School of Plastic Arts
The art school was commissioned as a part of the Benito Juarez Autonomous University of Oaxaca. Located at the entrance to the university on a conspicuous corner site, the school was designed to both open a dialogue between university and city as well as remain discreet in order to foster the creative, introspective character of an art school.
The concept of the project was influenced by two existing conditions: the absence of a master plan and of a unified architectural language between existing buildings on campus that would serve as context for the design as well as the construction of nearby projects at the university that were generating excess earth. This led to the idea of the complex as an extensive garden, inspiring the talus that surrounds and protects the school akin to a tortoise shell. From the exterior the complex appears a garden and from the interior is sufficiently isolated to accommodate the facilities of an art school. Measuring 3-meters tall, the vegetal mound all but conceals the school inside, a complex of rammed earth and stone buildings that house a main hall, gallery, mediatheque, administration offices, classrooms and art studios. Stone buildings occupy the periphery of the “crater” and serve also to retain the surrounding earthwork. Inside the complex, the rammed earth and concrete edifices, principally North-oriented and containing the art studios, gallery, and main hall make up the body of the school. In dialogue with the interior volumes are the patios that project from each building as an extension of the work environment. Filled with ochre-colored gravel and planted with a Mexican cherry tree that flowers in spring and is bare in winter, the patios manifest the idea of the complex as garden. Volumetrically, the interplay of solid and void between building and patio creates ever changing pathways, vistas, and light conditions as one moves through the school.
Throughout the project sustainability has been a central concern. The principal construction material, rammed earth, is naturally insulating, water proof, fire resistant, termite-proof, provides acoustical insulation and makes use of locally- available earth. Also, walls are self-supporting. The landscaping, in addition to the soft surface of the talus, includes porous hard surfaces. Rain water is stored for later reuse in a 100,000-liter cistern. The interior spaces do not have a mechanical heating and cooling instead relying on natural ventilation and massive walls to keep the spaces comfortable year round.
The garden was envisioned as an indispensible part of the whole whereby the building will have work spaces surrounded by vegetation creating a comfortable and inviting microclimate and another lung for Oaxaca City.