With this text, we continue series of articles on Competitions.archi. We will be showcasing the case studies of the projects that were awarded in various architecture competitions.
The main focus of this series is to understand the design process behind all winning submissions. That is why we will be asking all architects and designers ‘ How you won that competition? ‘. We’re curious about their path, from the first draft, the first blueprint to the full-scale plan. We’re also interested to see which solutions had been dropped on the way, what kind of choices had to be made, and most importantly, what was the grand idea behind the project. That is why we will be asking for sketches, drafts and detailed descriptions so that we can fully understand their technique and the process that resulted in the awarded works.
This article is part of Architecture Competitions Yearbook 2021 – where more stories and inspirations like the one below can be found.
During our vacation, we came across a contest to design the Bauhaus Campus 2021 organized by Arkitekturo. It was very interesting and gave us the chance to have fun designing and improving as a team. It proposed the development of a university campus with a lax and broad program. In turn, the urban conditions of the property (in the city of Dessau) had unique characteristics, such as being on the shores of a railway transport infrastructure and having a pre-existence of an industrial nature. Last but not least, the historical importance that an institution of the size of the Bauhaus has had on architecture and design. In short, the contest allowed us to investigate in an urban and historical context highly charged with meaning with a high degree of freedom.
The project process was progressive, from a relaxed beginning (looking for references, understanding the site and revisiting the history of the Bauhaus), until a few weeks of frenzied production in order to communicate our ideas in the best possible way. At the beginning of the project process, we understand that it is important to look for references: programmatic, aesthetic and technological, which help to build a repertoire of images and possibilities. Another factor to consider in the first instance is the site and the implantation of the building, not just taking a look, but rather understanding the logic of the urban fabric, the current uses of the plot, the history of the site, the surrounding infrastructures, the city in general. In this case, given the conditions of the contest, we have review the history of the Bauhaus, both of the school and of the new museum.
The main themes that we developed during the project process were: urban insertion, the implantation of the building, its structure and character. We think that the urban insertion of the project has to be in accordance with its character (open, introverted, iconic, mimetic, etc). The building is not an isolated object. Ask yourself: how does it reach the ground? And how is it related to the environment? It is key to understanding how it affects the place. Regarding the implantation of the building, in our opinion, it is necessary to take into account: the footprint of this on the plot and how much space it frees or encloses, the sunlight, the shape of the terrain, the significant urban traces, the morphology of the city and other tensions characteristic of each place. The structure is essential for understanding the building and how it will work later, since it conditions the way it is used and its image as well. That is why this theme is one of the first to be developed. The character of the project is built from between the aforementioned elements and the concepts. In the particular case of our project, the proposed site is located midway between the original school building and the Bauhaus museum, while being a short distance from important urban facilities such as the train station. The plot configures a transition between the urban fabric, of low buildings, and the train track, articulating the relationship between the city and the infrastructure. In this sense, the object to be implanted had to recognize this duality, calibrate the distances and its mass to dialogue with both situations.
The public dimension of the proposal motivated us to include the neighbouring property in the project (a risk by contravening the rules of the contest, but which would finally give us greater urban potency and understanding of the site), adding to the intervention a series of programs and public spaces and including the industrial pre-existence of the place. In architecture competitions, it seems to us that we must go beyond the rules, and try to stretch them to the maximum, to achieve something different, a profit for the project. In this way, we designed a masterplan that generates a series of programmatic bands that divided the complex according to the different activities. The lines of the bands and the placement of the functions was prepared to recognize pre-existing elements and traces of the site. We understood that an intervention of this magnitude (physically and symbolically) should generate something more than a simple building. It should generate urbanity, public and representation spaces for the inhabitants of Dessau.
We understood that this campus should not be closed and protect an enclosure within itself (as the classic university typologies of cloisters do). It should establish a fluid dialogue with the surroundings and expose the learning dynamics of the students to the city.
With all the above in mind, we understood that the best way to arrange the building would be to have a plaque parallel to the train tracks, facing the city as a large screen, removed from all the limits of the land, generating the greatest possible amount of public space. After understanding the site and the position of the building, the discussion focused on how we could achieve a project in height that would generate neutral spaces. Trying to understand the needs of the students at the architecture and design campus, it seemed important to us to create free spaces so that users could perform in them. This need led us to develop a structure that would not interrupt those spaces.
The character of the surroundings and our conviction about the capacity of an architecture close to this infrastructural world brought us closer to references such as the so-called “High Tech” architects of the ‘70s: Renzo Piano, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster; some great masters from that time as Cedric Price, Buckminster Fuller or Archigram, as well as the work of contemporary architects such as the French studios Lacaton & Vassal and Bruther.
