Confronting the competition rules, in which the site is presented as an organization based on the placement of single-value volumes and a specific program in coordination with a void that arises between its parts, the invitation is to ask if it is possible to understand the Campus as a Field, where the parts of a whole underlie and interact through the rules established between them, abandoning the idea of the organizing architectonic object.
Although this would have been a column on the results of the Lo Contador Campus Project competition in which the nature of the winning proposal for the reorganization of the headquarters of the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Urban Studies of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, would be discussed, on the originally stipulated date – on May 25 – the winning project was not known. Then, this space has become an opportunity to talk about the ideas of Campus and Plan from the perspective of the loss of the importance of the architectural object in this context and the revaluation of that intangible that makes the site a “unit” (1).
(1) This column is based on the reading of the competition rules and the explanatory question and answer document. See the Contador Campus Project, Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, DESE (2015).
Do not imagine that I will talk about the gardens of Lo Contador that, although they are essential to understanding the Campus, will not be the object of this writing.
To begin with, it is important to establish the nature of the competition’s guidelines, which not only stipulated infrastructure needs and possible uses to propose a plan for the campus but also required the incorporation of programs in specific buildings. At the same time, it was important to appreciate certain formal and already existing conditions, such as the emptiness of the campus’s central area, corresponding to the Library courtyard. Although the background offered by the competition’s guidelines in terms of capacity and regulations gave a tone of reality to the proposal, the low turn out for the competition leads to the assumption that the lack of flexibility and/or multiple and indirect formal suggestions transformed the competition into a commission for a client with many concrete ideas regarding the result. Given the above, it would then be interesting to discuss the notion of Plan, either development or Master, which the winning proposal is expected to provide for the Campus.
The layout of the guidelines presents the campus site as one of simple organization, defined by existing buildings, voids and possible areas to “free up,” the latter two suggest the air resulting between objects erected as permanent. From this simplicity, the idea arises in this column of addressing the meaning of a Plan for the Campus based on the ideas expressed by the architect Stan Allen, specifically based on the notion of field, where the parts of a whole underlie and interact through the relations established between them, abandoning the idea of the object and its shape as the central theme of the organization (2). An example that Allen proposes to understand the field condition is the flock. The flock, in this case, would be the Campus. Each bird of the flock, in its individuality and character as a single entity, is not itself the flock, nor does it determine it; the internal rules of the birds’ behavior configure the overall shape the flock takes. Or, in the words of Allen: “The field is a material condition, not a metaphor. The field conditions have to do with the organization, matter, and making. […] By remaining attentive to the detail conditions that determine the connection of one part to another […] it becomes possible to imagine an architecture that can respond fluidly and sensitively to local difference while maintaining overall stability”(3). Similarly, it is possible to understand the Campus as a field if its non-hierarchical fragmentation is considered from a positive or rather endogenous perspective, where what is part of the character of the site responds to historical, climatic, urban, territorial, programmatic and dynamic tensions that are present and that have prevailed over the various changes and constructions built consecutively over time.
(2) See Stan Allen, “From Object to Field: Conditions in Architecture and Urban Planning) (ed.), AD Architecture after Geometry, Profile No. 127, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 1997 p 118-143.
(3) Allen, p.138.
Thus, it is essential to try to distinguish which are those internal rules that currently enrich the Campus as a field. Understanding that the answers can be multiple and varied, I propose to dwell on a characteristic and particular element of the colonial architecture that has determined the way of inhabiting the Lo Contador Campus and that is based on how interior and exterior are related. I refer to the idea of a transitional space that connects the built plan with the gardens and bounded courtyards, creating a continuum mediated by roofed outdoor spaces and extended shadows. Without going any further, these transitional spaces are corridors, hallways, pergolas, and arbors; they are vegetable overlays of gardens with the afforestation of Cerro San Cristóbal and the shadows on the soil.
Confronting then the competition guidelines, where the site is presented as an organization based on the placement of volumes of unique value and a specific program in coordination with a void that arises between its parts, the invitation is to ask: What would a campus be like with a higher density of constructions and dynamics, whose unit is established by non-hierarchical space organizations modified by conditions of transition? How do you plan a flexible master plan where the relationship between the parts is determined by the continuity between gardens, courtyards, studios, and territory? Will the winning proposal consider any of the issues raised here? We only know that, at the time of publication of this column, at least the last question will already have an answer.