Residence for the ESO-ALMA Observatory in Chile DISSING+WEITLING had invited to participate in a closed competition to design and build a 120 room Residence Facility at one of the largest land-based observatories in the world. CONCEPT The concept is based on simple principles of materiality, landscape, context, and on a strong belief that well considered individual spaces, intimate “in-between spaces”, and varied pubic spaces create an inviting and inspiring context which supports the daily function and activity of the facility. One could describe the concept as a fusion between a mud hut and a space shuttle, matching the best of traditional architectural concepts and techniques and modern technical solutions, an earthly base for an unlimited imagination. The residences must not only service the basic human needs for shelter, but also take this understanding to a new level in terms of how we live as modern human beings in a landscape naturally devoid of an intimate spatial context. Hillside village The individual modules of the Residences (The Pods) and the Common Building (The Hub) will all need to work together to create a new context on the site, much like creating a hillside village with its own immediate context. The residences (The Pods) are organized into three groups of three modules, each with 12-14 units in each module for a total of 40 residences in each of the three groups, 120 residences in all. We believe that the 12-14 units per module makes for a more effective and efficient use of the site and develops a “critical” mass of residents which will allow the common area in each unit to serve as an active meeting space for the residents. The central living room is a place for casual encounters and the exchange of ideas, a place for writing “postcards of the day”. By reducing the number of kitchen areas to nine, we are able to provide areas that have a more reasonable size and functional quality without drastically increasing the square meters. This is one area where we have chosen to give a bit more “air” in the program, anticipating that these spaces will be very attractive to the residents. The four elements EARTH, WATER, FIRE, and AIR, the “four elements” play an important role in the conceptual development of the project. Through the ages, these elements have been considered the basic building blocks of the universe and are important elements in Andean philosophy and the local traditions of architecture. The circular form The circular form of the outer shell of the buildings allows the units to gracefully slide up out of the existing landscape and capture spaces for living without having to develop a series of definitive terraces in the landscape around the structures. It is as if the mass of the earth has been pushed up to help form the external boundaries and then hollowed out in order to make protected space which can support life in this extreme climate. This theme, which repeats itself in various elements of Andean Architecture, has many advantages with regard to surface area, light and shadow, orientation to the sun, and to the overall stability of the construction with regard to earthquakes. Modern/traditional techniques The rammed earth wall has both a conceptual and a practical function. The wall demarcates the perceptual boundary between the inside and the outside functioning as a protector against the elements as well as a gatherer of the heating and cooling effects of the desert climate. We see the rammed earth wall as a modern development of traditional building techniques much like the traditional adobe structures. While having the same environmental/sustainable advantages as adobe, the strength and precision of this technique will benefit the overall development of the architectural/environmental concept for the project. We see a traditional adobe construction as a viable alternative to the rammed earth construction. THE PODS The individual rooms are arranged around a central two storey high living space in groups of two units facing in three directions, the fourth side of the space is designed as a covered entry courtyard providing a spatial and functional transition from the residential units to the common garden space. The units are individually rotated to take full advantage of the sloping site and the wonderful views to the surrounding landscape. The “living room” space is the focal point of the unit. It is in this space that the residents can lie back in a soft sofa to to relax or gather around a table for discussions or a common dinner in “off” times. Indoor Climate In the residential blocks, the control of the indoor climate will be very simple. Much of the temperature control will be taken care of passively by the density of the earth construction. These thick, thermally massive elements absorb and release heat during the course of the day and night with the result that rooms will not overheat during the day (even if the sun is shining in the window) and do not cool down too quickly at night. Solar thermal system This thermal mass, and the low occupancy density, mean that active cooling is not required to keep the rooms within a comfortable band of temperatures. Heating will be required. There is a temptation in this climate with guaranteed sun to design a building based around completely passive heating with trombe walls and user- adjustable facades. However, nightshifts, blackout blinds and the need to orientate all accommodation in a certain direction can kill a strategy like that instantly and so it is preferred that we capture solar heat and distribute it in a more managed and controllable manner. A solar thermal panel on the roof will heat water in a buffer vessel from where it can be circulated to radiators in the rooms. The solar thermal system would also supply heat to a storage calorifier to produce hot water. It will be easy in the future to connect this system to a supply of reclaimed heat from the gas turbine. THE HUB The common building, The Hub is like the sun, and the residences like planets revolving around it. We believe that The Hub should have a very central location in the final master plan for the site so that it really becomes a focal point for common activities at ALMA. The Hub is the center for common activities as well as more personal functions such as swimming and a workout at the gym. The building takes up the overall geometries of The Pods and expands the functions from the center in order to create an open and inviting “green” courtyard in the building. Along with the Restaurant and General Purpose Salon, this space functions as a central gathering space for residents, guests, and visitors. The open and amphitheater-like character of the space make it easy to orient oneself in relation to the many varied functions in the building. The central character for the space makes it perfect for informal meetings, orientation for visiting groups and an “open air” movie on a Friday night. GREEN STRATEGY Holistic design We have been asked to consider the residence project as existing in an envelope through which pass the water, electricity and drainage supplies. We have no control over the sources of those supplies and so it would be easy to ignore them and to design a building independently but to do that would be to ignore the basic, holistic design principles that are crucial to designing buildings with low environmental impact. It is vital that we consider those current and future external parameters. Energy utopia On a site such as this, one could imagine an energy utopia based around a solar thermal power station, reflective collectors used to generate heat, store it in molten salt and then use it to generate steam for a turbine to generate electricity, heating and cooling (by passing waste heat through an absorption chiller). This would be a perfect self-sufficiency, with abundant energy of all kinds for all the buildings on the site but it would require a large ground area and a large capital investment. Water recycling It is less easy to imagine a water utopia with abundant, free water. If investigations into ground water prove to be fruitful, then the pressure of water supply will be eased a little but, until then, water will continue to be transported a long distance to site. Aside from water-saving measures, we would propose a full black-water recycling system to be installed outside of our envelope as an upgrade to the current water reclamation for road stabilisation. We have designed our water and drainage systems to allow dual supply of potable- and grey-water and our drainage systems to carry split grey- and black-wastewater. With these external parameters in mind, we have created a series of buildings with minimal energy and water impact on their surroundings- spaces which keep their occupants comfortable and happy but which also look after the energy bills. Outdoor climate The local climate is an interesting one. There are no real extremes of air temperature but solar insolation is very high and both humidity and rainfall are very low indeed. This means that it is relatively easy to create a building climate screen but the challenge is in avoiding overheating caused by the sun beating down on the buildings and to make sure that the internal air is not so dry as to be uncomfortable.
Facts Hotel unitsAtacama, Chile5,000 m²Invited competition, 2011Client: ALMA Construction Division,European Southern Observatory Architect: D+W architecture a/sEngineer: Buro Happold (UK)