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Aalto Campus Centre
March 15th, 2013

Aalto Campus Centre

Summer 2012

Location: Otaniemi, Espoo, Finland

Khoury Levit Fong in partnership with Matar Rahmeh Studio

Principals in Charge: R. el-Khoury and R. Levit

Matar Rahmeh Principals: Hoda Matar and Talal Rahmeh

Team: Faisal Bashir, Minghui Cui, Jisoo Ha, Dimitra Papantonis, Regina Park, Yie Ping, Farnoush Saman

Campus Centre / Town Centre:
We maintain the informal character of the campus as a loose distribution of pavilions in the landscape but also intensify its urban character by more deliberately shaping the spaces in between. The proposed structures are discrete buildings in an open field but their masses and edges align to delineate public space: a sequence of interconnected rooms or quads converging on the center of the campus. The new spatial order achieved in the balance between figure and ground, building mass and open space, is not a foreign urban typology that we arbitrarily imposed on the site. It is rather a latent formal property that we tease out of the existing condition.

The interlocking urban rooms constitute a cohesive urban center while also providing a variety of experiences. They shift in character from an urban hardscape, terminating the main streets, to a park-like setting at the heart of the campus:

Alvar Aalto Court is the western gateway into the heart of the campus. It terminates the main street with a square that converges on Aalto’s fan-shaped structure as an anchoring landmark. Asphalt transitions here into pavement and urban-minded traffic calming and management —including hydraulic bollards that control vehicular through traffic—substitute for the traffic-engineering of the proposed roundabout. This court is flanked and animated by the retail galleries under the Grand Canopy on the south side and a densely planted linear grove on the opposite side.

Central Yard sits at the heart of the university. It is anchored by Aalto’s landmark on one corner and the Water Court diagonally across. Here we combined paved and planted surfaces to merge the urban context with the Arcadian campus in a hybrid landscape that establishes and sustains a micro-climate. We added a variety of native trees to existing clusters to shade pathways and stage with a precisely shaped canopy the scenographic concealment and revelation of Aalto’s monument.

Water Court defines the main entrance to the underground transit station and public amenities in Building A: exhibition space, restaurant, food court, retail galleries. It has an evaporative cooling function in the summer that should greatly benefit the adjoining restaurant and surrounding steps. It becomes a public skating rink with a town-wide user base.

Design Allée is a new street extended between the Grand Canopy and the projected addition to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. This is a pedestrian street with restricted access to service vehicles at designated hours of the day. The Design Allée is animated by the retail galleries on one side and by shops on the ground floor of the proposed addition to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. It features a wide sidewalk and gathering areas protected by the Grand Canopy to accommodate cafes.

Town Square is an urban public space with an ambition to anchor the entire town. This is where civic, cultural, institutional and commercial amenities synergistically capitalize on the subway station to constitute a lively urban center. The famed allée of lime trees bisects the square between the two facing prows defining the corner of the urban room. The prow of Building B provides access to the Underground Transit Station, to the supermarket, to the retail galleries and also serves as the main entrance to the academic departments and studio space. The opposite prow of building B houses the Winter Garden and its solar aquatics system.

Sheltered Garden is nestled between the prow of Building A, the addition to VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the allée of lime trees. It is a quiet and lushly planted garden to which one could retreat from the busier adjoining urban rooms.

Grove Hill is an existing natural feature. We contained it and framed it with Building B to offer it as a spectacle to the reading room above the Media learning center. From this vantage point it spatially and allegorically extends the field of the artificial grove under the wooden canopy.

Landmark Buildings
We saw in the radical transformation of the campus center an opportunity to create new landmarks that would identify the university, along with the famed Aalto buildings. We rejected the iconic object-building type that would be singular simply by virtue of its foreignness and non-conformity to the existing campus morphology. We borrowed the low-rise bar-building typology found on campus and capped it with an oversized canopy. Our buildings are both fine-grained and large; at ground level especially they are experienced as clustered pavilions whose scale and form are finely tuned to the context; they are also total structures whose singular scale and character set them apart as memorable landmarks.

