Buildings H and I: Spaces for freedom

Welcome, this is your home! With this traditional, affectionate, and endearing phrase, on Thursday, February 15, 2018, Rector Juan Carlos Henao will welcome Externadistas visiting the new H and I buildings the University inaugurates on its 132nd anniversary.

We have reasons to be happy. We are going to inaugurate two towers that virtually double the University’s capacity: 48 thousand new square meters. These buildings are a collective effort by the community – we have been building them for five years, we are excited to reach the end of the tunnel. This is a huge, beautiful, aesthetic, technological, intelligent, space so we can have more education for freedom, which is our main motto,” stated the Rector to frame such a special moment in the history of the Externado de Colombia.

Brief history of a dream

The dream began to take shape soon after the completion of the last great work on the campus, building G, in February 2004. Motivated by the recurrent Externado phenomenon that whenever new spaces are opened, shortly thereafter they are outgrown due to the University’s growth, the then Rector, Fernando Hinestrosa, wondered why not take advantage of the terrain located between the two carriageways of the Circunvalar Avenue close to 12B Street, acquired in the 1970s that, for years, was used as a parking lot.

With this idea, the Rector began working with the firm García – Reyes Arquitectos; particularly with Enrique Garcia Reyes and his son Robert – who in the past had completed several flawless works at the Externado – with builders, and different University units.

Thus began the designs for this hillside, amoeba-shaped lot, with an unrivaled view: on the one hand, the eastern hills of Bogotá; and on the other, the city, its savanna, and on a clear day, the snowy peaks that crown the distant central mountain range.

To start, two “small’ drawbacks: the 35 thousand square meters lot was marked by a great X formed by high voltage power lines; plus, a main aqueduct pipe and a creek that flowed through the lot. The problem required costly and arduous work with the Bogotá Power Company to relocate the electrical lines to places where it would not affect the future construction.

Then, the comings and goings of designs, initiatives, solutions, between Rector Hinestrosa and the designers to finally, in 2006, submit the results to the Capital District, where the initiative had to surmount tremendous challenges and obstacles. At long last, the approval of the project meeting all the requirements was obtained.

The land for the new construction encountered limitations; first by the transfer of the power lines, and then, due to planning regulations requiring work development in the surrounding area and land concessions. In the end, the available construction area was seven thousand square meters.

Shortly before his death, in early 2012, Rector Hinestrosa was able to view some excavations, machinery, and construction workers wearing helmets working on the site – a clear signal that his dream would become a reality.

The inside: A splendid reality

The companies involved, mainly García – Reyes Arquitectos and PAYC Construction Company, have aptly interpreted the philosophy of a university whose image is projected in aesthetic and comfortable spaces, but at the same time austere – there is no ostentation or splurge -, whose goal is to provide an ideal environment giving free rein to academic work, comprising research, imagination, creation, thinking, and discovering a better country and a better world.

Even though for practical reasons, they are named H and I, they are not two buildings; in reality, it is a harmonic and integrated complex, where each unit is a mirror image of the other. Its stair-step design fits the slope, and an open space unites and separates the two buildings at the same time, allowing the flow of air, light, and view, between the hill and the city. The light brown marble of the facade – proposed by Rector Hinestrosa to break the brick tradition that characterized the Externado building complex, considering it more suitable to the environment – the stone, granite, fine woods, and latest technology synthetic materials are present, together with vertical gardens cascading from the upper floors to the basement.

Different size and style classrooms occupy most of the space, contrasting with the static conception of the old classroom: furniture, equipped with wheels, adapts to different situations occurring in the teaching process – learning in a way to easily form small groups or a large round table. Noteworthy are two beautiful rooms for Law practices. Outside noise has been isolated, and the walls and ceilings have an overlay preventing resonance.

Distributed throughout both buildings are 53 glass cubicles, sound-proofed, designed for study and small group discussion by students and professors. The perfect place to develop work, discuss, review, and even write on the wall, as there, it serves as a blackboard.

