Bressanone (Brixen) in Italy’s South Tyrol, is an historic town of 14,000 inhabitants, for centuries a bishop’s seat on account of its particular geographical position in the heart of the Alps on a natural route linking northern and southern Europe. Deep, shaded porticoes give abruptly onto sun-drenched squares of almost disproportionate size. The traditional urban fabric of the old town, with its medley of small, varied structures, is contrasted by solitary monuments like the cathedral and Hofburg. Beyond the old centre, the town fans out into a heterogeneous mass, the various historical periods still visible, however, in the structures they have left behind.
As well as a new solitary urban landmark, the new University building is designed to liaise with the tight knit of the historic centre and the loose amalgam of the outlying areas. Its architecture reflects both the characteristic high-density network of the town centre with its corridors of light and air, courtyards and passage ways and the wider-spaced grid of the outlying areas where houses are often set in their own grounds.
The new university building will cater for some 1,700 people. As well as lecture and seminar rooms, there will also be spaces for public and general use. In 1998, the adjudicating committee decided not to confer a first prize. Second prize was awarded to architects Kohlmayer & Oberst of Stuttgart, Germany, who were entrusted with this new building in Bressanone of the Bolzano (Bozen) Free University, with the following mention: “The design leaves space around it for use in interesting ways. The form refers to the courtyard and cloister format, but inverting the traditional conception of circulation routes. The ground floor is surrounded by “porticoes”, areas constructed with supporting columns, giving free access to all public spaces, like the library, lecture halls and canteen which are placed in the inner nucleus. The upper section is reserved for quiet study and teaching. The corridors around the built nucleus facilitate orientation and circulation thanks to their clear links with the surrounding constructions. Overhead glazing and a succession of small court-like spaces lend movement and variety to the atmosphere... Nevertheless, the principle chosen is suitable for a university and allows for considerable variability of use”.
Given the substantial volume of this new seat for the Free University, luminosity and a sense of space are key issues. Despite the high density and complexity of the overall structure, natural light and air circulation are assured by four glazed courts. The façades are another key element, highlighting transparency. Sheer glazed walls are further enhanced by almost invisible supporting elements. Panel openings allow natural ventilation.
Transparent glass contrasts with opaque stone, creating contrasts of light and shadow. The wide glass entrance doors in key circulation areas have concealed supports inside the double glazing, giving the impression of continuous transparent surfaces. In addition, the artificial illumination and resultant spatial effects contribute to the imposing image of this university building.