For Emilio Ambasz, contemporary architecture is all about integration with nature. The solution proposed by this Argentine-born architect is a radical one: integration must be written into the original programme so that the building itself becomes the agent of symbiosis, its structure embracing the natural world.
In extensive projects, as much of the site as possible should be left construction-free and landscaped to reflect the natural state; the built footprint should be as contained as possible to allow residents or citizens to enjoy their natural surroundings to the full. Architecture can provide the same, life-enhancing features through proportioned interiors, the play of solids and voids and comfort-zone luminosity and ventilation. On a broader scale, architecture should return to the strategic balance of built volumes and gardens.
This balance, says Ambasz, was achieved and maintained by certain ancient cities as they grew. Some 19th and 20th century urban regeneration projects also went in that direction. Emilio Ambasz wants to generalise the process and make nature and architecture part of a strategic urban vision.
The new hospital complex in Mestre, the mainland part of Venice, is a clear example of the Ambasz philosophy at work. Buildings in landscaped settings and vertical plant walls illustrate theory in execution.
In particular, the Eye Bank, a 5.000 sq m building housing cutting-edge research and surgical facilities, is a focal point of the programme. Two sides of the triangular site plan are 12 m-high, obliquely angled walls, the signature of the project, clad in pre-oxidised green-coloured copper, one facing north, the other south. They create an internal area where planted stepped terraces form a sort of open amphitheatre leading to a roof garden.
The third side of the triangle opposite the amphitheatre comprises a series of wide planted terraces. At the bottom, a sunken semi-circular area provides light to underground levels. The double volume thus created has a curtain wall perimeter of structural glass. This underground level houses a 450-seat auditorium, medical offices and classrooms. The interior is naturally lit while the combination of vegetation and deep overhangs minimise solar radiation.