Universidad Central de Venezuela Caracas Venezuela a Modernist campus 194477 and continuing

In October 1943, General Isaías Medina Angarita, the democratically elected President of Venezuela, under pressure from the then rector of the Central University of Venezuela, Dr Antonio José Castillo, announced the decision to build the university anew. It would be a University City on a new site on the old Ibarra Estate located at the edge of central Caracas. The Ministry of Public Works made the choice under pressure from Dr Armando Vegas who recognized the potential of a central site with good foundation conditions as better than the others available at that time. Carlos Raúl Villanueva (see Figure 7.26), Paris educated and Venezuela's leading Modernist architect, was brought on board the planning team almost immediately. The development and implementation of the master plan was almost entirely in his hands, but marked by rivalries amongst politicians, university officials and designers. One of the problems was that although the project was initiated under Medina Angarita, its development took place under the dictatorship of General Marcos Pérez Jiménez and many people involved in the university did not want to be seen to be associated with his regime.

Villanueva's first scheme for the university (1944) was a symmetrical, axial Baroque one based on the classical discipline of his education in Paris (see Figure 7.27a). At the

Figure 7.26 Carlos Raúl Villanueva.
(b) (c)

Figure 7.27 Two plans for the Universidad Central de Venezuela. (a) The 1944 site plan, (b) the Campidoglio (the Capital Piazza), Rome and (c) the 1952 plan.

head of the scheme is the University Hospital, in front of which he proposed a trident based on Michelangelo's Campidoglio in Rome (see Figure 7.27b). Buildings for Anatomy and Pathology that formed part of the trident framed the University Plaza. The academic buildings were arranged on the sides of the axis with the sports complex at its end. The proposed architecture of this design was heavily influenced by the Art Deco.

Villanueva's revised scheme (1952) retained many components of his original design in approximately the same locations (compare Figures 7.28a and c). The Clinical Hospital and the trident with the schools of Anatomy and Medical Research (1952-3) remained, as did the major elements of the sports complex, but the strong axiality of the original gave way to a Modernist idea of siting buildings semi-independently in space.

The Covered Plaza (1953) links them. The potential axis is taken up in an asymmetrical manner with the Main Auditorium (Aula Magna) and the Library (1953). To the east of this combination are the Faculties of Law (1954) and of Engineering with the School of Architecture (1956) beyond them. The eastern end of the campus retains the sports complex with the Olympic Stadium and the baseball stadiums being the major features. The workshops for the School of Industrial Engineering (1964) and the Faculty of Economic and Social Science (1977) came later.

Perhaps the major feature of Villanueva's design is the integration of works of art and architecture. He never articulated an ideological position behind his selection ofworks of art other than to mix the work of Venezuelan with international leaders. There were 105 major murals and sculptures on the campus. The walls of the plazas have murals by artists such as Oswaldo Vigas,

Fernand Leger and Pascual Navarro; the interior of buildings arts works by Héctor Poleo and Pedro León Castro amongst others. Sculptures by artists such as Henri Laurens, Jean Arp and Antoine Pevsner adorn the plazas. The main auditorium (Aula Magna) has Alexander Calder's Flying Saucers as 'acoustical clouds' hanging from the ceiling (Figure 7.29).

When completed the campus was a veritable display of Modernist architecture (albeit by one set of hands) and art. Since 1970, bits and piece have been added to the campus so that it has lost the integrity of the ideas of its author. The political upheavals in Venezuela of the period from the 1960s to the 1990s saw much degradation of the art works. Murals were covered with graffiti and sculptures abused. They had become a symbol not of progress but of the political status quo. Changes in the campus meant that some of the murals were 'walled up' as new buildings were erected.

Figure 7.29 Two views of the art of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. (a) The Rectorate Plaza in 1998 with the mural 'Static Composition-Dynamic Composition' by Oswaldo Vigas and (b) the 'Aula Magna' in 2004.

Figure 7.29 Two views of the art of the Universidad Central de Venezuela. (a) The Rectorate Plaza in 1998 with the mural 'Static Composition-Dynamic Composition' by Oswaldo Vigas and (b) the 'Aula Magna' in 2004.

As early as the mid-1970s an effort was made without much success to clean up the murals and to protect the sculptures. In 1981, Villanueva's dining complex was demolished to make way for a new one and a porcelain mural by Francisco Navies was largely destroyed. In reaction, the Rector of the University, Dr Carlos Moros Ghersi created a Unit for the Preservation of the Artistic Patrimony of the Central University of Venezuela. It was headed until 1990 by a sculptor, Miguel Borrelli. The artwork is celebrated again but only a discerning eye can still see the total urban design effort ofVillanueva. It no longer dominates the layout of the campus; his individual buildings still do.

Major references

Larrañaga, Enrique (undated). The University City and the architectural thought in Venezuela. In Obras de Arte de la Cuidad Universitaria de Caracas/Works of Art of the University City of Caracas. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 45-62.

Leal, Ildefonso (1991). Historia de la Universidad Central de Venezuela. Caracas: Ediciones del Rectorado, Universidad Central de Venezuela.

Moholy-Nagy, D. M. A. Sybille, P. (1964). Carlos Raúl Villaneuva and the Architecture of Venezuela. London: Tiranti.

Villanueva, Paulina (2000). Carlos Raúl Villaneuva/ Paulina Villanueva/Macía Pintó. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.

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