Gamboa / University Campus between Urban Resilience and Typological Innovations

University Campus between Urban Resilience and Typological Innovations Research by Design on “Ciudad Universitaria” of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá

Author: Pablo Gamboa, PhD Candidate AUID Program Politecnico di Milano, Associated Professor, EAU Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede Bogotá

Supervisor: Andrea Gritti, Professor Dr., Associated Professor DAStU Politecnico di Milano

Research stage: intermediate doctoral stage

Category: Extended abstract

Affiliation: Politecnico di Milano

The topic of this research by design thesis is the university campus model and the different versions that have been built in the Americas, following the definition of a campus as a settlement type of Anglo-Saxon origins with its own distinct characteristics 1. The layout of an American university campus is built upon the correlation of a few elements: a continuous and unitary green plane of urban scale that serves as a container, a defined border that delimits, contains and protects it, and, finally, an ensemble of university buildings separated from each other, which may or may not have formal similarities in scale or style and that are placed within the base plane in an orderly manner. A campus could be enclosed in its own limits as is the case of most Latin American campuses, or open to the surrounding city, like the campus of Yale or Harvard University in the United States 2. The original aim of this specific distribution was to create an orderly disposition of knowledge in space, as well as an academic organization based on faculties that would highlight the value of nature and green landscapes to encourage studying and teaching in places located far from the city 3 (fig. 1).

But today, the planet and society have changed and therefore, so have the cities and universities 4. This fact raises big questions both from an urban and architectural scale regarding the design and planning of future university campuses, as well as the never-ending modification of the campuses that already exist.

Based on these concerns, this research by design thesis attempts to give an answer to the following research questions: What innovative forms can we explore to better respond to the spatial and organizational changes that come with advances in teaching, studying and research? How could we adapt university campuses to better work within the current trend of delocalizing knowledge, research, experts, and most recently (due to COVID), students and professors considering all of them are now placed in different local, regional, and global networks? 5 How can we manage these alterations which pose threat to the concentration of people and knowledge; the reason itself behind the creation of university campuses? How could these changes in the urban form, and in the shape of university buildings, be addressed using an adaptive mitigation design approach that also takes environmental challenges such as Urban Heat Island Effect and Climate Change into account? 6

In attempts to face these challenges, universities have been forced to design new master plans and buildings which have led in the last decades, and that are now leading, to significant changes in campuses (fig. 2). Previous studies on the subject have mainly focused on technical data, in specific architectural or master plans projects, or in general aspects and design recommendations for such changes. There is, however, a lack of research centred around the formal and spatial aspects that characterize the architectural and urban design of campuses.

Assuming the notion of “Urban Resilience” as one of the paradigms surrounding contemporary debates, research, and the design of strategies to counter Climate Change or, to a fewer extent, Urban Heat Island Effect; this research wants to study, reflect, and explore using a research by design methodology, the adaptive changes and possible “transformations to create a new equilibrium” which could address those problems from university campuses themselves 7. With this aim in mind, concepts that belong to the New Urbanism such as “Transit Supportive Design”, “Pedestrianization”, “Multifunctionality”, “Urban Resilient Hub”, “Place Making”, and “Compactness” -as well as other concepts related to the design of university campuses such as “Student Life”, “Inner City Campus”, and the importance of green spaces and “In between Spaces”- will be used as input for this research with the objective to address the urban and architectural dimensions of this project.

Because the design of a campus is always the result of the interaction of urban design and architectural design, this research aims at investigating other aspects which have led to recent typological innovations 8 at an architectural scale as well, including concepts such as “vertical campus”, “interior public space”, “interlink of internal and external spaces”, “informal study” and “meeting spaces”.

The objective of this thesis is to survey, study, reflect and explore using a project as research method. The project experimentation is divided in three phases:

  1. Using the drawing of the campus as a research tool in hopes to better understand what it is by making a comparative analysis of 30 case study campuses from North and Latin America (fig. 3). This comparison will be based on the redrawing of plans and 3D models, as well as the production of analytical diagrams and mapping (fig. 4). The combination of these methods will allow for a multiscale approach that focuses on a comparison both in form and in scale to retain the formal elements and characteristics of this settlement type (fig. 5, 6). It will also include the study of the use of the grid, the module and other compositional devices that link the building’s scale with the scale of the campus and that, we can hypothetically assume, make the university campus a strong model that is present in all the American Continent. Finally, it will focus on the analytical study of the programmatical aspects of the university’s buildings, especially regarding the academic, administrative, service, representative and wellness spaces drawing from the study of some paradigmatic historic and contemporary projects by using an analytical analogy with the structural organization of the molecules. This, in order to transcend the traditional typological point of view in this research.
  2. Studying and defining different interrelated design aspects and inputs that the research by design project will be focusing on, all mainly linked with topics such as the formal rules of the campus, its new possible relations with the city, as well as the theme of urban resilience and other typological innovations. These inputs will be the starting point for the project research to propose new possible and innovative ways to adapt and change the campus model, as well as its green spaces and buildings, by producing prototypes that will be tested, adjusted, and reshaped.
  3. The prototypes selected will then be tested in the design and adaptation of a specific case study campus, using external parameters related with the specific characteristics of the site, the climate, the particular needs of the university, the city, and the landscape.

