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Planning an 800 Year Old University as a Marketplace of Ideas: Pablo Campos Interview

“Educational Architecture can go beyond just being a “built floor” for the University; it can become the first lesson to be received by visitors and students.” — Pablo Campos

In 2005, educational planner Pablo Campos won a DesignShare Honor Award for his re-design of Universidad de Salamanca, an esteemed 800 year old university. The educational community’s goals were to transition a historic university campus in a city center to a “marketplace of ideas” relocated to a natural setting on the edge of the urban environment.

Recently, DesignShare had the opportunity to speak with Pablo, professor of Architecture at the Universidad San Pablo-CEU of Madrid and author of Journey Into Utopia: The Story of the First American Style Campus in Europe. Pablo talked about the experience of helping an 800 year old university be reborn into a 21st century learning institution.


DesignShare: Take us back to the first time you heard about the project (before you officially began to work on it). What excited you the most about the opportunity to create a master plan for an 800 year old university re-imagining itself for the future?

Pablo’s reply: There are 4 things which excited me:

  • The fascinating Nature of the site.
  • The opportunity to design a breaking new campus for an Institution 800 years old which for the first time was facing the adventure of moving out of the historic City
  • 3. The faces of the NOT WEALTHY children of the small town of Villamayor (municipality which will host the campus), as I imagined them being transformed into University students, with an open future in front of them.
  • The scepticism of the Rector about the possibilities to design a really outstanding new Campus.
  • DesignShare: What were the greatest challenges once you accepted the project? And what unique solutions grew out of these early obstacles?

    Pablo’s reply: As great challenges, being able to demonstrate via Architectural design how important Higher Education is in the role of transforming the urban, social, cultural and economic context. It was also a big challenge to have the responsibility of designing a new “home” for an Institution as famous worldwide as Salamanca. The unique solution that grew out of this challenge was to really BELIEVE in the virtues of planning and of Architecture as conductors in the search for excellence.

    In a more accurate aspect, the River Tormes and the risk of flooding onto the University future areas provided the opportunity to design some urbanistic-arqchitectural solutions as a tool to protect the University environment against such unlikely threats. Besides, some University Departments were sceptical about the fact that they would be moved form their current locations downtown to the new peripherical campus.

    After months of dense meetings, I was able to convince them of the benefits of living in a fascinating modern campus.

    DesignShare: The project often spoke of ‘transformation’ and creating a ‘marketplace of ideas’ for the future. Can you explain what these descriptions have come to mean to you over time?

    Pablo’s reply: The key argument for this campus has been to create an “Educational Campus”. This meant and means to me a new concept in Higher Ed: making Architecture, landscape and urbanistic design not just as a framework, but a true strong topic for both students and professors.

    Through a concious design of the physical space, Educational Architecture can go beyond just being a “built floor” for the University; it can become the first lesson to be received by visitors and students. The “Educational Campus” will be able to play the role of transforming mentalities, as well as transforming the cultural, social and natural environment. Transformation through Education; transformation through Architecture.

    DesignShare: Clearly, the natural environment was a critical element for the master plan. How did you deal with the tension of protecting relationships between the campus and its natural setting while still creating the framework for a 21st century university campus?

    Pablo’s reply: As a consequence of this innovative concept of “Educational Campus”, Nature (river Tormes, green areas, open spaces, riverside walk, etc) will be seen (together with Architecture) in elements capable of playing an active role in Education + Research.

    To me, the fascinating natural context which preexisted in the site was demanding an apprpriate consideration, as to be given a trascendental role in the campus: becoming therefore a curricular subject, where students and researchers can learn and investigate about local indigenous species and the heritage of the River Tormes.

    There was a happy circumstance for this aim: one of the Schools to be moved from Salamanca to the Villamayor new Campus will be the School of Agriculture and Environmetal Sciences.

    DesignShare: Part of your challenge was to create a plan that would be used by many different architects creating individual buildings. If you were to be the lead designer on one of the future buildings, which project would be the most interesting to you in a way that could best echo the way your master plan was conceived?

    Pablo’s reply: Yes, the idea is to have a team of brilliant architects to develop the different buildings and open spaces designs. I do beleive in “Diversity within Unity” for Universities. That´s why I do not believe in a big campus designed only by one architect. So, my role as director or coordinator should be critical, in order to preserve the complete spirit of the physical design, but allowing at the same time the neede freedom of the different architrects to interpretate the basic guidelines with their one personality.

    If I could choose, the building I would design is the School of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, because it is an architectural shaper. As defined in my Master Plan, it really embodies most of the key spatial and conceptual arguments of the Campus project.


    More information about the Universidad de Salamanca, a 2005 Honor Award winning project, can be found here.

    To get in touch with Pablo Campos and learn more about his planning strategies, visit Pablo’s website or email him directly at

    October 6th, 2006

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