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UC Innovation Center

UC Innovation Center – Anacleto Angelini, 2014, San Joaquín Campus, Universidad Católica de Chile, Santiago, Chile. this unique architectural type prompted a design, by architecture office ELEMENTAL, A space of inspiration, connection and orchestration. A bridge among the University, the business world and the public sector.

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© Nina Vidic

  • The Anacleto Angelini UC Innovation Center is a space conceived to promote a pro innovation and entrepreneurship ecology which is open to all faculties of our University. Conceived as a multidisciplinary and generalist center, it embraces both innovation projects and entrepreneurship initiatives of high economic, social and cultural impact.
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© James Florio

From its architectural conception, this building was thought of as one to be very different from any other. According to Alfonso Gómez, Executive President of the Center, “it is an iconic and emblematic space that aims at deepening and accelerating the shaping of a new culture within the university and that is designed in such a way, that from any location on a floor it is impossible not to interact with what is going on elsewhere on the same floor”.

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© UC Innovation Center

In its 9,000 m2, 11 floors above the ground and 3 underground floors, the Center is intended to be a benchmark of our country’s effort to promote our people’s creative capacity, as well as to develop productive capacities with high knowledge aggregation, thus allowing for contributing to lay the foundation for a country that is less dependent on its commodities and more diversified in its capacity to create value and contribute to improve the quality of life of its citizens.

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© UC Innovation Center

On the first floor there is a reception and an entrance hall, in addition to Seminar rooms, a Banco de Chile branch office and a Fres&Co Coffee Shop. The second level considers classrooms for undergraduate and postgraduate courses, in addition to meeting areas.

The third floor includes the UC FabLab (International collaboration network on digital and electronic manufacturing) and a Synthetic Biology laboratory, oriented to the development of molecules conceived to improve quality of life from a health and food perspective.

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© James Florio

Levels 4 and 5 will be mainly devoted to shelter a number of entrepreneurial initiatives, including about 30 companies that are part of the renowned StartUp Chile program.

On floors 6 and 7, innovation projects with the participation of companies, postgraduate students (Master’s and Doctorate degrees) and faculty. Companies like Codelco, SONDA, Google and Fraunhofer, among others, have already committed their presence in the Center.

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© James Florio

“Santiago’s climate requires to change the conventional approach to working space design. We substituted the contemporary typical glass skin, responsible for serious greenhouse effect in interiors, for a thermal mass on the perimeter that avoids undesired heat gains. On the other hand, innovation and knowledge creation requires increasing encounters among people, so openness is desired. We multiplied open air squares throughout the building’s entire height and proposed a permeable atrium core so that while circulating vertically, people could see what others are doing. This reversed placement of opaqueness and transparency is the way sustainability and human relationships informed the form.” – Alejandro Aravena-ELEMENTAL

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© UC Innovation Center

“Innovation and knowledge creation requires on the one hand, to increase the encounters among people, so openness is a desired attribute for its architecture; on the other hand, developments and inventions have to be protected, so security and ability to close and segregate are appreciated architectural conditions as well. We proposed a rather opaque construction towards the outside, which is also efficient for the Santiago weather and then have a very permeable architecture inside. Having the structure and the shafts on the perimeter of the building reverts the typical curtain wall building layout and concentrates openings in a very specific points in the form of elevated squares.” – Alejandro Aravena-ELEMENTAL

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© Christobal Palma

Alejandro Aravena-ELEMENTAL:

In 2011, Angelini Group decided to donate the necessary funds to create a center where companies, businesses and more in general, demand, could converge with researchers and state of the art university knowledge creation. The aim was to contribute to the process of transferring know-how, identifying business opportunities, adding value to existing resources or registering patents in order to improve the country’s competitiveness and consequently its development. The Universidad Católica de Chile would host such a center and allocated a site in its San Joaquin Campus.

