The Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, built to the design of the architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, between 1940 and 1960, is an outstanding example of the Modern Movement in architecture. The university campus integrates the large number of buildings and functions into a clearly articulated ensemble, including masterpieces of modern architecture and visual arts, such as the Aula Magna with the "Clouds" of Alexander Calder, the Olympic Stadium, and the Covered Plaza.
Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas
© Jorge Andrés Paparoni Bruzual
Justification for Inscription
Criterion i :The Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas is a masterpiece of modern city planning, architecture and art, created by the Venezuelan architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva and a group of distinguished avant-garde artists.
Criterion iv : The Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas is an outstanding example of the coherent realization of the urban, architectural, and artistic ideals of the early 20th century. It constitutes an ingenious interpretation of the concepts and spaces of colonial traditions and an example of an open and ventilated solution, appropriate for its tropical environment.
The University City of Caracas is an outstanding example, and one of the best in the world, of the modern urban, architectural and artistic concepts of the early 20th century. It therefore illustrates in an excellent way this recent but already significant period in human history. The urban and architectural spaces created by Carlos Raúl Villanueva in association with the works of the artists who participated in the 'integration of the arts' are of incomparable quality and character. The essence of the work is in the message and the aesthetic emotion that its authors have managed to transmit.
The origin of the Central University of Venezuela was the foundation of the Royal and Pontifical University by a decree of Philip V in 1721, promulgated during the Spanish colonial period. It operated within the Santa Rosa Seminary. In 1856 it became independent of the seminary and was transferred to the former San Francisco Convent. The university soon started growing and occupied other buildings outside the convent. This dispersal caused problems for its work and so it was decided to concentrate the university in a new ensemble, a campus in the outskirts of Caracas.
Studies for the new university campus began in 1942. In the following year a Coordinating Commission was created, composed of Dr Armando Vegas as coordinator and Carlos Raúl Villanueva as planner. Villanueva, founder and professor of the Faculty of Architecture, had participated in a commission sent to study the university campus of Bogotá, and after this experience he emerged as the principal planner-architect of the new team. Work started on the first buildings in 1945.
The 1949 revised plan produced the first important changes in the urban layout: Villanueva abandoned the symmetrical disposition of the structures. His project is characterized by the application of modern technology, the audacity of the forms, and the use of bare concrete structures, conceived as sculptures. It led to the creation of a complex, open and integrated space which was at the same time protected from light and heat. Since the death of Villanueva there have been various modifications, including new buildings designed by Gorka Dorronsoro, who was one of the young collaborators of Villanueva.
The architecture of the university involves the use of spatial elements that have been extracted from Venezuelan colonial architecture, such as bright colours, latticed windows for ventilation, and internal gardens of copious tropical vegetation. It constitutes an outstanding example in a small enclosed space of a utopian world reflecting that time and expressing the quality of modern urbanism, vegetation joined with the use of new materials and modern aesthetics.
The University City, an integral part of the modern city of Caracas, is articulated through a zoning scheme; there are several groups that are identified with the unity of their functions: 1, cultural and administrative centre; 2, medicine; 3, engineering, economics, liberal arts and sciences; 4, residential units; 5, botany; 6, architecture; 7, sports; 8, industrial technology school; and 9, services. The campus includes a series of large buildings, in particular the faculties of Architecture, Economy, Pharmacy, and Dentistry, the Library and the Hospital. The most notable buildings are the Aula Magna, with the magnificent 'Clouds' of Alexander Calder, the Olympic Stadium, and the covered plaza.
The Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas is an example of outstanding quality representing the highest ideals and concepts of modern city planning, architecture and art in the mid-20th century. Its particular quality is in the skill of integrating new architectural forms and contemporary art into a spatial and environmental whole, satisfying the functional and ideological requirements of the institution. Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC
The origin of the Central University of Venezuela is in the foundation of the Royal and Pontifical University by a decree of Philip V in 1721, promulgated during the Spanish colonial period. It operated in the Santa Rosa Seminary, located in the main square of the city of Caracas, today the Plaza Bolívar. In 1827 Simón Bolívar promulgated the new Republican Statutes for the University, and in 1856 it became independent of the Seminary and was transferred to the former San Francisco Convent, two blocks south-west of the Plaza Bolívar. The University soon started growing and occupied other buildings outside the convent. The dispersion caused problems to the work and it was thus decided to concentrate the university in a new enclosure, a campus in the outskirts of Caracas. The new university demanded a modernization of the institution, in order to correspond with the new requirements of the time.
