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OPEN AND SHUT CASE.

A university hall of residence in which inner life is made clear by the movement of the elevations.

The elegant student hostel for the new campus of the University of Coimbra in Portugal is a lesson in reserve and clear planning. The site is triangular, a corner formed by the arbitrary junction of two routes. To the north, the street gently rises up the slope; the southern one is a level and pedestrianized path.

Compared with the site area, a large quantity of accommodation was demanded by the brief, resulting in a dense development with two main elements: a triangle and a tower. In the triangular base, the lower levels of the composition abstract the form of the site. At the wide west end is a seven-storey tower, built to the maximum height allowed on the area, so becoming the climax of several existing buildings further west.

The main requirement of the brief was for bed-sitting rooms, which are arranged in pairs with a shower and lavatory shared by each couple of rooms. Common rooms were also needed: there is one in the south-west corner of each floor of the tower, and a large one to the east end of the triangle. This looks out through a glass wall over a ramp which leads down one level to the small gravelled courtyard at the heart of the place. The main entrance is on the outer angle of the L-shaped entrance level. It gives access to the south-north and west-east running corridors (the circulation spines). Some members of the jury were worried about the darkness of these, and the rather tortuous connection between entrance and tower stairs (but there are two lifts).

Walls are of two kinds. To the north, west and (on the tower) south, they are largely imperforate, apart from the slits which illuminate the tower's common rooms. These are clad in off-white concrete blocks, split to provide a slightly rough and sparkly surface which relates to, but contrasts with the concrete of the other university buildings. Window walls are quite different. Windows on the lowest floor look over the court. At entrance level, they face south over the university refectory. In the tower, they look east over the best views of forest and distant river. Almost all bed-sitting room windows are set in walls clad in wood panelling. Windows themselves are tall and narrow, humanly proportioned rather like doors, and each has two wooden shutters, made in exactly the same module as the timber panels that surround them. So the inhabited facades change continuously as occupation and use varies throughout the day: the pattern of the outsides becomes a reflection of the inner workings of the building. It was this understated, abstracted, animated relationship between human life and form which most attracted the jury to the scheme.

Architects

Manuel Rocha de Aires Mateus arid Francisco Xavier Rocha de Aires Mateus, of Aires Mateus e Associados, Lisboa
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Article Details
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Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUPR
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:488
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