Learning Under One Roof
We are committed to the studio as a model of design and fine arts education. Our vision of the studio is both spatial and pedagogical-the two categories are actually inextricably linked: The studio is the defining feature of the building. It is a horizontal open field that facilitates the free circulation of people and ideas under a single unifying roof. The field is striated with rows or classrooms alternating with open studios. Below, at ground level are the Shopping Galleries: street-like extensions of public space that link the Alvar Aalto Court to the Design Allée. They are visually linked to the studio by large openings surrounding the columns of the Grand Canopy. Terraces above the classrooms provide additional studio space and feature outdoor rooms inside the columns of the Grand Canopy. The glazed floors of the patios allow daylight into the classrooms below.

The Grand Canopy shelters the entire learning environment under one visibly continuous roof. It is a modular wooden structure that maximizes daylighting by means of skylights and hollow glazed columns. Its filigree of wooden ribs extends upward to encompass the south and western faces of the L-shaped structure under its wing, thus integrating the classrooms and offices on the upper floors into a unified studio environment.

Building with Wood
We use wood extensively in the proposed building as both structure and cladding, exploiting the performative as well as aesthetic qualities of the material. The structure of the Grand Canopy is made almost entirely of glulam wood. The bar-buildings and floor slabs have a reinforced concrete structure that remains mostly invisible. Wood is deployed throughout as a cladding material and as structure for all window frames and mullions. Different woods are used to achieve a variety of visual effects but the overwhelming character is of natural richly textured warmth. Most importantly our investment in the potential of wood as a building material is a commitment to building with renewable resources, lightness, energy-efficiency, and sustainability.

Sustainable Environment
In Addition to the extensive use of wood and other renewable and/or recyclable materials we propose a multi-layered system for energy and resource conservation. The Grand Canopy plays a key role as an instrument of sustainability. Its extended surface (17, 000 square meters) is as environmental interface that efficiently calibrates and modulate exchanges between interior and exterior environments. The winter garden, featuring a solar aquatics system that duplicates the natural purifying processes of fresh water streams and wetlands also plays a major role in a multipronged strategy of water management and treatment.

Water Management
The system of hard and softscapes and the canopy serves to collect rainwater that is filtered and stored for use in toilets and urinals, for washing sidewalks and buildings, for irrigation, for heating and cooling, and most importantly as year-round water supply for the pond in the sunken square. Assuming a 90% catchment rate, the Grand Canopy of Building A collects approximately 24,000 liters/day. The ground surfaces, which are designed to decrease the runoff coefficient with the deployment of curbs/trenches for circulation control, as well as drainage reduction and water infiltration through a variety of pervious materials collect 52,000 liters per day.

Water Treatment
An extensive solar aquatics system is housed in the Winter Garden, prominently on display for the public to witness ecological processes in action. Wastewater is here processed in clear-sided tanks populated with a balanced ecosystem of bacteria, phytoplankton, zooplankton, plants, snails, and fish that eat, breakdown, and convert the contaminants and cleanse the water. Odour is controlled by venting through an earth filter and also naturally through vegetation; It should not compromise the enjoyment of the Winter Garden as leisurely amenity and didactic instrument. We rely on a number of precedents where this kind of infrastructure has been successfully used as a public garden to confidently make this assertion. The system will handle the estimated 205,000 litres per day of waste generated by the proposed buildings. Its modular design allows for increased capacity with future growth. Together the proposed systems of water management and treatment will more than meet the water demands of the proposed facilities and moreover decrease the university’s burden on the municipal supply.

Light and Air
We rely on natural ventilation throughout the proposed buildings by means of cross ventilation through operable windows and the hollow column’s stack effect. The canopy’s invaginated columns that land on the studio terraces provide occupiable outdoor rooms. Their operable windows bring light and air deep within the interior of the studio. We maximize daylighting with the use of shallow floor plates, extensive glazing and a vast array of skylights that brings the wooden Grand Canopy to resemble a grove, with copious daylight filtering through loose foliage. We adapted the elevations to the building’s orientation: double-glazed surfaces alternating with operable wooden panel toward the north and east; recessed glass walls and bay window with operable side-panels toward south and west. We designed the Grand Canopy as a horizontal façade and capitalized on its extensive surface to modulate and air light across the building’s envelope.