Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Universidade Agostinho Neto

Universidade Agostinho Neto in Luanda, Angola by Perkins + Will, 2011

Luanda, the capital of Angola and its largest city, is located on the country's Atlantic coast, only 8.4-degrees latitude south of the equator. Both the city and country are undergoing reconstruction after a civil war that stretched from the mid-1970s, when the Portuguese pulled out, until 2002, when a cease-fire was reached. Even before some peace came to the country, plans were under way to create a proper campus for Universidade Agostinho Neto, which dates back to the 1960s and is named for the country's first president. Located on 5,000 acres southeast of Luanda, the new campus will build out to 6-1/2 million square feet (600,000 sm) and serve 40,000 students when complete; a handful of buildings for phase one were completed in 2011.

Perkins+Will's master plan for the new campus strives to create a sustainable urbanism through propinquity and responses to climate. The first is addressed through a pinwheel plan, with the library, plaza and student union occupying the center. Each college occupies a linear bar that radiates from the core, meaning that the buildings are equidistant from the central services and open space (one college is not closer to the center than another). Second, the siting of the pinwheel on the site is turned about 20 degrees from north-south to funnel breezes from the coast to the southwest. Furthermore, a strong identity and definition of the university on the area is formed through an elliptical ring road, half of which can be seen in the aerial view at bottom.

The sustainable aspects of Perkins+Will's planning also extend to the buildings designed by principal Ralph Johnson, who probably has more experience with schools incorporating sustainable principles than any architect practicing today. The campus buildings that comprise phase one—the library and classroom buildings for chemistry, mathematics, physics and computer sciences—are immediately recognizable as Johnson buildings, layering well-detailed shading elements over linear, modern forms. As the first two photos here attest, the library peeks above the surrounding buildings and landscape to be visible from even the far reaches of future phases, and the classroom buildings have consistent zigzagging roofs that create a strong silhouette meeting the expansive sky.

An admirable aspect of the design, particularly the classroom buildings, is an emphasis on passive cooling, developed with consulting engineers Battle McCarthy. Most evident are the louvered roofs that extend well past the glass exterior walls; some stretches extend across the courtyards to help shade these outdoor zones from the high sun (remember, the school is very close to the equator). Further, these canopies heat up from the sun's rays, pulling the hot air up through the courtyards, and working together with the classroom and single-loaded exterior corridors to naturally ventilate the classrooms. These are not new ideas, but their execution serves to create a strong sense of place, modern yet rooted in the particularities of Luanda.

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