The Medical Faculties of the Diego Portales University in Santiago, Chile, completed in 2004 on an already densely built island block, had to follow the orientation of the existing listed buildings. The project also aimed to relate new and older buildings via the intervening outdoor areas, ensuring spatial organisation and rationalisation. Accordingly, the open spaces were modulated to facilitate access and ground level circulation flows. The resultant “visual permeability” – says Mathias Klotz – “brings light to places where light doesn’t go”.
The built surface area requirement was 8.000 sqm, not counting external distribution connections, on only 1.500 sqm. Administration and Dean’s offices, classrooms and laboratories for Dentistry and Medical teaching all had to be incorporated in a rational complex. These three functions were each assigned a building. The historical building giving onto the street and marking the access to the whole complex now houses administrative functions. The Faculty of Dentistry was located in a new building set behind an existing street-front façade, and developed perpendicularly towards the centre of the compound. The new Faculty of Medicine building was located in the central part of the area.
The large expanses of reflective glass helps to “dematerialise” the building’s vertical development, reducing contrast with surrounding structures while still asserting its distinctive character.
Two open spaces relate the new building to the existing ones. In the first central area, a tall, elegant structure connects the Faculties of Medicine and Communication, and shields the laboratories along the west façade of the Medical Faculty. The result is an imposing, yet welcoming outdoor atrium. The other connecting structure lies between the new construction and the old listed building. Virtually a huge void, seven storeys high and reaching underground, it is broken at ground and fifth floor level by horizontal metal grid constructions connecting the two buildings. A physical connection that implicitly refers to the two buildings’ functional links, the older building also housing Medical Faculty offices and classrooms. Although providing vertical and horizontal communication paths, this essentially empty structure allows daylight to enter both buildings. The more public spaces like the library and cafeteria look out onto the metal grid.
The Faculty of Dentistry stands apart as befits a clinic open to the public. The façade giving on to the inner court echoes the other glazed fronts, however.