Safdie Architects designs Brazilian research centre as ‘urban oasis’

Safdie Architects, studio founded by the Israeli Canadian American architect Moshe Safdie, has designed the Albert Einstein Education and Research Center (AEERC) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, to impart a sense of calmness reflective of an urban oasis, secluded from the busy city.

Located in the residential district of Morumbi, Sao Paulo, adjacent to the main Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, the AEERC is a project of the private Brazilian health care institute Sociedade Beneficente Israelita Brasileira Albert Einstein. As one of the first medical schools in the country to be established by a private hospital, it is envisioned as a landmark learning and research environment.

The spacious garden atrium is the physical and symbolic centrepiece of the building. Offering opportunities for spontaneous interaction, collaboration, and discovery, as well as repose and contemplation, it serves as the community living room, visible from almost everywhere in the building. The stepped terraces connect four main levels of activity, a restaurant on the first floor, an amphitheatre and auditorium on the centre levels, and exhibition/event space on the fourth floor.

The garden atrium, sown with native trees and plants and paved with local stone, was designed in collaboration with Sao Paulo-based Isabel Duprat Landscape Architecture. The atrium’s vaulted 3,800-m2 (40,903-sf) glass roof is designed as three integrated structural domes, acting as a grid-shell with structural steel weight kept to a minimum.

To adapt to Sao Paulo’s variable climate, Safdie Architects worked with Seele, the specialty German subcontractor, and its local partners, to engineer the multilayered skylight system. The atrium environment was the result of extensive computer modelling to balance three countervailing factors: to provide ample daylight for the plants to thrive, to regulate heat gain and glare for human comfort, and to provide shading by delicately filtering bright sunlight. Printed with a bespoke frit pattern and solar-protection coating, the glass roof’s design was instrumental in guiding the building towards achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold status.

The outer skylight is made up of 1,854 ultra-transparent glass panels, coated with triple-silver solar protection to reduce heat gain, and printed with a pattern of translucent ceramic dots to shade sunlight. The glass has minimal reflectivity to avoid disturbing exterior reflections. The inner layer of the roof is a transparent membrane, micro-perforated to absorb noise and printed with a custom pattern of translucent dots that provide shading, but also glow in the sunlight. The increasing density of dots towards the east and west ends shades low-angle sun, while the centre dome is entirely clear, allowing full sunlight to reach the denser planting in the atrium garden. When seen from below, the overlapping layers of dots create an effect similar to dappled sunlight through the overlapping leaves of a tree, evoking the feeling of being under a tree canopy.

The centre is organized into two connected wings, which bookend the central atrium. The east wing contains the main teaching spaces, including education spaces for nursing, medicine, graduate programs, medical residency, and technical courses. The west wing houses medical research facilities, including laboratories, clean rooms, and clinical research resources. Walkways bridge between the teaching and research wings and are punctuated by a series of intimate meeting and study spaces on each level of the centre.

Embracing the sloping hillside, the building nestles itself into the site. A continuous full-height glass facade gives extensive daylight to both labs and classrooms. The enclosure is designed such that alternating floors are either shaded by deep overhangs or screened by brise soleil to control daylight and glare, while preserving views to the neighbourhood.

A louvered facade diminishes the impact of the scale of the building in response to the surrounding residential neighbourhood, while providing optimal light and shade to the interior classroom spaces. The centre is directly connected to the facilities and resources of the main hospital complex by a pedestrian bridge over Padre Lebret Avenue.

The airfoil shape of the louvers, as well as their angle and spacing, were 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 facade to the path of the sun. Interior-operable solar shades and black-out shades allow for flexible daylight control.

“Moshe Safdie and his partners have been our ideal collaborators—their designs are functional and beautiful,” says Dr. Claudio Lottenberg, Einstein’s deliberative council president. “They have designed a space for us that goes beyond meeting human needs to create an uplifting atmosphere that conveys the centre’s mission and aligns with our principles and values. This place reflects, body and soul, what Einstein is.”

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