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Reinterpreting the traditional Hispanic patio form, these offices for a college rector in Alicante are a hermetic presence in the landscape with a softly luminous interior.

The University of Alicante at San Vincentre del Raspaig occupies the grounds of the military aerodrome of Rabasa. Alvaro Siza was asked to design an office and administration building for the college rector on a site adjacent to an abandoned air control tower on the edge of the campus. The taut, Rationalist orthogonality of the existing structures informs Siza's characteristically austere response to the programme, but he is also concerned with mitigating the harsh Mediterranean light of southern Spain. In the traditional Hispano-Arabic manner, the building is conceived as a closed, imperforate fortress against the rigours of climate.

Organized around a basic H-shaped plan, the rectorate is an emphatically horizontal volume enclosed by low, white stucco walls with plinths of honey-coloured stone. From the street the building appears austere and opaque, an institutional monument defined by its white, inscrutable mass. Deferring to the control tower close to its south end, the building diminishes in height from two to one storeys along its length, creating terraces shaded by crisp overhangs that articulate the impervious volumes. A handful of openings are deeply recessed into the white flanks of the walls. The scale is almost domestic, save for an oversized cuboid loggia that projects out dramatically over the north-east corner anchoring the overall composition.

The slightly tapering legs of the H house cellular offices and meeting rooms, linked by a transverse block containing a foyer space, with the rector's office above. Within the foyer, a double-height, semi-circular void disperses soft light into the depths of the building. Light is reflected off predominantly hard or lustrous surfaces, giving the interior a cool luminosity. Materials are chosen for simplicity and climatic comfort: heat-reflecting white walls, stone, polished timber and cream ceramic tiles. The foyer also functions as a breakout space for a semicircular auditorium which resembles an ancient Greek theatre, attached to the north side of the transverse block.

The long thin office wings enclose two hermetic internal courtyards or patios. Hung off long spinal perimeter corridors, rooms are oriented to the courtyard, so the building effectively turns in on itself, away from the glare and heat of the exterior. A single-storey colonnade marches rhythmically around the perimeter of the larger south courtyard, creating a broad, interstitial zone of shade. The main entrance to the building is on the south-east corner, and is a simple portal framed in the perimeter wall. From here, you stroll through the colonnade to the foyer, or can cut directly into the offices, as each room opens on to the courtyard. Its bald expanse colonized by a single stubby tree, the narrow courtyard has the bleak and slightly disturbing aura of a de Chirico painting. The regular geometry of the colonnade breaks up the low volumes and casts changing patterns of striated shadows over the walls. Towards the north end, the building rises to two storeys, and the roof of the colonnade forms an externa l gallery for spaces at this level. The smaller secondary courtyard on the north side of the transverse bar is dominated by the curved flank of the auditorium.

With its vocabulary of restrained neutrality and subtle reinvention of the traditional patio form, Siza gives the nondescript campus a quiet focus that responds poetically and pragmatically to the Andalucian light and climate.
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Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUSP
Date:Mar 1, 2000
Previous Article:PLAY HOUSE.
Next Article:Lighting up the North.

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