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Colegio los Nogales by DB Arquitectos, Bogotá, Colombia

Bonilla has transformed a red brick campus into a showcase of elegant though reticent buildings. Photography by Sergio Gomez and Rodrigo Davila

Over the past decade, Daniel Bonilla has been making important additions to the Colegio Los Nogales, a prestigious academy for 1,000 children aged 5 to 18, located on a leafy campus to the north of Bogotá. Working in harmony with a conservative institution that educates the sons and daughters of the elite, Bonilla has transformed a traditional red brick campus into a showcase of elegant though reticent buildings.

The first element of the master plan was a library that subtly inflected the traditional language, followed by a poured concrete chapel, a two-storey entrance pavilion, a low-slung arts centre, and a newly completed classroom block. Next up is a new cafeteria-assembly space that should be completed by the end of this year.

The chapel represented the most radical break with the past and it occupies a prominent site to the east of a large grassy quadrangle. A slender campanile plays off the horizontal box of the chapel with its deeply recessed wooden side doors. The rectangular worship space with a raised sanctuary and a gallery to one side is lit from narrow wall slits, and from a light funnel over the altar. Dim light conveys a sense of mystery and sanctity. Wood pews that Lorenzo Castro developed from his slatted chair seat about a 100. For larger gatherings, the two side doors pivot open, and the axis shifts 90°, as the entire chapel becomes a sanctuary and acoustic shell for up to 2,000 worshippers sitting in the quadrangle.

Beyond, as the first element to border a second quad, is the arts building, a rectilinear block of pale brick. The ground floor houses dance studios and three acoustically refined music studios that can be combined to create an auditorium by folding back the dividing partitions. A roof plane with a constellation of circular openings canopies a staircase and bleachers of zapan wood. The bleachers provide seating for events, and the stairs ascend to the second floor art and crafts studios, which are cantilevered out to flank the entry. Slender tilted red, orange and yellow poles screen a ribbon window in the side of this floating wing, adding the vibrancy of colour to a plain facade.

Across the quad is the new three-storey classroom building. The same long pale bricks, with small square openings, clad a cut-away block. Expansive windows on the south facade are screened by louvres in tones of blue and grey. Nothing on the exterior prepares you for the three-level atrium. Undulating walls of poured concrete enclose brick-paved galleries looking into the central volume that is lit by large round skylights that echo those of Alvar Aalto’s Viipuri library. The bold organic shapes and tactile surfaces are a worthy tribute to the Finnish master.

Architect Daniel Bonilla, DB Arquitectos, Bogotá
Design team Andres Gutierrez, Adriana Hernandez, David Kita, Rodrigo Montoya, Juliana Lozano, Muricio Patino, Cristian Echeverria, Vanessa Vasquez, Sebastian Chica, Melissa Betancourt

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