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Our proposal to accommodate such goals was to design a building in which at least 4 forms of work could be verified: a matrix of formal and informal work crossed by individual and collective ways of encountering people. In addition to that, we thought that face to face contact is unbeatable when one wants to create knowledge, so we multiplied throughout the building the places where people could meet: from the elevator’s lobby with a bench where to sit if you happen to run into somebody that has interesting information to share, to a transparent atrium where you can sneak into what others are doing while circulating vertically, to elevated squares throughout the entire height of the building.

The reversal of the typical office space floor plan (replacing the opaque core with transparent curtain wall glass perimeter by an open core with the mass strategically opened in the perimeter) responded not only to functional reasons but to the environmental performance and character of the building as well.

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© James Florio

This building had to respond to the client’s expectation of having an innovation center with a “contemporary look”, but the uncritical search for contemporariness has populated Santiago with glass towers that due to the desert climatic local condition have serious greenhouse effect in interiors. Such towers spend a huge amount of energy in air conditioning. The way to avoid undesired heat gains is not rocket science; it is enough to place the mass of the building on the perimeter, have recessed glasses to prevent direct sun radiation and allow for cross ventilation. By doing so we went from 120 kW/m2/year (the consumption of a typical glass tower in Santiago) to 45kW/m2/year. Such an opaque facade was not only energetically efficient but also helped to dim the extremely strong light that normally forces to protect interior working spaces with curtains and blinds transforming in fact, the theoretical initial transparency into a mere rhetoric. In that sense the response to the context was nothing but the rigorous use of common sense.

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© James Florio

On the other hand, we thought that the biggest threat to an innovation center is obsolescence; functional and stylistic obsolescence. So the rejection of the glass facade was not only due to the professional responsibility of avoiding an extremely poor environmental performance, but also a search for a design that could stand the test of time. From a functional point of view, we thought the best way to fight obsolescence was to design the building as if it was an infrastructure more than architecture. A clear, direct and even tough form is in the end the most flexible way to allow for continuous change and renewal. From a stylistic point of view, we thought of using a rather strict geometry and strong monolithic materiality as a way to replace trendiness by timelessness.

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Project Data:

Project name: UC Innovation Center
Location: Avenida Vicuña Mackenna 4860, 7820436 Santiago, Chile
Coordinates: -33.497866, -70.615271
Type: University
Materials: Concrete | Wood
Site Area: 455.351 sqm | San Joaquin Campus
Built Area: 8.176 sqm (building), 12.494 sqm (parking)
Project Year: 2011-2012
Construction Period: 2012-2014
Status: Built
Cost: USD 18 million
Completion Year: 2014
Visit UC Innovation Center’s website: here


  • 2016 – The Pritzker Architecture Prize – Alejandro Aravena
  • 2015 – Design Museum Awards – Designs of the Year – Category: Architecture – Winner

The people:

Client / Owner / Developer: Grupo Angelini | Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Architects: Alejandro Aravena – ELEMENTAL – Av. Los Conquistadores 1700, Piso 25 A, 7520282 Providencia, Santiago, Chile
Project Team: Alejandro Aravena, Juan Cerda
Collaborators: Samuel Gonçalves, Cristián Irarrázaval, Álvaro Ascoz, Natalie Ramirez, Christian Lavista, Suyin Chia, Pedro Hoffmann
Structural Engineering: Sirve S. A.
Electrical engineering: carlos gana ‐ ingenieria y proyectos ICG y cía. ltda
Mechanical engineering: sirve S.A.
Site supervision: juan cerda
Energy efficiency: bustamante y encina asesorías en sustentabilidad
Independent revision: gerardo sepúlveda – S&C revisores de edificación
Plumbing engineering: vivanco y vega ltda.
Air‐conditioning consultant: gustavo concha – A&P ingeniería
Text Description: © Courtesy of UC Innovation Center, ELEMENTAL
Images: © ELEMENTAL, UC Innovation Center, Nico Saieh, Nina Vidic, James Florio, Felipe Diaz Contardo, Christobal Palma

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UC Innovation Center / Alejandro Aravena-ELEMENTAL
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