Two graduates of the University of Buenos Aires – Sebastian Ceria, Argentinean mathematician and founder of New York software company Axioma and Rafael Viñoly, world-famous Uruguayan architect – planned new green educational environments for science scholars. José L. Barañao, former Argentine Minister of Science and Technology, was also on site as another important presence for the realization of the project.
The University of Buenos Aires (UBA) is the premier institution for public education in Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires. It was founded in 1821 and has become one of the largest and most prestigious higher education institutions in the world. The university comprises thirteen different faculties and 300,000 enrolled students. The School of Exact and Natural Sciences (FCEN or Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales) encompasses around 6,000 researchers and scholars and over 1,500 ongoing research projects.
Inter-university and faculty exchange programs have traditionally been fundamental for the development of FCEN and this strong catalyst for the internationalization of higher education and academic exchange has inspired exceptional students and graduates to pursue outstanding projects and careers. The Zero + Infinite project originated from a collaboration of two exceptional minds: Sebastian Ceria, Argentinean mathematician and founder of New York software company Axioma and Rafael Viñoly, world-famous Uruguayan architect. Both professionals earned their undergraduate degrees at the University of Buenos Aires. After many years in successful international careers, they had the chance to give something back to this institution and to education in general. Sebastian Ceria was the primary sponsor of the overall project, Rafael Viñoly donated the architectural design.
The local partner was the Minister of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation of Argentina and current Secretary José Lino Barañao, who in 2009 initiated the creation of the Latin-American Center of Interdisciplinary Education, or CELFI. This initiative was part of a program financed by the Development Bank of Latin America (2015), with one of the foremost items being the construction of a first-class building to accommodate the new CELFI classrooms and learning spaces, as well as those of the FCEN Institute of Calculus and graduate programs in Atmospheric Science.
As many old trees as possible
Zero + Infinite encompasses a total area of 17,200 square meters and is situated in the heart of the UBA campus, a 60-hectare piece of land that was claimed from the river in the early 1960s. Connected to an existing faculty building via a pedestrian path aligned with the main access and running along the full extent of its shortest side, Zero + Infinite presents a clear relationship with the traditional cluster of campus buildings while offering a fresh, imposing and landscape-reflecting image, contrasting the outdated group of buildings.
The context and the existing conditions of the site defined the project in several ways and were the primary influences on the building’s overall shape and low-slung massing: 1) the trees planted on the site, constituting the woodlands of the UBA campus, 2) the connection and relationship with the nearby pavilions of the FCEN and 3) the site’s location in close proximity to the glide slope of Aeroparque, a local airport for domestic flights.
Although mathematician Sebastian Ceria named the final project after the silhouettes of the courtyards, “zero” and “infinite”, the shapes and especially the exact location of the largest patio were merely determined by the need to maintain as many old trees as possible, bringing nature to the building and energizing the outdoor areas.
The local team, in charge of the Infrastructure Department of the National Secretary of Science and Technology, also included a botany specialist and an agronomist, who carried out an in-depth analysis of the soil and the condition of trees and large shrubs planted in the affected site. The experts determined the plants that would return after the construction process, the ones that could be transplanted to other locations on campus and the weakly or diseased plants that would not withstand any stress. The transplantation was 100% successful and allowed for the creation of new green areas on campus; moreover, the trees now standing in the “Infinite” courtyard, carefully treated during construction, provide the sense of life originally aspired by the project.
Mediating the relationship to the environment
A rich interaction of building and landscape is enabled by a nearly 8,800-square-meter green roof or by utilization of geothermal energy for the building’s cooling system, but primarily by a strong visual connectedness generated throughout the floor plates and with the surrounding natural areas. The see-through structure brings the natural elements of the surrounding landscape and the two green courtyards into the building, making treetops and lawn areas seem to extend from the outside to the indoor spaces and vice versa, almost blurring this usually clear differentiation. The glass façade, reflecting the trees and the sky, and the green roof, which, from the perspective of passing airplanes, restores the image of the natural riverfront landscape, mediate the relationship to the environment while simultaneously enhancing it.
A double-height, glazed atrium flows between the building’s interior and exterior limits, which contains classrooms and support spaces on the main floor, and offices, conference rooms and labs on the first floor. Except for the classrooms on the main floor, distributed around the building’s exterior boundaries with wide open views, all learning spaces and offices are enclosed in glass to allow natural light into the center of the construction and to create a more transparent, collaborative environment of intellectual exchange. In this sense, the building extends on two floors only, to amplify this essential interconnectivity.
In terms of resource optimization, the façade’s structure is designed to perform multiple functions. By extending the aluminum fins perpendicular to the glass surface (which are shading it), solar gain and energy consumption are dramatically reduced, the structure is strengthened against wind loading, and classroom visibility from the outside can be controlled.
“A natural byproduct of building’s essence”
When asked about the new iconic image this building has become for the local scientific community and the traditional campus, Architect Rafael Viñoly claimed that, “Every building, every significant investment of capital, especially for a public university, must optimize. It’s the only responsible approach to construction in this day and age but, though it may have been less vivid in the past, it has always been a key responsibility of the architect. A building for research and education in the natural sciences, especially one being completed in 2019 under the menace of climate change, must be even more focused. If an iconic image emerges from all of this optimization and detailing, it is a natural byproduct of building’s essence.”
Location: City of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Designers: Rafael Viñoly Architects (New York, USA)
Local project management: National Secretary of Science and Technology of Argentina, Department of Infrastructure: Director Bruno Spairani/Local management, representing Rafael Viñoly Architects: Sebastian Goldberg
Client: FCEN: Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales (UBA)
Date of completion: August 2019
Total area: 17,200 m2/Green roof: 8,760 m2
Photography: Daniela McAdden