Grad studio designing building solutions for growing campus

Miguel Roldán

Architecture students typically work in within the confines of their discipline, designing solutions to presented problems, but award-winning architect Miguel Roldán, founding principal of Barcelona’s R + B Architects, and three architecture faculty members at Texas A&M have a different idea.

They are asking students to break out of their silo and consider a design problem from a wider perspective, incorporating approaches used by urban planners, landscape architects and construction managers, as well as architects, while providing solutions for the future growth of Texas A&M's College Station campus. 

Roldán, adjunct professor of architecture at Texas A&M and leader of the spring 2013 graduate architecture studio working on campus growth remedies, is also the director of the Barcelona Architecture Center, where design students from Texas A&M and around the globe travel to study. Co-directing the 44-student studio with Roldán are Department of Architecture faculty members Craig Babe, Marcel Erminy and Michael O’Brien.

In addition to designing high-density buildings to accommodate Texas A&M’s expected growth, the students are conducting research to determine the types of buildings needed, how they will be used and the nature of the spaces they will inhabit.

“We're exploring the hypothesis that the Texas A&M campus can manage growth through a process of concentration instead of a process of dispersion,” said Roldán. “Students will learn the mechanisms of dense cities, which most urban ecologists view as sustainable.”

The assignment, he said, requires a broader perspective and wider set up skills than typical architecture studio exercises.

“In Europe, architects practice in many disciplines,” he said, “but in the U.S. you have divisions. I’m not intending to change the system here, but I want students to have an open perspective and recognize they have the potential and the knowledge to create a proposal from a multidisciplinary approach.”

The students are focusing on what Roldán is calling three “gate” areas of campus: the Coke/Throckmorton street entrance and corridor, the Northgate area, and the intersection of University Drive and Wellborn Road.

“All three areas have similarities and the potential to be new campus nodes in functionality as well as the public’s collective imagery,” said Roldán.

Students began by researching site characteristics, including the flow of automobiles, people and goods, as well as the daily schedules of the site’s existing buildings.

“They created their own research guidelines,” said Roldán. “We provided certain directions, but the research followed their intuitions and knowledge.”

The Texas A&M studio undertaking is being mirrored across the Atlantic where 25 students at the Barcelona School of Architecture are tackling the campus planning and design project. Students from both schools are sharing their research, communicating via email and video conferencing applications.

“It will be interesting to see how the Spanish students respond,” said Roldán, “since they will be designing in a context different from the European cities they are accustomed to.”

In addition to the research informing their work, students have completed maps, drawings and sketches of proposals for their respective “gate” areas.

In the final phase, students will work individually to develop an architectural program and design for one public facility. Their buildings are required to incorporate sustainable energy solutions and favorably relate to its adjacent open air space.

Students will ultimately team up to build physical models of their respective campus gate site plans incorporating models of the individual buildings and other proposed features including pathways and vegetation.

One group's proposal, said Roldán, includes changes to the Coke/Throckmorton street campus corridor, where seven transportation services bus lines stop at the Military Science Building to discharge and pick up passengers.

Instead of the buses crowding into the same drop-off and pickup point, said Roldán, students suggest a series of stops along the Coke/Throckmorton corridor — part of “transit-oriented development” mixing multistory buildings that include classrooms, housing and retail within walking distance of a stop.

Students are also exploring how to finance a bicycle program for all students, so buses wouldn’t need to travel into the campus interior, further reducing crowding, gasoline use, and idling time.

Roldán and his design partner, Mercé Berengué, have been racking up awards for four decades for their designs of a wide range of structures including hospitals, government buildings, public housing, and schools, rehabilitation of historic residential buildings, interior design, as well as proposals for urban development and improved housing.

Roldán and Berengué’s design of the Placa Europa, a new social housing tower in Barcelona, drew raves from an architecture critic who said the design overcame the strictures of regulatory protocols to the extent that it’s “hard to believe this is social housing.”

They designed an elegant façade and a generous lobby, wrote Rafael Gomez-Moriana, an adjunct associate professor of architecture at the University of Calgary’s environmental design program in Barcelona, creating a ground floor communal entrance lobby similar to an interior street.

A series of living spaces Roldán co-designed with Berengué were exhibited at the Catalunya College of Architects headquarters in Barcelona.

One viewer said the interior designs, which celebrated the 100th issue of the Spanish architecture magazine TC Cuadernos, were akin to enjoying the view of Barcelona’s historic cathedral square from a series of private balconies.

After the spring semester ends, Roldán will return to his firm in Barcelona and continue directing the Barcelona Architecture Center.

posted February 28, 2013