We 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 us in front of 2 problems:
- 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?
- The lack of space forced us 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?
We tried to solve both issues in one single move: Instead of trying to avoid the height of the volume, we 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. We 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.
We 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 we 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: we 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 we 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, we 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, we magnified that idea by doing a huge table with a tree, maybe the ultimate sign that light is arriving.