For the development of the structure, we studied the Pompidou Center (by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano), the Frame (by Bruther). Newertheless, the main reference for the development of the structure of our project was, finally, the building ‘’El Pilar’’ by the Uruguayan architect Luís García Pardo and the engineer Eladio Dieste (a building resolved through a single pillar, with large beams on the last level, from where the slabs are hung through tensioners). The proposal presents a similar logic of structural functioning, a series of pillars throughout the building, where large, reticulated beams are supported. The last level enables the slabs to be hung through tensioners. The torque is solved with a tensioner to the ground on the opposite side which allows us to save large spans, leave free spaces for the interpretation of users and empty most of the ground floor of structural elements.
The facades speak about what happens in the interior space through their prefabricated or industrialized components while responding to the needs of the building’s conditioning. At the same time, the main façade can function as a large screen where the work or manifestations of the concerns of the campus students can be seen. Another point that we were interested in dealing with was the creation of a practically self-sustainable community, a building that could generate its own energy, recycle rainwater and allow students to grow their own food. For this we incorporated into the program: wind power generators, rainwater collectors, a farm. We developed luminaires with their own wind generators to illuminate the large access esplanade to the building. We call the project “Performatic Machine” for its material condition, its reference to almost infrastructural elements, its capacity for adaptation and change, and for its scenographic condition, neutral enough, to function almost like a theatre, a stage for life, its draperies and the activities behind the scenes. The neutral spaces are left free for the students to interpret and free for the users to intervene as they please. In tension with the rigidity of the structures and the neutrality of the spaces, specific devices are devised that activate the functions required in the contest program.
These devices are: dormitory capsules (small habitable modules that can be moved and positioned as the student wants), performance chairs (the auditorium has capacity for 300 chairs, but in a matter of minutes it can be converted into a free room for multiple activities, leaving the chairs suspended in the air), the bridge crane (with it we allow students in the workshops to move heavy objects, the building has a forklift to raise materials or any object from the ground floor and then be able to move it in the workshop comfortably with this device), the classroom module (the support modules separate the different classrooms, they can be moved, contracting and expanding the area, giving greater flexibility of uses) and the event bubble (a multipurpose space for different situations, this bubble allows the expansion of the place, literally, and can be used for exhibitions, events, conferences, parties, meetings, etc). This project gave us the opportunity to research and project on topics of our interest. It became a team construction of our obsessions and architectural fetishes.
The communication of ideas, in this type of contest, is essential to transmit all our imaginations in the best way. For this project, we understood that the use of plans and sections, classic drawings to describe a building, but with an intentionally partial and limited frame, did not convey the project in the best way. We understand the axonometries and 3D diagrams are more accurate and attractive, as well as the renderings of the building from different points of view. During the process, we have learned that 3D modeling and previous renderings are a highly valuable project input, which help other graphic pieces to make and complementary decisions, also help define materialities and colors, as well as spatial qualities. Communication, in our opinion, must fulfill a double function, clarifying and ordering ideas for a quick understanding of whoever sees the presentation, while attracting attention and generating a kind of wow factor, something that fixes the project in memory (not only because of the proposal), it would be a color that stood out, a striking graphic, a unique name.
About the jury
The jury made up of Addenda architects, Bajet Giramé, Leku Studio and Montserrat Villaverde, highlighted the leap between our project compared to the rest. Unanimously, and from the beginning, they pointed out that we got all the key points of the project right. They highlighted the resolution of the project at all scales, from its implementation to smaller interior spaces. They emphasized that the proposal goes beyond what was requested, and “(…) did not only provide an appropriate solution for all the requirements given by the brief, but also decided to incorporate the neighbouring terrain (currently not being used) to treat it, improve it, and give it back to the city in the shape of an urban forest, gardens and areas for other social and cultural activities”. The jury recognized that our project contemplates a step raising over the train tracks, an element that will help to unite both sides of the city and will turn the Campus into a true link along the axis between the building of Gropius and the new Bauhaus Museum. On the implantation they highlighted the forceful position that the main building takes within the given terrain, creating a barrier with a certain permeability between the roads and the city, which also allows it to generate an important iconographic image on both sides. On the building itself they said that “Inside the building the organization of the spaces according to their function and level of access seems logical and appropriate. The strategic placement of the machinery that a building this size would require was also very smart, and the fact that sustainability matters were incorporated at different levels was very much appreciated.” The judgments made by the jury surprised us and filled us with pride, we appreciate their attention to the ideas presented.
Writing this text makes us reflect on the processes, strategies and ideas that led us to carry out the contest. We believe that, a priori, there are some project process logics that can be transferable, but we understand that they are built according to the interests and training of each designer and not everything is transferable. The processes are not the same. They are unique. There are no magic recipes. Each one generates its own tools and deploys them in a unique way in each instance. To end, we wanted to thank for the opportunity to share our work and ideas. We are very happy to be able to write this article in Architecture Competitions Yearbook 2021, it has given us the chance to revisit and reflect on our project process and share it with other students as well as architects.
Authors: Alejandro Duadro, Romina Mangini
If you would like to ready more case studies like the one above please check our annual publication – Architecture Competitions Yearbook. This book is perfect for you if you want to know:
- Whats the secret behind winning submissions?
- What makes a good project?
- How to create an innovative solution to the given problem?
…and much more.