The place where the project exploration will be applied to is the campus of the Universidad Nacional of Bogotá, located in Colombia. This campus was chosen for multiple historical, architectural, and environmental reasons 9. Along with the contemporary campus of the Universidad de Concepción in Chile built in the 1930’s, this campus represents the introduction of the campus settlement type in Latin American universities. “La Nacional”, also served as inspiration for other noteworthy campuses such as the UNAM university campus in Mexico City and the Universidad Central Campus in Caracas, Venezuela (Arango) and holds a special place due to its patrimonial value for the Modern Architecture movement in Latin America. Finally, this educational space is also in need of a type of expansion model that is in accordance with the social changes that take place in developing countries, both urban and environmental, especially as this expansion could take place in a large area inside of its 122 hectares of land, considered an important green lung of the city of Bogotá 10.

Virginia Academical village of the University of Virginia, 1856, J. Serz. Credit: alumni.virginia.edu

Figure 1: Virginia Academical village of the University of Virginia, 1856, J. Serz. Credit: alumni.virginia.edu

Washington University at Seattle Master Plan. 2018. Sasaky Associates, Inc.

Figure 2: Washington University at Seattle Master Plan. 2018. Sasaky Associates, Inc.

Map of the initial campus study cases in the Americas. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Figure 3: Map of the initial campus study cases in the Americas. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Cornell University: its relationship with the landscape and its structural form. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Figure 4: Cornell University: its relationship with the landscape and its structural form. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Comparison in for and scale of the campuses of Virginia University, Columbia University and Illinois Institute of Technology. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Figure 5: Comparison in for and scale of the campuses of Virginia University, Columbia University and Illinois Institute of Technology. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Urban form and structural elements, Columbia University, New York. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Figure 6: Urban form and structural elements, Columbia University, New York. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Axonometric view of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Campus in Bogotá. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

Figure 7: Axonometric view of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Campus in Bogotá. Drawing: Pablo Gamboa

  1. Martí Aris, Carlos (1990), Le variazioni dell´identità, il tipo in architettura, Milano, Edizioni Clup.
  2. Stern, Robert A. M. (2010), On Campus, New York, The Monacelli Press; Coulson, J., Roberts, P. and Taylor, I. (2011), University Planning and Architecture – The Search for Perfection, New York, Routledge.
  3. Martin, Reinhold (2021): Knowledge Worlds – Media, Materiality, and the Making of the Modern University, New York, Columbia University Press.
  4. Diner, Steven J. (2017), Universities and their cities, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press.
  5. Olmo, Carlo (2021), “Una cultura politecnica in cerca di una identità”, Lecture in the semminar Milano – politecnica: città, cultura, design dal dopoguerra ad oggi, Datsu, Politecnico de Milano, 24 02 2021.
  6. Kelbaugh, Doug (2019): The Urban Fix – Resilient Cities in the War Against Climate Change, Heat Islands and Overpopulation, New York and London, Routledge.
  7. O’Connell, Kim (2017), “Preparedness beyond the coast”, AIA Architect, p.81; Gabellini, Patrizia, (2017), “Urban design intentions: urbanism into the change”, ROWE/ROME Conference, Rome.
  8. Postiglione, Gennaro y Rocca, Alessandro (2016), Campus contro Campus, Maggioli Editore.
  9. Niño Murcia, Carlos (2003), Arquitectura y estado, Bogotá, Universidad Nacional de Colombia; Larrañaga, Enrique, et alt (1991), Obras de arte de la Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas: La Ciudad Universitaria y el Pensamiento Arquitectónico en Venezuela, Caracas, Monte Ávila.
  10. Gamboa, Pablo (2018), “Elementos conceptuales de las ciudades universitarias en America Latina para la consolidación y conservación del Campus Bogotá de la Universidad Nacionla de Colombia” en Ciudades universitarias: un proyecto moderno en America Latina, Bogotá, Editorial Uiversidad Nacional.