Carlos Pacheco Devia Building

Cra 1 # 18A -10/46/66
Arq. Daniel Bermúdez Samper
Universidad de Los Andes

Lunwerg, S.L. 2010

The new Block W replaced the earlier building of the same name that since 1967 had accommodated the Engineering Faculty and which, for a number of reasons, was gradually ceasing to meet not only the needs of the university but also the structural requirements stipulated in the anti-seismic regulations in force in this country. Reinforcing its structure would have been as economically burdensome as rebuilding it; consequently, the decision was made to demolish the building. It should be mentioned, nonetheless, that this building, designed by the prestigious Esguerra, Saénz y Samper studio, was constructed at a time when it was still not very clear how the campus should be articulated. At that time it consisted of a collection of buildings that configured no unity of any kind, and this building was therefore in no position to attain such unity. On the basis of the 1987 Plan de Ordenamiento, the entrance on Calle 19ª, adjacent to Block W and opposite the site formerly occupied by the Germania brewery, was fundamental in the sense that this was the starting point for the pedestrian circulation element that would run through the entire university grounds as far as Avenida Circunvalar, thereby constituting its vertebral column. Defining this entrance once again became a priority for the university, and two years later work began on the Alberto Lleras Camargo building, designed by Guillermo and Daniel Bermúdez, which plays the role of a great staircase that besides providing access to the university leads to and defines the small elliptical plaza of the Engineering Faculty. The attempt was also made to relate this building to its neighbouring constructions, including Block W. Wherever possible, the Alberto Lleras Camargo building established links on each floor to the old Block W, striving to connect it more closely to the rest of the campus. A pedestrian bridge was even added to one of the top floors to facilitate access from the immediate surroundings of El Campito. In another intervention, a further floor was added on top to increase its built area. These modifications, however, were insufficient to meet the challenge of its reinforcement, and its fate was consequently sealed.
In order to explain the project for the new Block W, we must take prior considerations into account, for its design process would be incomprehensible unless we contemplate the neighbouring Alberto Lleras Camargo building. The two projects, in fact, constitute a single building in which the latter serves as a great platform from which the other one emerges. In the classical sense, both are based on a tripartite distribution, in which the Alberto Lleras Camargo building acts as the basement while the new Block W has a central open glazed body surmounted by another, massive, one in which filled-in sections predominate over empty ones. Both flank the Calle 19ª entrance, which now has acquired the importance contemplated for it when the Plan de Ordenamiento was formulated in 1987.
The close relationship between these two buildings goes beyond strictly formal considerations in the way their floors are linked on each of the levels they share. This relationship benefits both constructions in that it manages to complement their uses and circulation elements and optimise their respective links to the rest of the campus. Achieving this symbiosis involved a rigorous operation in the management of levels, characteristic of Bermúdez’s works, and is almost imperceptible to visitors to the buildings, who pass from one to the other practically without realizing that they have done so. On the first floor of Block W two concert halls are located that complement the one on the same level of the Alberto Lleras Camargo building; the same applies to the lecture rooms on the floors above.
In terms of circulation elements, the lengthwise itinerary that crosses the whole of the Alberto Lleras Camargo building is now supplemented by vertical circulation that plays the same role in Block W. It should be noted here that this project evolves from previous ones by Bermúdez, particularly for the postgraduate building at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano and for Block B, where the single-flight staircase, which plays a leading role and serves the purpose of a transitable balcony and may be defined as an ascending street framed by a glazed volume, is modified in this project. While in Block W it is located in a prominent position inside a glazed volume, in this case it is flanked by two open spaces that act as vantage points from which to contemplate views. The intention is clear on the north side of the building to locate one of these vantage points, thereby generating a pleasant area from which to appreciate the mountains to the east as well as to exploit as a work and study zone. On the opposite side, the vantage point serves more as a waiting area or lobby overlooking the western sector of the city, and it is here that the lifts may be taken that link all the floors of the building. It should be mentioned also that a transition zone has been introduced, used previously in Block B, between the public staircase area and the inner circulation element that leads to the lecture rooms. Here the architect makes use of porticoes, defined by square-based columns, which serve as study areas. In this way he enriches a sector of the building that would normally be given over to circulation. The use is also repeated of a utilities strip before the entrance to the lecture rooms is reached, where the ducts, deposits and machine rooms are located.
Bermúdez’s reflections on the arrangement of lecture rooms led him to study previous projects of this kind by other architects, like the American Robert A. M. Stern, who instead of arranging the seats parallel to each other laid them out in horseshoe fashion, as in classical theatres. In his studies of the location of seating inside lecture rooms, Bermúdez paid special attention to the many possibilities of arranging them in a horseshoe, as Stern did, as well as examining the dimensions and capacity of each room, on the basis of flexibility that would eventually define the modulation of the façade, thereby obtaining lecture rooms with capacities ranging from 19 to 97 students. These variables ensure that in the future the university will be able to adapt the Block W lecture rooms to new needs as they emerge over time.
Among the lessons Bermúdez learnt and would subsequently apply to Block W is the creation of a ‘tranquil’ façade for the lecture rooms, as opposed to the entrance façade, like the ones for Block B, for the Alberto Lleras Camargo building and for the Postgraduate building at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. In this case, he drilled into the slope that rises on the east side of the building to place a service entrance there and generate a sloping garden to be enjoyed from the lecture rooms on floors 3, 4 and 5. On this floor he also located a bridge that would link the new building with the neighbouring Mario Laserna building, while on the sixth another would serve the same purpose with the university’s El Campito area, thereby facilitating mobility for disabled people who, given the geographical characteristics of the campus could not accede by their own means to a number of its zones. It is striking to observe how on this level the building becomes a veritable kneecap that articulates all the circulation elements around the lifts, the staircase and the bridge that links it to El Campito, a situation that Bermúdez exploited to locate the battery of sanitary services destined to meet the needs of the building and of those people who enter on that side.

The remaining top three floors contain open-plan offices with a fixed point located at the south end of the building and which also take advantage of the modulation visible on the façade.