In 1942 the studies for the new university campus began, focusing first on the faculty of medicine and the clinical hospital, its main element around which the University was organized from the beginning. In the following year a Coordinating Commission was created, composed of representatives of the Ministries of Education, Health, Social Attendance, and Public Works. The Ministry of Public Works appointed the architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva. The site of the Hacienda Sosa in El Valle was chosen as the location for the campus. The commission consisted of Dr Armando Vegas as co-ordinator, Villanueva as planner, and the engineer Guillermo Herrera as technician. In October 1943 Government Executive Ordinance No 196 established the Instituto de la Ciudad Universitaria, assigned to the Ministry of Public Works. Dr Frank McVey from the University of Kentucky (USA) was hired to advise on the project.
The first plan, prepared in 1943, consisted of several groups of buildings, including the administration, the different faculties, dwellings for students, faculty, and personnel, as well as facilities for sports and a botanical garden. Villanueva, who was not yet responsible for the project, had not signed this plan. In 1944 he participated in a commission sent to study the university campus of Bogotá. After this experience it was decided to establish a unique architectural team to control the entire design process of the campus. Villanueva emerged as the principal planner-architect of the team. In 1944 a new plan was prepared, maintaining the academic criteria of the previous project but aiming at a higher complexity within the ensemble and the buildings. The main axis was here provided with an ending, the Olympic Stadium, which was to remain in this location even in future plans.
The construction of the first buildings started in 1945 with the Clinical Hospital and related buildings. The building of the Industrial Technical School was started in 1947, changing its position from what had been initially proposed. Here Villanueva abandoned the symmetry of the medical complex and introduced some of the latest avant-garde ideas in architecture into the projects. Another group that started at the end of the 1940s were the residential buildings, referring to models developed especially in Germany after World War I and consisting of horizontal blocks, separated by open spaces and surrounded by gardens; the buildings had large open balconies that also served as solar protection.
The 1949 plan evidenced the first important changes in the urban layout. The covered walk that crossed the campus from south to north, separating the medicine group from the Rector's Office and the Aula Magna, seems also to have separated two historical moments in the planning process. A radically different approach started now with the sports stadium project. The change was expressed in the new way of using reinforced concrete and became apparent in the projects for the Cultural Directive area, including the Plaza del Rectorado, the Covered Plaza, the Aula Magna, the Library, etc. The works were finished and inaugurated in 1953. From here on the project was developed in an organic and dynamic manner. The asymmetric disposition of the structures, the audacity of the forms, and the use of bare concrete structures, conceived as sculptures, characterized the constructions. It led to the creation of a complex, open, and integrated space which was at the same time protected from light and heat.
The project of the Faculty of Architecture in 1953 was another key element in the development of the University. Villanueva gathered in this building, particularly important for him, the development of a complex consisting of varied low volumes contrasted to the high prismatic towers of the Central Library. This building initiated a stage which showed the way for the faculties of Pharmacy, Dentistry, and Economic and Social Sciences. This last faculty was built after the death of Villanueva. This period highlights the idea of integrating the different arts into one ensemble, and several artists were invited to participate in the process. This involved, for example, the finishing of the exteriors, by Alejandro Otero in the Faculties of Architecture and Pharmacy and by Omar Carreño in Dentistry.
Since the death of Villanueva there have been various modifications, including new buildings or provisional structures in the exterior and division of spaces in some interiors. There are also a number of new constructions, such as the building for the Deanship of Engineering designed by Gorka Dorronsoro, who was one of the young collaborators of Villanueva and who clearly had the wish to continue the spirit of the great master. There have also been changes to the buildings designed by Villanueva, some of these unfortunate. The University Cafeteria underwent two enlargements in the 1980s. The great volume of these can be seen as an aggression to the open space of the University City, altering the original spatial relationships. Source: Advisory Body Evaluation