“This project uses the highest levels of contemporary science and medicine to help people grappling with real problems. And to house these cutting edge activities, we tried to create a piece of architecture. Architecture as Sculpture. Architecture as Beauty. Beauty as therapy.”- Charles Correa
Located in the port city of Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, the Champalimaud Centre is a research and diagnostic center; the avant-garde structure can often be confused with a museum of modern art; But on the contrary, it provides exemplary and incomparable assistance to patients with problems like cancer, brain damage, blindness with every top-notch bio-medicinal advancements possible. Correa’s vision was a rare integration of research and clinical facilities which will pave the way for global preeminence in the fields of neuroscience and cancer research.
Not only does the site celebrate its antiquity being on the riverside area of Pedrouços, next to Belem, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the river Tagus, from where navigators like Vasco de Gama once traveled into the ‘unknown’, but also taps the perfect analogy for the advancements made in the fields of modern science where researchers venture into the unexplored!
Abiding by the local traditions, owing tribute towards the site’s historic legacy the open plaza has been paved with granite cobbles weaving through the curved limestone walls towards the river’s edge. The 125-meter long pathway meandering through the three blocks of the magnanimous structure rises at a gentle slope of 1:20 which as it ascends shows the sky, obscuring the view of the ocean until, all of a sudden it reveals a view with two monolithic pillars to a large water body which seems to have merged with the ocean beyond, just like a giant infinity pool. It certainly is one of the inspirational features of the design; excellent visual connectivity filling the trotter with a desire to see the wild blue yonder ahead.
The most fascinating detailing to be observed here is Correa’s effort towards bio-mimicry. The tip of the long concrete monolithic pillars has been painted in light blue mimicking the color of the sky giving an optical illusion as if they have touched the clouds! In the center of the water body, just below the surface of the water, there is also an oval-shaped enigmatic stainless steel form that looks like an island reflecting the blue sky and the passing clouds above.
The north side of the site is occupied by a four-story research and treatment building which is the largest of the three blocks that constitute the 641,500 square foot facility. The lower two levels have the diagnostic and treatment areas, while the upper two floors are dedicated to research laboratories built to accommodate 440 scientists. Double-height cut-outs through the interior provide visual connections between the research floors while the interior glass facades of the capacious lobby permit visitors glimpses of the research efforts conducted inside.
To top it up, on every floor, there are large indoor-outdoor sunken tropical gardens crowned by a pergola that provides daylight to the interior through its glazed facade. These gardens are an important and cherishable part of the patients’ and the visitor’s visual experience helping them heal both from inside and outside, quite the metaphor for the beauty of the structure itself, the glazed surface outside, and the beautiful concealed gardens inside.
“An important goal was to build the center as a public campus, not a private campus, so we created spaces where the public can be in all the places surrounding the building.”, said João Silveira Botelho, one of the center’s directors.
The efficient design proves that Correa has left no effort in making this structure a pioneer in every way possible. Material like VapX Membrane has been used for facades to build an airtight barrier for the protection of construction; it also assures superior aging resistance and dimensional stability, effectively protecting the building.
To the south of the research block, there is the second block that has offices, a restaurant, exhibition space and a 400-seat auditorium with a giant elliptical window that looks like a cell! Although this exhibition block and the research block seem to be two isolated structures they are connected together by a 69-foot-long bridge supported by tension cables and encased in curved laminated glass. Here, Correa has used eco facade membranes that protect the buildings’ facade connections and consequently its entire inner-shell, maximizing energy efficiency and acoustics.
The third structure of this complex, the amphitheater frames a breathtaking view of the ocean during sunset; this public theatre hosts regular programs of music and lectures with the river as the backdrop which shows that almost half of the site is easily accessible to the public yet maintaining highest security norms for the facility as much as possible!
“The project is an excellent example of a holistic, site-specific approach to sustainability,” according to R. Stephen McDaniel of RMJM Hillier. “For example, the proximity to the Tagus River allows us to have a geothermal heat-sink for temperature control, which is further controlled by the massive rainforest garden in the main building.” For architects and visitors, the center has now become a popular tourist destination being an inspiration to the building’s significance in ushering in a new era of scientific exploration and discovery for Portugal, healing from mother nature and architecture. Who knew that architecture can be merged with nature so gracefully! ‘Beauty is therapy’ indeed.