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Alvaro Siza 1995
The buildings of the Porto architecture school are set on a terraced site high above the estuary of the Douro River. This area is bordered on three sides by highway exits and by Campo Alegre street, and on the east by the former estate of Quinta da Povoa – the site of the architecture school before its expansion, which houses an earlier project by Siza – the first-year Carlos Ramos Pavilion.
Adjacent to the rusticated stone wall of the estate, the new faculty buildings stretch out along two vertices of a triangular site, enclosing between them a courtyard and central meeting space.
The main building on the northern side, a continuous volume which provides visual and acoustic protection from the road above, contains departmental offices, lecture halls, an auditorium and a library. Across the courtyard on the southern side are four individual studio towers, which are placed several meters apart to allow views to the river, their different heights and facade configurations conforming to variations in the program. These are connected to the main building by a series of corridors below the plaza.
The volumes of the main building and towers converge westward, where a cafe pavilion and outdoor terrace mark the entrance to the site. At the opposite end, the courtyard leads to an elevated grass platform, which in turn climbs up by a series of ramps and stairs to the former estate and garden, giving access through a narrow gate to the Carlos Ramos Pavilion. Set at the apex of the estate, this simple two-story structure is a succinct summary of the courtyard plan – a U-shaped classroom building with its two wings converging at a sharp angle. While its exterior facades are blind, the large pivoting windows facing the interior courtyard allow complete transparency between the classrooms on either side of the building, and views beyond to the garden and river.
The materials used in the interior of the more recent addition include exotic wood for the floors and wainscots, marble in the foyers and stairs, specially-designed furniture for the classrooms, auditorium and library, and skylights which draw natural light into the main spaces.
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