Radical Pedagogies: Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies of Tucumán (1947-1952)

Ciudad universitaria de Tucumán, in Revista Nuestra Arquitectura nº 254 (Sept. 1950) Ciudad universitaria de Tucumán, in Revista Nuestra Arquitectura nº 254 (Sept. 1950)

ArchDaily is continuing our partnership with Radical Pedagogies, an ongoing multi-year collaborative research project led by Beatriz Colomina with a team of PhD students of the School of Architecture at Princeton University, presenting a series of paradigmatic cases in architectural education. In this article, Horacio Torrent presents the example of the Institute of Architecture and Urban Studies of the National University of Tucumán in Argentina, led by Jorge Vivanco with a group of invited Italian professors. The Institute’s key radical approach was in the real materialization of their architecture, including actual commissions and clients, with the university’s own campus being the most important of these projects.

In 1947, Italian professors Ernesto Rogers, Cino Calcaprina, Luigi Piccinato, Enrico Tedeschi and civil engineer Guido Oberti were invited to teach at the School of Architecture, Universidad Nacional de Tucumán. Jorge Vivanco, the school’s Dean, contacted the group of professors after attending the 6th Congrès internationaux d’architecture moderne (CIAM) in Bridgwater, England. Vivanco also appointed the Argentinian architects Eduardo Sacriste, Horacio Caminos, Hilario Zalba, José Le Pera, Rafael Onetto, and Jorge Bruno Borgato. Together, these professors took part in one of the most radical and short-lived experiences in architectural teaching in Latin America at the time.

The group joined the Instituto de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, established as part of the reorganization of the Universidad Nacional de Tucumán into a scientific and cultural center during the progressive days of the administration of Juan Domingo Perón. The Instituto disregarded Argentina’s then-prevalent traditional teaching practices and pragmatic orientation towards the architectural profession, instead combining pedagogy with research and a straightforward approach to public institutions and local companies. Its agenda revolved around a rational approach that took into account local conditions —already proposed by the Argentinaian Grupo Austral— as well as organicist theories provided by the Italian professors, some of whom were the founding members of the Associazione per l’Architettura Organica (APAO), who were also connected to the journal Metron.

The students’ design assignments —incorporating advice from teachers and visiting experts— were directly related to actual commissions with local and district administrations as clients. The projects addressed a wide range of scales, from urban developments —workers’ housing for Marapa, Ñuñorco, and the Villa Alberdi sugar mills— to buildings —Catamarca’s civic centre, a school and hotel in Purmamarca— and even to projects that addressed regional concerns —the Plan Regulador de Jujuy-Palpalá.

The most significant of these projects was submitted for the campus of Universidad Nacional de Tucumán. It was located on the San Javier hills, on the outskirts of the city, comprising two distinctive areas, on the brow and at the bottom of the hill. The structures toward the top included a community center, educational buildings, and housing, combined with an area for sports and recreation. The proposal was selected by Reyner Banham as the first “megastructure” project —the student housing block was 480 meters long and designed to accommodate 4000 people.

The community center emerged as the project’s centerpiece, developed as a giant roof of concave and convex cone-shaped shells, which was to be supported by 20 meter columns tested at the Politecnico de Milán’s structural lab. It was under this grand ceiling that the university’s urban life would take place. In illustrations of the project, the social and cultural significance of the civic center was conveyed through a direct reference to the Piazza San Marco —a case that would only be acknowledged later by modern architectural culture, during the debates of the 8th CIAM in 1950. The proposed civic center in Tucumán conveyed the idea of a new monumentality, advocating for a cultural dimension to urban space that could transcend the mere fulfillment of function to represent social life itself.

Eduardo Sacriste with his alumni at the Instituto de Arquitectura y Urbanismo in Tucumán Eduardo Sacriste with his alumni at the Instituto de Arquitectura y Urbanismo in Tucumán

Radical Pedagogies” is an ongoing multi-year collaborative research project led by Beatriz Colomina with a team of Ph.D. students of the School of Architecture at Princeton University. It has so far involved three years of seminars, interviews, archival research, guest lectures and almost 80 contributors from more than two dozen countries. In this, and similar research projects conducted by the PhD program at Princeton, architecture history and theory are taught and practiced as an experiment in and of themselves, exploring the potential for collaboration in what is often taught to be a field of individual endeavor.

The third edition of Radical Pedagogies’ exhibition, titled “Radical Pedagogies: Reconstructing Architectural Education,” is currently on show at the 7th WARSAW UNDER CONSTRUCTION Festival organized by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Earlier versions of this show were presented at the 3rd Lisbon Architecture Triennale (2013) and the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture, curated by Rem Koolhaas (2014), where it was awarded a Special Mention.

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