By Bruce N. Wright
Following their professor’s quirky challenge in a construction class, architecture students Jan-Frederik Flor and Ernesto Viquez Alas designed an exhibition hall to fit into a 10-story fabric-clad tower overlooking a San Jose, Costa Rica, city lake. The result is a strikingly dynamic and energetic structure that utilizes the strength of a tensegrity skin wrapping a framework of crisscrossing laminated wood that acts as an exoskeleton. This is tied internally to a rigid central core for vertical circulation between show floors.
The students’ professor, architect Carlos Azofeifa, assigned the project for a Construction 3 studio at the Universidad de Costa Rica school of architecture with the goal to have students explore a nonconventional design through a process of research about materials and structural systems. Students were paired, given the building type (exhibition center), location, a choice of wood or steel for structure and the additional requirement to include some tensile elements.
The shape of Flor and Viquez’s tower is a hyperbolic rhomboid on a cant with the top sliced at a diagonal. The base of the wood latticework rests on concrete piers anchored below the waterline of the San Jose park. Flor and Viquez manage to pack a number of functions neatly into the tower including administrative areas, a cafeteria with viewing terrace (at the top) and several floors of exhibition spaces all connected by a central elevator and stair core.
The fabric cladding is a held in place by a tensegrity network of cables that create the necessary high and low points on which the textile membrane is attached. This “skin” is translucent to permit illumination of the interior by natural light during the day, and the possibility of illumination by a changing color display via projectors from within at night.