A uniquely standing glass structure, in the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile’s campus in Santiago, was designed by architect Alejandro Aravena (with Charles Murray, Alfonso Montero and Ricardo Torrejón) to house technological Innovation at the university. Alejandro Aravena, a 48-year old Chilean architect, is the Pritzker prize winner with a vision to create socially conscious and sustainable designs. “Sustainability is nothing but the rigorous use of common sense,” he says from his office in Santiago. “If you are rigorous with common sense and a reasonable approach, almost every single architecture would be sustainable.” A good understanding of materials and construction techniques helps him create a sense of wonder and revelation. With an innovative way to communicate the power and poetry of architecture, he comes with best designs.

Location: San Joaquin Campus of the Catholic University of Chile Santiago, Chile
Design duration: 2003-2005
Project Type: Education 

Alejandro Aravena's Siamese Towers, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (2005) - Sheet1
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Changing the way of looking at architecture for education, achieving client’s requirements for a building with computers, glass and the tower, yet creating an icon was the real challenge. 

The tower standing on 5000 sq.m area is parted from the seventh floor into two, appearing Siamese twins. Initially, the tower, though tall, looked ‘chubby’ as a single structure. It was then just a matter of a different design perspective that delivered a clarification, forming two towers which share a significant part of their body.

The bicephalous building with a double skin is yet eco-friendly and sustainable. A steel structure perimeter supports double skin with tempered glass as an outside layer. The outer glass layer is terrible for energy control, and the climate in Santiago is not in favour of glass either; but, it is excellent to resist rain, pollution and ageing. Rather, making the inside layer of the building energy-efficient which creates a void between two layers to allow airflow. This idea of ‘a tower inside a tower’ creates a ventilated air chamber that serves as thermal insulation. The warm air ascending by convection departs from the top of the building before it reaches the second building. The Venturi effect created due to constant and natural flow of wind helps to eliminate the greenhouse effect. The inner layer of the skin, constructed in fibre and cement for wise energy control, is set with anchors for the reinforced concrete structure. These two angled wall layers with effective ventilation prevented the greenhouse effect, offering a total of 30% budget cut for both buildings. On the other hand, the curtain wall option was able to resolve the double skin conflict but came with an obscene amount of energy generation for air conditioning. 

The building with nine floors gets divided into two after the seventh floor, which can be distinctly recognised as each part is built using aluminium profiles of a different colour. The structure is connected to two auxiliary buildings, consisting first floor and basement. On the other hand, the two-storey basement of the tower has a deck at the top accessible through ramps. Inclined planes of wood create the form with relaxing spaces under the tower with the changing play of light and shadow, based on the season.

The centre of the tower constructed with slab and beams is interrupted at its core, forming individual bases. With the use of computational tools for structural calculation, it was possible to meet the requirements for the anti-seismic structure in the area. The perpendicular walls and pillars are thoroughly resistant. The oblique manner of the facade with a metal structure that is supported by reinforced concrete cantilever along the beams of rigid frames ends with the overhangs of different lengths.

The design of an educational building, with digital technology as a medium for the transmission of knowledge, considers both physical and virtual scenarios. As the paradigm reversed, conventional classrooms with more natural light now demand a functional space with good half-light to avoid screen reflections. Formal education is taken care of through building, light, ventilation, etc. But designers strongly believed in the conversation between two people to develop an informal way of learning as well. Hence they thoughtfully managed both face-to-face and face-to-screen contact. Inner wall signifies the need for reduced glare, while the air chamber creates thermal comfort saving energy. Exploring hermetic volume with controlled apertures towards the outside is considered requisite. 

The process from concept to final design is merely a straight line, but the sustainable approach with a minuscule budget to develop an environment and user-friendly structure is more deserving.

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Author

Tanvi Saraf, an architect who believes that every space has a story, waiting to be narrated. Always looking to make a tiny effort to connect the dots through experiences.

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