The Irish firm of Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, operating since 1978 as Grafton Architects, has been much acclaimed for the Luigi Bocconi University in Milan, a half-buried civic box of concrete – completed in the year 2008 – that strikes an intelligent dialogue with the environment and which behind an apparent hermetism presents an interior of great spatial richness.
The Milanese recipe must have really caused raves in academe, for soon afterwards ‘the Graftons’ landed commissions from the universities of Limerick, Kingston, and Toulouse, among others. The most important of all is the project for the UTEC campus in Lima, the competition for which they won in 2011 with a powerful and poetic proposal that combined the infrastructural scheme of Le Corbusier’s Unités with the aesthetic of Mendes da Rocha and Clorinda Testa, with discernible echoes of 1970s megastructures.
Recently finished, however, the building has lost much of its poetry, especially the poetry of the hill metaphor that the stepping of the section suggested, a metaphor which, once it was materialized, seemed almost literal: a concrete hill imposing its rocky mass on the environment (even with the municipal authorities ordering, with good criteria, a reduction in the building’s height). Nevertheless, though outwardly the UTEC complex takes on a monumental and rather unfriendly character, the inside of the building maintains the virtues of the Bocconi work: spaces which are labyrinthine, mysterious, almost Piranesian, but presenting a pleasant and civic atmosphere.