“Right now there’s a very important investment in education in this country,” says Daniel Bonilla of Daniel Bonilla Arquitectos and design director of TAB, or Taller de Arquitectura de Bogotá (Bogotá Architecture Workshop). “The idea of being educated has always been a very important idea for a Colombian, but also how you raise the quality of education.”
A big part of that, Bonilla says, comes down to the spaces where people learn. “We have crossed the line from doing a good building to doing an exceptional building or creating an exceptional atmosphere for learning.”
When Bonilla and his team built the Anglo-Colombian School in Bogotá, for example, they created flexible space in between classrooms to emphasize collaboration among teachers. “This is unique, and it has been very important to encourage people to work together,” he says.
Transforming School Design
The Anglo-Colombian School is made of repetitive pieces with the classroom as the basic module. When added up, this also allowed architects to reduce the scale of the whole set, further reducing the project’s footprint.
The architecture behind educational facilities changed because education itself changed in Colombia, according to María Elvira Madriñán, widow of famous Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona and herself a leader in the field. She says much talk from worldwide leading architects in the last five years emphasized to Colombian architects how schools and universities must be constructed to make the education process better.
“What’s going on with education in the country right now is very interesting and very important,” Bonilla says. “And of course if we educate people better, we will get a lot of resources in many fields in the future.”
“About 20 years ago, there were a lot of new school projects going on and a lot of competitions for building schools,” Madriñán says. “These competitions and these schools especially were made in scenarios where you wouldn’t normally find access to education or to cultural spaces. They became cultural centers in the communities.”
In the last several years, many schools have increasingly transformed into community centers on the weekends where locals can enjoy social events or take an art or other community class. “That has a major impact on the evolution of the community itself,” Madriñán says.
In more recent years, architects and the city alike began to rethink libraries, too. In the early 2000s, a project called BiblioRed got off the ground with services at the Virgilio Barco Library, designed by Rogelio Salmona S.A., and other libraries. In 2010, the fourth largest library, the Julio Mario Santo Domingo Library, was added to the BiblioRed network.
“They made four big libraries in parks in areas that used to be dangerous or for lower income people,” Madriñán says. “[Before] there was one library downtown. Many kids didn’t have the access to go downtown to the library, so these projects started to give the kids the possibility to access to books and culture.”
It was a total change for the city. Madriñán says the great network of libraries managed to have wide coverage, complemented by a network of small libraries in schools and colleges to reach all of the city. “There is nothing more transformative than culture,” she says.
The Virgilio Barco Public Library was built inside a park also designed by Salmona, with pedestrian and bike paths, canals, lakes, and native trees. In addition to being a place of learning and community, the project emphasized the issue of water management. The UNESCO World Heritage Centre site makes great use of rainwater by integrating it into the building. According to UNESCO, the project challenges the concept of contemporary public space as it incorporates meeting places and open access so all can enjoy the space, whether they want to take a walk in nature or go inside and read.
PROJECT: Anglo-Colombian School AREA: 4,967 square meters PROJECT YEAR: 2014–2015 ARCHITECTS: Taller de Arquitectura de Bogotá/Daniel Bonilla Arquitectos DESIGN TEAM: Karen Argüello, Juan Rubio, Carolina Herrera PROJECT MANAGEMENT: Exacta Proyecto Total SA - Luis Guillermo Vallejo CONSTRUCTION: SRC Ingenieros Civiles SA - Julián Ruiz STRUCTURAL DESIGN: IPI - Oscar Ordoñez Casallas INTERIOR DESIGN: Arquitectura e Interiores SUPERVISION: PAYC SOIL SURVEY: LFO Ingenieros - Luis Fernando Orozco ELECTRICAL DESIGN & STRUCTURAL WIRING: LM Ingenieros HYDRO SANITARY DESIGN: Bernardo Rodríguez ACOUSTIC DESIGN: ADT - Daniel Duplat BIO-CLIMATIC CONSULTANT: Jorge Ramírez Fonseca SECURITY DESIGN: Jaime Andrés García LIGHTING DESIGN: Carmenza Henao Londoño LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Paisajismo y diseños Terranova SAS