The first phase of implementation for Sasaki's design of Universidad del Istmo aims at consolidating the school's operation—presently dispersed throughout Guatemala City—into a new campus setting in the rural area of Santa Isabel in Fraijanes. The campus will accommodate 1,600 students belonging to nine established faculties by 2013, and will set the basis for the long-term development of the institution that anticipates a steady growth in student enrollment over the next 25 years. The design develops a flexible program and phasing strategy that allows the campus to grow in an organic manner, matching building and space resources with progressive enrollment. The design also provides for a campus environment jumpstarts a new pedagogical model for the school. Finally, the design sets forth an integrated building site complex as a model for the restoration and sustainable redevelopment of the agricultural landscape characteristic of this region of Guatemala.
The university's first phase defines the campus heart and its main civic space—the central plaza, the library, the campus center, and the rectory—around which the rest of the campus will grow over time. Future academic departments, student residences, and support uses will fill in the remaining areas of the site's highest plateau. The landscape spaces between them will render the campus as a pedestrian environment in a garden setting.
In this phase, all academic programs and academic support areas are brought together into three flexible buildings until academic department complexes are built around them and their spaces are reclaimed for academic support uses. The sharing of space among faculties will provide an unprecedented interdisciplinary experience, helping the school transition into a new pedagogic model. As the campus extends into academic neighborhoods, instructional, research, and student life spaces will continue to be shared—promoting the same interdisciplinary collaboration of the campus beginnings.
The first phase is designed as a largely passive development that draws upon the site's resources and unique climatic conditions to function. The project integrates building, infrastructure, and landscape solutions to manage water on site, conserves and reuses the heavy volume of stormwater, and helps revert existing erosion processes. The buildings are naturally ventilated using exposed transient spaces like circulation areas, verandas, and patios as weather protection and air exchange spaces. Electricity, waste treatment, and stormwater collection systems are designed as modules capable of managing and monitoring the performance of individual building and site parcels.
The plan responds to its site context through a variety of conservation and development strategies. These strategies provide the continuation and restoration of existing natural ecosystems including the Mediterranean pine reforestation in the hillside, the extension of the forested prairie in the elevated plateaus, and the conservation of wetlands, open springs, and streams as part of the larger watershed in the valley.