Alejandro Aravena first gained his reputation through his simple but bold idea of building half-houses for the poor. He rarely speaks about aesthetics, because social engagement
and an instrumental attitude towards architecture are his primary motives. This makes it all the more interesting to examine those of his designs which do not fall into the social housing category. They involve more than finding pragmatic solutions to housing shortages, since other architectural concerns such as contextuality, functionality and aesthetics become relevant. In the private sector too,
he clearly stands out for the ingenuity and originality of his solutions.
One such architectural invention is the San Joaquin Technology Centre, which Aravena designed several years ago together with Charles Murray, Alfonso Montero and Ricardo Torrejón for the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. The university required a building for
everything connected with computers. Besides offices and laboratories, it would mainly provide classrooms where students could work on computers. Aravena and his colleagues
wondered what consequences this task would have for the architecture. In the old days, a classroom
was a space that was ideally bathed in daylight, but was clearly less functional in today’s world: students working at a computer are better served by a building with a not too
transparent outer skin.
That the Technological Centre looks like a tower within a tower is no mere architectural frivolity. This seemingly formal solution has a functional origin. A curtain wall of coated, reflective double glass would have been the obvious choice for filtering the fierce sunlight, but that would
have been too expensive and too vulgar, and would have made the building dependent on energy-guzzling air conditioning.