formal structure? Well, in many ways, the concrete usage was reactionary in its overall scope, given Santiago’s modern architectural ambit’s tendency to incorporate glass facades in most of the buildings. So, the Elemental designers took an antithetical step, because according to them – most of these ‘glass towers’ have problematic greenhouse effect in the interiors due to the desert-like climatic conditions of the city.
As opposed to such pitfalls of stylish glass buildings, the Innovation Center UC boasts of cooler micro-climate by virtue of its thick, insulated concrete facades and recessed glazing – both of which shield against direct solar gain. This mitigating system is complemented by the deep-set windows that are large enough (with 3-floored heights) to allow for cross-ventilation air flow through the massive framework. The big window openings are further fronted by waist-high glass railings that transform the capacious window sills into balconies accessible from the internal offices. All of these features are claimed to have halved the energy consumption that is conventionally associated with a glass building of Santiago.
The immaculate scope of organization is continued in the interiors of the Innovation Center UC, with a central atrium where all the circulation paths and corridors end. These multifarious halls are flanked by juxtaposition of formal and informal areas – thus accounting for ‘collective’ degree of interaction between the users. This makes perfect sense, since the reinforced concrete-made center is built as a sheltered space where business and companies could contact and collaborate with researchers.
In essence, the seemingly ascetic setting alludes to a clockwork-like ambit, where spatial efficiency and design effectiveness remains the name of the game. Alejandro Aravena sums it up in a succinct manner –
We thought that the biggest threat to an innovation center is obsolescence; functional and stylistic obsolescence. In that sense the response to the context was nothing but the rigorous use of common sense.
Image Credits: Nina Vidic, Victor Oddó and Nico Saieh.