Department of Geosciences

Department of Geosciences in Aveiro, Portugal by Eduardo Souto de Moura, 1994

What is a facade? To many architects a facade is an afterthought, a two-dimensional surface (elevation) dictated by the interior plan. Following this approach, materials and openings are articulated to give the building its presentation to the public, limiting the compellingness of a building's exterior and the chances of a successful integration of inside and outside. Architects like Michael Graves design elevations while Eduardo Souto de Moura, in his Department of Geosciences for the University of Aveiro in Portugal, designed facades. The distinction may seem small, if not inconsequential, but it means the difference between fake and real, respectively.

Given the restrictions of the University's campus guidelines it is amazing the architect achieved what's seen in the image at left. The program dictated the buildings size (80m x 20m), shape (three stories), circulation (20% of floor area yielding a double-loaded corridor) and exterior materials (red brick). The only variations among other campus structures following the same guidelines were the size of window openings and color of materials. Instead Souta de Moura kept the structural elements, the end shear walls and floor plates, exposed and infilled them with deep horizontal wood louvers for shading.

The richness of the facade belies its simplicity, though this may be attributed to the depth of the glass from the implied plane created by the concrete and wood louvers. A flat brick wall with punched openings cannot create a sense of mystery as to a building's inner working, which the wood louvers accomplish. The Department of Geosciences is reminiscent of Herzog and DeMeuron's Dominus Winery in Napa Valley, California, that uses various sized rocks within wire baskets to clad the structure: each building utilizes a simple device but yields meaningful results.

Beyond the facade, the interiors are minimal with only the required furnishings for the appropriate uses (classrooms, laboratories, and conference rooms). With this approach the building becomes a cohesive whole, both inside and outside austerely articulated. Herein lies a key to successful architecture: finding a common means that connects the interior and exterior. In the Department of Geosciences it is definitely the facade that enables the building to transcend its context of typical flat facades punctuated by gridded openings.