by Zohra KhanSep 23, 2022
An urban oasis shaping the future of medical education and research in São Paulo’s residential district Morumbi has been designed by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie and his eponymous Boston-based firm. The 44,000 sqm Albert Einstein Education and Research Center, located next to the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital, is the first medical school to be established by a private hospital in Brazil. The latter is a Brazilian hospital considered to be one of Latin America's best healthcare facilities.
Safdie Architects' vision for the project found inspiration in the idea of creating a contextual architecture that stands in contrast to the busy nature of the surroundings. The firm condensed the programmes of the architectural brief into a large permeable volume connected to a garden-like core. The laboratories, classrooms and meeting areas are woven around a vaulted sky-lit garden atrium that evokes the feeling of congregating under a leafy tree. Featuring large swathes of curved frit glass, the roof nestles below a multi-level green core that facilitates circulation within the education building in addition to being the architecture’s community heart.
Several stepped terraces meandering through the green architecture serves as both contemplative pockets of respite and as spaces for impromptu meetings and interactions. Connecting four main levels of programs, these pass by a restaurant on the first floor, an amphitheatre and auditorium on the centre levels, and a multi-purpose exhibition and event space on the fourth floor.
Key to the design is the sweeping 3800 sqm glass roof, designed and engineered in collaboration between Safdie Architects and German engineering and construction company Seele. The multi-layered skylight system was conceived in response to São Paulo’s variable climate, ensuring it provides "ample natural light for the plants to thrive; regulates heat gain and glare for human comfort; and provides shading by delicately filtering bright sunlight." As per the design team, the structure of the roof - conceptualised as an assembly of layers - features three integrated structural domes that serve as grid shells to efficiently vault 86m+ with minimum structural weight. While the outer skylight is made of 1854 glass panels that have been coated with triple silver solar protection in addition to a printed pattern of translucent ceramic dots to shade sunlight, the inner sheath of the roof is a micro-perforated transparent membrane revealing a custom-pattern of translucent dots. When seen from below, these dots that proliferate on the east and west ends of the skylight - leaving the centre of the roof transparent – create the impression of dappled sunlight filtering through a thicket.
The programmatic distribution of spaces within the building have been slotted in two wings that bookend the central atrium. Divided as the teaching section on the east and research section on the west, the activities of the two wings remain both physically and visually connected via walkways and its subsequent proliferation of outdoor study spaces. Teaching spaces within the east wing include areas for nursing, medicine, graduate programs, medical residency, and technical courses, while the west research wing houses laboratories, clean rooms, and clinical research resources.
Though the building’s interior core carries a sense of openness and collaboration, the exterior language of the school is kept rather introverted. Revealing a full-height glass façade with alternating floors shaded by deep overhangs, the exterior - "scaled to be discrete" - is designed in line with the idea of the building to serve as a sanctuary in its context. "The airfoil shape of the louvers, as well as their angle and spacing," the design team explains, "was developed using computer sun studies, tested with full scale physical models. The louvers are oriented either diagonally or horizontally, depending on the orientation of each façade to the path of the sun. Interior operable solar shades and black out shades allow for flexible daylight control."
What distinguishes the building from its contemporary counterparts is how beautifully nature has been woven within every program of the school, something that has been previously not seen in Brazil. Evoking different moods at different places, the curving atrium garden with its rich layering of trees and planting and local stone paving, sculpt both social spaces such as amphitheatres and exhibition area, as well as inward-looking corners such as the enclosed area carrying seating around the fountain. What took over two years of research to arrive at the conditions that nurture the garden today, in addition to learning from projects such as the Gardens by the Bay and Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore and Kew Gardens and the Eden Project in the UK, the landscape design was beautifully executed by São-Paulo-based Isabel Duprat Landscape Architecture.
The project's materiality follows use of locally sourced species of wood Jequitibá and Jatobá for the library, Cedro Rosso for the auditorium, and Imbuia wood for cladding on elevator cores and custom doors. Natural rubber flooring has been used in classrooms and labs in colours like terracotta red and egg yolk yellow to define orientation and character of each space. Further, art permeates the clinical spaces in the use of sculptural benches within the exhibition that have been designed and fabricated by Brazilian designer Guto Índio da Costa. In addition to this, the verticality of the garden atrium has also been enlivened by a four-story mosaic mural by Brazilian artist Claudio Tozzi.
The sustainable architecture, which took 36 months of construction, involved an international team of consultants, engineers and contractors that closely worked with Safdie Architects in achieving the desired vision. A key practice responsible for developing the interior planning of the classrooms and labs was international firm Perkins+Will. A space of its own character and spirit, over 6300 people daily inhabit the school’s enclosures and lead the baton to advancing medical science education and research in Brazil.