Giant openings puncture Elemental's
"monolithic" concrete innovation centre

| 24 comments

This concrete innovation centre at a Chilean university by Santiago studio Elemental has deep recessed windows designed to cool its network of communal interior spaces (+ slideshow).

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nico Saieh

Elemental designed the 8,176-square-metre Innovation Center UC – Anacleto Angelini on the campus of the Universidad Católica de Chile, in Santiago. The 14-storey building, which includes three floors underground, was created as a space where companies and businesses could converge with researchers.



The client requested a building with a "contemporary look" but the studio felt a "professional responsibility" to avoid the environmental and design pitfalls of the glass-fronted buildings typically associated with innovation in the Chilean capital.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nico Saieh

"This building had to respond to the client's expectation of having an innovation centre with a 'contemporary look'," said studio director Alejandro Aravena, "but the uncritical search for the contemporary has populated Santiago with glass towers that due to the desert climatic local condition have serious greenhouse effect in the interiors."

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nina Vidic

A reinforced concrete construction was selected for the building, which has a facade made up of volumes of stacked concrete block-work and deep three-storey-high windows.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nina Vidic

"From a stylistic point of view, we thought of using a rather strict geometry and strong monolithic materiality as a way to replace trendiness by timelessness," said the design team, whose previous projects also include a cantilevering concrete pavilion on a Mexican pilgrimage route.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Victor Oddo

To avoid costly air-conditioning bills, the architects added large recessed openings in the concrete facades that provide air flow and cooling for the building's interior. Large sections of concrete jut out from the facade to further shade the recesses.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nico Saieh

The architects claim this feature has halved the standard energy consumption used by a glass tower block in Santiago.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nico Saieh

The openings are fronted by panels of waist-height glass that transform the window sills into open terraces.

"The way to avoid undesired heat gains is not rocket science; it is enough to place the mass of the building on the perimeter, with recessed glazing to prevent direct sun radiation and allow for cross ventilation," said Aravena.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nico Saieh

The opaque facade also removed need for interior blinds and curtains around working spaces, which are naturally dimmed by the deep-set windows.

"We thought that the biggest threat to an innovation centre is obsolescence; functional and stylistic obsolescence," said the architect, "in that sense the response to the context was nothing but the rigorous use of common sense."

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nico Saieh

On the interior the floors face onto a wood and glass-lined atrium at the centre of the building with a circulation path at either end.

The spaces are designed as a "matrix" of formal and informal areas with sofas, office furniture and exposed ceilings where both individuals and teams could work, and encounter other researchers.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nina Vidic

"We thought that face-to-face contact is unbeatable when one wants to create knowledge," he said.

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Photograph by Nina Vidic

"We multiplied throughout the building the places where people could meet: from the elevator's lobby with a bench where to sit if you happen to run into somebody that has interesting information to share, to a transparent atrium where you can sneak into what others are doing while circulating vertically, to elevated squares throughout the entire height of the building."

UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Site plan – click for larger image
UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Ground floor plan – click for larger image
UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Seventh floor plan – click for larger image
UC Innovation Center by Elemental
Section – click for larger image
  • Richard

    That’s either a tiny person, or these openings really are gargantuan.

    • KZ

      You might have a look at the sections?

    • Having trouble deducing a three-storey opening?

  • Eynak East

    A bling blong blobber of concrete clobber, a monolithic roar of modernistic galore. Massive ya know, a blooming gargantuan foe, for some, make yeezus glum, makes my tummy rumble and feeling humble, humbled buy its massiveness and not grotesque I fess, it’s a beating Modernist fest, we all be blest! Bah I jest, although it’s something of a quest to find the point in this… Wig ding. Maybe just a fing, a fling, nothing more than just a thing, thingless and meaningless, so much greyness it’s got braveness or just clairvoyant-less and all in all a brilliantly clean mess… But all of this is just a guess.

  • Chris MacDonald

    Love it, love it, love it.

  • Lakutis

    Oh my god, tight!

  • 8mismo

    The warmth of the interior is really surprising considering the foreboding exterior. This building is like a biker who looks real tough, but is really a big softy.

    • amsam

      I love that image 8mismo, but I’m kind of struggling with why it wants to dress like a biker instead of the nice person it is on the inside? (I guess I wonder that about bikers too).

  • Trent

    Imposing, big, brutal and anti-integrated in nature. No green roofs, solar panels, re-claimed woods. Simply beautiful!

  • Leo

    Talk about a landmark! I love this one.

  • Alto Chilean GTFO

    Fea la mierda, tipica basura que los extranjeros alaban porque son unos hipsters qls.

    • guisforyou

      Querido Alto, que pena que no tengas ninguna sofiticacion y gusto. De igual modo Santiago y usted no tienen ningun derecho de hablar por todos los Chilenos.

  • Santiago Meneses

    We, the students, call it Azkaban! No joke.

  • Santiago Meneses

    We the students at Universidad Católica de Chile call it the “Azkaban Prison”.

  • Colonel Pancake

    It’s beautiful. The only thing that provokes my skepticism is the degree in which the internal spaces along the facades were potentially contrived in order to fit in the depth of the windows’ recessions. It looks a little puzzling.

    But nonetheless, it has a truly poetic beauty that rises above such concerns.

  • Fernando Vale

    Best comment ever! Ahah

  • Cesar A. Hidalgo

    I’ve been to the building. NO OFFICE HAS A WINDOW. The building is in a place where you could have a gorgeous view of the Santiago Skyline and the mountains (Andes), but apparently, windows are for the hallways leading to the restrooms. Also, the building has a roof deck which is walled, with just a little window allowing a small view. Modernism continues to rape Latin America. Informally, the building is now known as Aravena’s Turd.

    • spadestick

      When I work, I never actually look out my window to look at the scenery. When I actually do that, it means getting off my arse, walking to a balcony and really taking it in, maybe with a cup in my hand or someone to chat with. If modernism rapes Latin America, what do you propose? Neo-classicism?

    • Kay

      Labelling this as ‘modernist’ is like calling iPhones fax machines.

      Truth is, yes this is “inspired” by modernist ideals and visions, but it doesn’t make it modernist. Wrong time and aesthetic.

      You can call it ‘modern’ though. I’d be fine with that.

  • The re-entrant walls game the scale and beautifully imply an exterior wall thickness that doesn’t really exist. I would love to have seen a section detail where the roof meets the exterior wall.

  • Adrian

    I see what they are doing with the exterior, but that interior courtyard shot is amazing.

  • Pete Smart

    There’s no “Modernism.” Only good and bad buildings.
    Period. Whether this is good or bad, we’ll leave that up to the people there.

  • Roberto Ferlito

    Each building has its own essence made by different context variables that in the case of a public building should be the capacity to read the needs of the users working and “living” in. At least one of the most important.

    To me, this project is a considerably wrong contemporary building regarding the relation between its functions and main activities. That is why for the students it seems to be a prison.

    I suppose innovators and researchers nowadays needs an “open” space and friendly support and flexibility to arrange different activities and stimulate communication at all levels. In the contemporary era the trend is to let architecture disappear from the clinches of built boxes and mass volumes.

    To let the limits be diffused, you do not need glass to do this. A building is more and more important for its program and adaptability to contemporary life. This seems to be a renaissance contemplative block, static and imposed.

    As a sculpture it is well calibrate I can see, but as a building I do not agree with its relations between the parts and the outside. It seems like an exercise of style.

  • Лѣвовъ

    Seventh-floor plan looks like a swastika.