Steven Holl Architects Unveils Design for Bogotá, Colombia Building

May 16, 2011

By Elisabeth Broome

Emergency centers set up in gymnasiums
Image courtesy Steven Holl Architects
Steven Holl has designed an academic building for the National University of Colombia. slide show


Steven Holl Architects has just unveiled its preliminary concept design for a new Doctorate’s Building for the Schools of Law and Economic Sciences at the National University of Colombia in Bogotá. Holl and his partner, Chris McVoy (with whom he is collaborating on the project), say the 70,000-square-foot, two-story building is intended to re-energize the original campus master plan and encourage social connections.

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Designed in the 1930s by the German architect Leopold Rother in collaboration with Fritz Karsen, the campus—known as the White City because of its preponderance of low, white-painted concrete and masonry structures—is a showcase that represents the last 75 years of architecture in Colombia. The plan boasts a green center, classical axiality, and layered concentricity. But the 1970s saw the arrival of buildings that clogged the campus’ inner green.

In contrast to this, the architects hope to turn that closure inside out, to “bring the natural environment into the building and reestablish the green core,” says McVoy. The architects say the project (which they will be working on with the university’s in-house architecture office) will also reconnect two original entry approaches—as well as the central axis—and green space by “opening new porous routes of movement” and bringing the axes right through the building.

U-shaped in plan, the Doctorate’s Building—which will contain offices, laboratory space, classrooms, study rooms, a café, and extensive social spaces such as shaded terraces—rises in section at a main gathering space. From its 600-seat auditorium, the roof swoops up, “shaping a campus gatelike pergola,” say the architects. Its south arm will rise up to a cantilevered restaurant and roof terraces with mountain views, while the north arm will turn down into the landscape and open into a water garden. Made of white high performance fiber-reinforced concrete, which a structural engineer on the university’s faculty is developing, the building will also incorporate local woods and Bogotá stone.

“Framing the campus landscape with foreground, middle ground, and distant view,” says Holl, “the building aims at turning space ‘inside-out’ in a unique response to the temperate climate of Bogota.” Indeed, the city’s mild temperatures are particularly conducive to blurring connections between inside and out—the new building will have no heating or air-conditioning and will be naturally ventilated. Additionally, storm water and gray water will be collected for a grotto water garden and a reflecting pool. And photovoltaic cells will be integrated into a white membrane (which will cover the majority of the roof) to provide power to the recycling system for the water features, as well as 15 percent of the building’s electrical needs. There will also be an occupiable green roof. The architects say they hope to begin construction in early 2012.

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