Herzog & de Meuron

Gymnasium at Mãe Luiza . Natal

Herzog & de Meuron . photos: © Iwan Baan . + arcoweb

The project for the Gymnasium at the School of Dinarte Martiz is part of a larger urban vision for Mãe Luiza that Herzog & de Meuron developed together with Centro Sócio Pastoral Nossa Senhora de Conceição in 2009.

The urban concept takes into account the potential and challenges of the neighbourhood – its beautiful setting on the dunes overlooking the ocean, its turbulent history of a gradually urbanised informal settlement, and its vibrant and strong community today. The design process entailed identifying the missing or underdeveloped urban activities in the neighbourhood, spotting available spaces within the densely built-up area and distributing the new activities within the areas potentially available for development. This approach allows the evolution of Mãe Luiza to stem from the particular needs of its community and the specific potential of the site.

The proposal includes a sequence of new buildings, continuing the process of punctual interventions initiated by the Centro Sócio. In this case, however, new facilities are concentrated, placed next to each other, so they can work together forming a necklace and creating a new community centre catalyzing new public activities in order to focus the development of the area, create a new perception of the neighbourhood, and open up the neighbourhood to its residents and the natural beauty that surrounds it. The Gymnasium, containing a sports field with seating for 350 people, as well as multipurpose and service rooms, is the pioneering architectural project to the Vision creating a new public venue for all the people of Mãe Luiza.

The starting point of the project is the existing structure of the old Gymnasium. What we found at the site is a concrete field framed by the columns and trusses, without roof or walls. The remains of the old Gymnasium create a place for an occasional football game or a quiet viewing platform to the ocean. The project requires a careful attitude to the remaining structural elements in place and their precise inclusion in the planning. To preserve the character of the neighbourhood, the existing geometry should be kept, accommodating the required clear height for indoor sports and, at the same time, fulfils the urban rules and regulations created especially for Mãe Luiza.
The approach to respond to the high and diverse ambitions of the project within the given constraints of the location is simple and straightforward. The geometry of the existing structure is extruded over the entire permitted building area, resulting in a creation of a grand roof, fit within the allowed envelope and capable of encompassing all necessary activities. The existing structural bays remain and are repeated. As a result, the regular structure is adjusted to the irregular site. The resulting shape of the roof is grand and iconic, a true neighbour of the imposing Farol, and is simultaneously adaptive and sensitive to the site, neighbouring school, houses and street.
The grand roof introduces a radically new scale in Mãe Luiza. At the same time, the grand roof is part of a widespread traditional approach of creating large public spaces in the North East of Brazil. The roof is constructed of standard aluminium sandwich-panels which are composed in a novel way. The panels are arranged to leave covered gaps in between them to carefully let air through and allow light in while protecting the interior from the elements. The roof then creates a strong space allowing a rich diversity of public activities to happen underneath it.

Under the roof, the ground forms a covered landscape that follows the existing topography and adapts it to the diverse uses. In the project, the building floor is a single, complex and unified surface that holds the sports field, folds up for the seating and the stairs, rises up with the ramps and merges with the soft sandy field outside. The uniform use of concrete further unifies the interior ground, while its different grain, colour and texture give subtle differences to the discrete parts and uses of the building.
An undulating independent wall outlines the interior perimeter under the roof and shapes the freestanding rooms. The alternating straight and curvilinear geometry of the wall makes a clear definition of each room within, allows smoother circulation and creates niches of smaller, loosely defined areas for diverse informal use throughout the larger covered space. The continuous wall is composed of specially designed concrete open blocks, which give a smaller scale to the long undulating surface and, by the different orientation of their fins, create a dynamic periphery of varying transparency.
All the three main elements of the building – the grand roof, the continuous floor, and the single undulating wall will be constructed with materials and techniques typical for the region, but are rethought and developed to create complex surfaces and fulfil very diverse tasks. Through simple methods such as variously oriented openings, the roof and the wall become perforated open structures that acknowledge the aggressive environment. The roof and wall react by allowing the cooling breeze to go through and the hot air to escape, filtering natural light and controlling visibility / allowing for different levels of privacy, reducing noise and keeping rain out. The composition of the basic elements of the building - the roof, floor, and wall - along with carefully controlled openings of different sizes, create a fully permeable, naturally conditioned building, which transforms and redirects the impact of its natural and urban environment to create a comfortable sports hall for the school and neighbourhood as well as a grand yet simple new public centre for the inhabitants of Mãe Luiza.
Herzog & de Meuron, October 2011

Herzog & de Meuron Team:
Partners: Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Ascan Mergenthaler
Project Architects: Tomislav Dushanov (Associate), Mariana Vilela

Centro Sócio Pastoral Nossa Senhora de Conceição, Natal, Brazil

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