Interview With RIBA International Prize-Winning Architect

April 27, 2017

UTEC (Universidad de Ingeniería y Tecnología) in Lima, Peru, recently won the first ever RIBA International Prize for 2016. The Royal Institute of British Architects judged the project as “setting a new global standard for architectural achievement.”

UTEC: RIBA International Prize winning project

In an interview with Figueras Seating, Alejandro Shell Montero of Shell Arquitectos spoke about the design and how it reflected both the surrounding natural environment and the people who would occupy it. Here are some excerpts from that interview:

The shape of the building reflects the topography on which the building is constructed, correct?

The geographic location of the plot is one of the main factors that were considered by the Irish studio, Grafton Architects, for the design of the UTEC Campus, among other aspects (such as the climate and the urban context) which, together, form the basis for the building´s unique design….

From an urban point of view, the building is also situated on a boundary, as it is located directly on the borders of the districts of Barranco and Miraflores, benefitting from the respective contrasts; on the one hand, the northern front is affected by the busy traffic of the Malecón Armendariz; on the other hand, the southern front faces a traditional barranquino neighbourhood, which has a rhythm and atmosphere of its own.

What was the reason for selecting material such as concrete and for constructing a building which seems completely naked, void of any type of ornamental elements?

From a design point of view, it was very important to Grafton Architects to employ concrete, for geological and cultural reasons; on one hand, the predominance of concrete provides continuity as an extension of the Costa Verde Cliff; in fact, the GA-architects baptised the building as “man-made cliff”, as it shares the same geological features as the cliffs (in terms of the mineral origin of cement), but at the same time, it distances itself from the organic shapes of the natural formations (hence it is “man-made”); from a cultural point of view, the use of the “mute” concrete refers to constructions of “adobe”, a material which is rooted in our pre-Columbian cultures, as well as being employed during much later periods (almost contemporary); according to the GA-architects, concrete is somehow the “new adobe“, as its production is essentially similar (apart from the obvious differences).

Due to these features on their own, it is a building which attracts attention. Is this a new icon of the city of Lima?

The building certainly stands out, due to its unique design and partially due to its urban-geographical location; we believe that part of the building’s value is based on this reactionary condition, the fact that its design does not correspond to aesthetic conventions, but to a deeper analysis of the elements involved in the creation of a university campus.

The movement of people, the lighting and ventilation; they also compose the building´s structure: is this correct?

It is correct, the building’s configuration and final expression is the result of the horizontal, vertical, and diagonal, movement of persons (students and teachers), the exposure to and protection from the sun-rays and the building’s permeability in terms of ventilation). These factors shape the building and provide the guidelines or parameters for the building’s architectural structure.

UTEC: RIBA International Prize winning project

In which sense are these elements considered to be the main internal organisers of the campus?

Each of these elements plays a direct role in the building’s organisation and expression; the mild climate and the scarcity of rain determined that the north side remains entirely open (some would refer to a complete lack of enclosures or facades), however, the lack of enclosures on the north side enables the entry of sunlight to the social areas, while the academic facilities (classrooms and workshops) are protected from light and sound on the south side of the building; the windows are set perpendicular to the malecón, which allows to capture the wind blowing from the Pacific Ocean, which is directed by the Armendariz Cliff; the movement of students form the different paths, bridges, stairs and squares, which are situated at different levels, thus playing with their perception.

As an important factor for the granting of its award, RIBA highlights the fact of having set a new global architectural standard: What is the reason for this?

We believe that RIBA has awarded the architecture of the building due to its consistency with its geographical and urban context, the climate and the architectural program; in that sense, architecture becomes the answer to a series of concepts and variables, which allows its expression to be a direct result of the context (time and place) of the architectural project.

Source and Photos: Figueras Seating



Dawn Killough

has over 15 years experience in the construction industry and is the author of Green Building Design 101, an e-book available from Amazon. She is a LEED AP and Certified Green Building Advisor, and has worked on the LEED Certification of three projects in Salem, Oregon.