Leisure areas for students and professors, with vending machines for snacks and drinks, and information screens. And, for those who prefer the outdoors, there are terraces with tables and umbrellas, surrounded by flower beds.  Also, strategically located, are donuts and shakes concessions to satisfy cravings.

A grand cafeteria, with concession restaurants, and a space equipped with microwave ovens for those who prefer to bring lunch from home; stationery, photocopiers, printers; restrooms, some mixed; and parking lots for cars, motorcycles, and bicycles.

Tower I has a large reconfigurable room for social events and art exhibits, connected to the modern kitchen facilities which, in turn, serve the Casa Externadista, which has been extended to the new complex.

The traditional Externadista Bookstore also has a space in the new complex; an enjoyable area to search for publications, get-togethers, and coffee tasting.

People flow is guaranteed by elevators and escalators found at strategic and equidistant points. Individuals with disabilities can move around easily and have the services suitable for their needs – ramps, elevators, bathrooms – and in classrooms and auditoriums, places to comfortably park their wheelchairs.

Intelligent buildings

Not in vain these new buildings are considered “intelligent.” They are equipped with electronic systems enabling the automatic execution of an extensive set of functions providing users optimal connectivity.

Wi-Fi in all indoor and outdoor areas; electrical connections in all classrooms seats, students, and professors’ leisure rooms. Remote control for video beam, backdrop, sound, and room lighting; a centralized security system (door opening and closing) in lounges and auditoriums; simultaneous translation booths with state of the art technology in all auditoriums; programmable escalators in both directions; elevators that optimize trips based on passenger demand (destination floor is selected at the waiting room); LED lighting, among other elements and amenities.

Other technological developments that stand out are the “floor overlays” of the terraces which can be lifted easily, without breaking, when performing additional work or making repairs. Also, the “sunshields” on the windows of the classrooms on which, at certain times of the year, the sun reflects directly, contributing to reduce the heat without affecting the amount of light; and a vertical power cable and data duct, allowing inspection without affecting the buildings’ structure. It is wonderful to see those perfectly combed skeins of cables.

Environmental commitment

Buildings H and I breathe: the bio-climate system, consisting of permanent circulation of outside air in all spaces, allows the regulation of natural temperature, so the air-conditioning use is reduced to a minimum.

A rainwater storage tank with a 210 cubic meters capacity, used for watering gardens and restrooms. An intensive tree-planting program seeking not only to replace some the ones that had to be cut down during the construction but also to increase the presence of new, mostly native species, are some of the features of the site, committed to the environment. A total of 1156 trees were planted.

Land ceded to the Capital District

As expected, the project complies with all the Capital District urban specifications. The land corresponding to “type A” transfer was allocated at the northern end of the complex; an area of 3 thousand square meters with a pocket park.” This land, to be delivered to the city of Bogotá as a public space, equipped with physical exercise equipment, gardens, and trails, also connects the city center with the forest reserve area located in the upper part of the Avenida Circunvalar.  This contribution is of great significance for the communities surrounding the Externado, such as the Egypt area. Added to this conceded area is the “environmental control strip” – 10 meters wide – surrounding the lot, adding almost 7 thousand square meters.

How to get there

The old path – refurbished – from the campus to the Circunvalar parking lot, passing through the Absent Maestros Garden is the main route for those going to the new buildings from the University.  Two pedestrian traffic lights on the lower road will facilitate people flow. From this lower sector, the main entrance is through a wide stone staircase.  Vehicle access is through the old parking entrance on the upper road, leading to three parking basements.

The main square

The main square unites and separates the two buildings. The decoration consists of a body of water where aquatic plants and a fountain will be placed.

On February 15, 2018, Externadistas will gather to corroborate that the new 48 thousand square meters construction, distributed in Buildings H and I, fulfill the initial objective of increasing, in geometric proportion, the quality of University life.