In 2006 the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena founded Elemental – a “doing tank”, that’s how he calls the practice, which is working in association with Copec, a Chilean oil company, and the Catholic University on large-scale projects . Recentely Elemental realised their first U.S. project, dormitories and dining facilities for St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas.
What the architect says:
“There were 2 debates running in parallel in this project. One more explicit, declared in various documents and that were the actual programmatic requirements to be addressed. The other one, that even though was named in some documents as “compliance with Master Plan” was far less explicit and came out mainly in the meetings: it was the question of the language and appearance of the building and its relation to the old buildings of the campus.
The formal assignment was to provide the new dormitories (300 beds), dining facilities and various students’ services for St. Edward’s University in Austin Texas.”
“We thought that a dorm is like a monastery: it’s about how to organize a collections of repetitive small cells and how to relate them with larger special pieces. In the case of the monastery it’s about the monks’ cells and how the relate them with the refectory and chapel. Here it was about the rooms and the dining hall and common facilities. Both of them have to do with old atavist situations: sleeping, studying and eating. Or to put it in a more suggestive way: feeding the body and the soul and digesting.
There are two great examples of how to answer paradigmatically to this problem:
The first one in the late 40`s, when Alvar Aalto designed the Baker House for MIT in Cambridge, where he created a meandering form with the repetitive units to see as a foreshortened figure the Charles river and in one of the inlets of the rooms’ strip he accommodated the special piece. In a way his operation can be described as having a strip and a volume and with them create a place. (1+1=3)
The second one in the 60’s, when Louis Kahn designed the Erdman Hall, where he used the cells to enclose and define a core that worked as the special piece. Instead of adding pieces, he synthesized cells and special volume into a single operation; he actually repeated the operation 3 times. [(1+1=1) x3 = 1]”