Florida International University is located in the largest and fastest-growing metropolis in the southeastern United States, a city that combines glamour with commerce and is situated at the epicenter of a zone of influence that extends into the Caribbean and South America. Bernard Tschumi Architects approached the design for a new building for the School of Architecture and the College of Urban and Public Affairs both as an opportunity to expand a young school, and as a forum for exchange between vibrant cultures in a growing city.
In looking at strategies for what had been described as a commuter school, Bernard Tschumi focused on the design of communal space as a way to activate the student body and promote discussions and interactions that extend beyond the classrooms and studios. The concept looked at ways to define the relationship between this public space and the more conventional parts of the program. The final scheme consists of two sober wings made of a simple structural pre-cast concrete arranged around a central courtyard filled with colorful "generators." These consist of a court of palm trees and two discrete structures that are connected to the rest of the school by walkways at different levels. The structures, covered in bright variegated tiles and twisted slightly to contrast with the rectilinear formalism of each wing, contain the public programs of the building: a reading room, gallery, lecture hall, and a multi-use terrace. The generators help to promote interaction and define unexpected in-between spaces at several levels between each wing. The courtyard is not closed, but opens on the axis to allow the school to integrate with the tropical landscape, to promote interest from passers-by, and to give a public face to a building that suggests the exchange of cultures that takes place within it.
The 102,000 square-foot building arranges all the requested programmatic activities around the 60' x 90' courtyard, which becomes a central forum for planned and unplanned activities and adds cost-efficient usable space to the plan arrangement. Above this, walkways connect the wings with the generators in a way that helps shade the courtyard during the morning and late afternoon, responding to the hot local climate with a practical and ecologically sensible solution. Whatever the attendance level on a given day, the constant movement of students on the shaded steps, periphery, and the unprogrammed space above the lecture hall lends the court a sense of liveliness and dynamism. In a digital age when computers make the physical studio less of a necessity, these active areas become critical to the educational agenda of the institution and foster a sense of pride and shared ownership within the student body.
The major challenge of this project was the need to balance the extremely low budget of $130 per square foot against the architectural ambitions set by the university. The construction budget was $13.4 million for a relatively complex building made of five distinct entities, each with its own enclosure, two of them featuring an irregular geometry. Most ductwork, conduits, sprinklers, and even acoustical baffles had to remain exposed for reasons of cost. Although the main expense was the building's enclosure, by combining structure and envelope in a single material - pre-cast concrete - the firm was not only able to meet the cost parameters, but succeeded in taking advantage of pre-cast technology in an original way.
Bernard Tschumi, Anne Save de Beaurecueil
with Johanne Riegels Oestergaard, Valentin Bontjes van Beek, Joel Rutten, Robert Holton, William Feuerman, Roderick Villafranca, Kim Starr, Peter Cornell, Kevin Collins, Tom Kowalski, Andrea Day, and Michaela Metcalf.
Princi Bruno Elias Ramos, Gustavo Berenblum, With Juan Pedro Alvarez, Andrew Sribyatta, Susan Lauredo, Juan Pedro Alvarez, Alex Flores, Jose Gaviria, Wayne Dennis, Marta Secasa, and Celso Gonzalez.