Take a look at this photograph.
What’s the first thought that comes to your mind when you see this building? Do you wonder why it looks like a stack of monochrome blocks arranged precariously on the edge? Do you wonder who could be using this space? Could it be a storage space? Would it be like on the inside? A dark vault as stark as it is on the outside?
While you may not always pause to stare and wonder, you will probably not pass by it, without turning around for a second glance, as it refuses to merge with your everyday cityscape!
This is the UC Innovation Center; in Santiago, Chile. It was designed by Alejandro Aravena as a center for nurturing ideas, grooming them into inventions that would propel the country’s development. It is a space for companies or businesses to collaborate with researchers and academicians involved in cutting-edge research, technology, and innovation. The design aimed at creating spaces that broke down social barriers encouraged the free exchange of ideas and stimulated conversations.
Let’s take a closer look at the building.
Design philosophy and intent
The UC Innovation Center is a testimony to Aravena’s belief in no-frills, cohesive design that is minimalistic and functional.
The intent was to design a building in which multiple forms of work could co-exist, to foster a matrix of formal and informal work, and to provide a space for individual work as well as collaboration. The architect thought that face-to-face communication was essential to stimulate innovation, so he created multiple spaces throughout the building where people could interact and ideate. These spaces are interspersed across the building. The elevator’s lobby is peppered with scattered benches, creating incidental meetings, and leisure spaces at different points in the building. This leads to people sitting and talking casually even without formally planned meetings. The central transparent atrium creates a uniting space, creating a seamless space , and offering glimpses of people working across the different parts of the building.
The architect’s intention was also that the building shouldn’t feel obsolete with time. Aravena wanted to create a tough, solid form that also allows for continuous change and renewal. He aimed at creating a feeling of space and timelessness through the use of strict geometry and concrete, a strong monolith standing tall, challenging the rambling structures around it.
Material, climate, and construction
This building is situated amidst the desert climate of Santiago. This is a landscape where buildings tend to get heated up quickly by absorbing the extreme heat. For buildings with a glass facade, the temperature increases exponentially because of a strong greenhouse effect.
Aravena used simple design decisions to mitigate this excess heat gain. The concrete mass of the building rests on the perimeter, absorbing most of the heat and forming an insulating barrier. Recessed glass is used in panels to deflect direct radiation and also allow cross ventilation.
The opaque facade is efficient energy-wise and also helps to blur the extremely strong light that would have otherwise led to the use of curtains and blinds in the interior working spaces. “The use of a highly durable material like reinforced concrete, which in addition tends to take on a noble patina as the years go by, suggests another aspiration of the building: to withstand the test of time with dignity” (Anacleto Angelini UC Innovation Center, Santiago, 2022).
Space Planning and Organization
At a first glance, the building seems to be made of a stack of massive blocks. On closer inspection, we can see that each block comprises three to four floors. Each floor is a department for different companies and businesses that are working on multiple ideas and experiments directed at finding new solutions and leading to the country’s development.
The exterior concrete acts as a shell that is occupied by the rooms and floors. Within the inner layer, floors face onto wood and glass-lined atrium at the center of the building with a circulation path at either end.
This central atrium runs through the entire building, acting as a uniting space like a courtyard. Most entries and pathways are through this atrium. The center connects the floors through four elevators. These elevators have exposed mechanical systems – reinforcing the idea of movement, progress, and engineering while providing a focal point for visual interest.
Due to the block structures, varied spaces are created inside the building that takes up most of the area within the monolithic blocks. The spaces differ across the different floors of the building, Stacks of concrete protrude through the shell of the building. Some of these blocks are carved out, leaving behind hollows. This provides an additional layer of thermal insulation; while providing another aspect of visual intrigue.
Spaces that Foster Innovation
Innovation begins with inspiration. Inspiration most often comes through the exchange of ideas-formally, in cloistered, intensive brain-storming sessions, or sometimes over casual chats in the cafeteria. The U. C. The Innovation Center facilitates both.
The facilities are not clustered together within a central core. They’re distributed along the enclosure, cocooned within the solid wall of reinforced concrete that protects the privacy of the interior space rather than the light, transparent skin of glass exposed to the rays of the sun.
The atrium creates an interesting cross-connection across different floors and different sides of the building providing vibrant breathing space in the building. This design decision enhances interaction, both physically and visually, aligning with the function of the space being an innovation center.
It ensures that inspiration can happen anytime, even in the little breaks between work, or on a casual stroll to the cafe.
There are buildings that we remember for the visual impact . There are some which leave a mark on you even before you’ve stepped in through the doors. Some make you remember them by the way you felt in the building, going about your day, and doing your regular activities. Did you feel small? Like the different levels were towering over you as you walked through the halls? Or like an extension of that desk, you worked on every day, in the late hours of dusk?
Overall, the UC Innovation Center building lives up to its goal of creating interactive spaces that cater to the function of innovation and creativity. It also shows a thoughtful design process, as seen in the use of materials and construction. Rather than simply following a style common in the city, Aravena also took climate and the need to conserve energy efficiently as a consideration while designing. Hence, the building is visually exciting and poised, while also remaining practical and apt for its users.
Jaime, F., 2022. The Innovation Center UC | Latin American Architecture. [online] Latinamericanarchitecture.unm.edu. Available at:
Mairs, J., 2022. Giant openings puncture Elemental’s “monolithic” concrete innovation center. [online] Dezeen. Available at:
ArchDaily. 2022. Innovation Center UC – Anacleto Angelini / Alejandro Aravena | ELEMENTAL. [online] Available at:
Arquitectura Viva. 2022. Anacleto Angelini UC Innovation Center, Santiago – Alejandro Aravena ELEMENTAL. [online] Available at: