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The old and the new

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The new offices of the Polytechnic University of Cartagena are located in a building whose history is inseparable from that of the Antiguo Penal de Presidarios y Esclavos. The building is over two hundred years old. It is austere and powerful and its stone walls tower over an impressive courtyard that resembles an enclosed, highly mineral square. Built in 1776 between the harbour and the arsenal, the old prison played several roles and for a long time was home to the CIM (Cuartel de Instrucción de Marineria), the training centre for Spanish navy officers. The start of the school year in September 2009 was the first time that university students replaced navy officers in the large rectangular courtyard, which José Manuel Chacón Bulnes covered with a net of textile to provide some welcome shade in this severe space. The conversion of the military training school into a university building involved two radically opposed types of project: the renovation of a historic building and the creation of a new building to house the offices and other work spaces for which the existing building lacked space. The old building was restored: Chacón Bulnes gave it back its double-sloped roofing (the original roofing was destroyed by a fire in 1946). VMZinc roof, which is visible from the hills around the harbour, now forms the frame for the rectangular courtyard. VMZinc is also used in the extension to the university: a long rectilinear bar with a contemporary design that creates a striking contrast with the original historic building. The new building did not appeal to everyone: the extension was accused of blocking the view of the seafront, and of disfiguring a major element of Cartagena’s architectural heritage. All these debates were refuted by the architect: the extension was built on the shorter side of the historic building, and has the same dimensions as the latter. Replacing the old dining halls that adjoined the existing facade, the new building is a little detached from the monument. Its glass façade, which is covered with a layer of perforated VMZinc, allows passers-by to see through to the stone walls inside. Made out of a series of folds, this second skin of VMZinc also acts as a sun-screen, keeping heat levels to a minimum in the offices hidden behind this metal lattice.


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