Angola Engineering Laboratory

Angola Engineering Laboratory

Luanda [São Paulo de Luanda], Luanda, Angola

Equipment and Infrastructures

The Engineering Laboratory of Angola (LEA) (1963/1965) stands out in the work of Vasco Vieira da Costa (1911-1982), as the architect did not have many opportunities to work in programs that exceeded the scale of the building.

In 1959, Vasco Vieira da Costa starts a long and active collaboration with the LEA remaining as consultant for 20 years. Four years later realizes the LEA complex project. The innovative program contributes to the development of a work of large scale which implies a deployment strategy directed towards an urban intervention on the outskirts of the city. Vasco Vieira da Costa proposes the plot occupation with 7ha by a system of pavilion building, which the result of can be compared to the organization of a small community workspace.

Located in the south of Luanda, LEA is close to “musseque”(slum) Prenda, near the Neighbourhood Unit #1 (1963-1965) by Fernão Simões de Carvalho, and probablyis  part of the same effort to organize not only the asphalt city but also to promote its consolidated growth.

In Luanda plan, the laboratory stands out in the “musseque” as a set of large, defined by orthogonal axes and green spaces distributed among the pavilions.

There is a clear intention to create a hierarchy of routes, whether regarding roads or pedestrian areas, together with the design of small squares that contribute to the structuring of the whole. Rainwater gutters are integrated in this system following the footpaths, and so designing the public space.

The entrance is by the Laboratório de Engenharia Street, especially drawn to access this large equipment. The approximately 7 ha free of restrictions, apparently liberate the architect of limitations on the positioning of buildings. However, in the descriptive written document the architect explains how the topography of the land was a key factor in the implementation of the various pavilions that house the laboratories.

The purpose of Geotechnical pavilions (E), Roads and Aerodromes (B) and Buildings and Structures (C) the architect states that "the need to maintain the pavement at the same level as the plot level, imposed the implementation of these pavilions alongside the contour lines, as appears to be totally reprehensible conduct expensive earth movements that would disturb the landscape of "site".” As that deployment translates into a wrong orientation relative to insolation factor (major axis of edification according to the North-South direction) was that fact which conditioned the entire study of plants.

These three pavilions are located at the northern end of the plot, with 30 meters in-between, and are crowned by the workshops and the Building Materials Pavilion implanted in a perpendicular axis. This distance between the blocks was such as to leave wide enough free space for experiments field.

The plan of the pavilions is identical, defining a repeatable type, developing according to four basic functions: secretariat services, office work, general room and special rooms. The general room is the laboratory center and is intended for the installation of machines and equipment, communicating directly with the offices and special rooms.

Design according to the climate is a central aspect in the work of Vasco Vieira da Costa reaffirmed in descriptive written document, as the main concern on organization of the LEA ensemble depended in the judicious study of cross sections, where he searched for simple and economic means to mitigate the disadvantages of wrong orientation led by the topography. In fact, Vasco Vieira da Costa took advantage of the exposure of one of the largest façade to prevailing south-west winds, creating conditions so that all workspaces were cross ventilated, to avoid any kind of mechanical ventilation. The walls in the longitudinal direction are suspended from the slab, not touching the ceiling, thus facilitating cross-ventilation.

The sloping roof is another cooling system that the architect uses, creating a gap between the cover and the slab of concrete, allowing air circulation. This same slope and different windows in opposite walls create a funnel effect cooling the general room.

These windows are crowned by slabs in concrete, or fixed shutters fiber cement  functioning either as shading, or as protection against the rain.

All facades have a simple and modular design highlighting the rigorous modulation plan reflecting the rhythmic alternation of full and empty. The openings of the East facades are composed of beta-windows following the same modulation, placed in the offices rooms and revealed on the façade by the presence of slabs in concrete. In an interesting game of full and empty the openings of the south side are defined with the “empty” of workrooms in-between with “full” volumes of toilets where the openings are at a higher level.

To the west it is located the general room and its facade with larger openings is punctuated by overhead doors, adjustable and fixable in various positions in order to function as awning. These flaps, doors and grids are plastic elements which enhance these volumes on one floor with a two waters roof, seemingly simple, conferring an enormous plasticity. The access is done by south where the office is located, and which is connected to the waiting room and office for the Head of service, achieved through an outer hall, separated from the outside by a hanging wall from the slab and a wall grid of concrete, which marks the entrance of the building. The wall of the office, that communicates with this hall, consists of a wooden slatted adjustable up to 1.00 meter tall and windows-beta up to the ceiling, creating a ventilated façade of great transparency.

The Administration Building and Library, and the Chemistry Pavilion follow the same north-south deployment. The Chemistry Pavilion appears as a wall with windows at a higher level topped by concrete slabs. This volume is flanked by another type of buildings, the D, E, F and G, which correspond to smaller laboratories, oriented according to an east-west axis. The access to these pavilions is done through small courtyards.

Facing the entrance, these pavilions are designed with a main façade of enormous plasticity. The volume of two waters roof and only one floor is cleverly worked on the western facade through color and the courtyards walls, thus transforming a simple gable, in a clearly modern facade, almost sculptural. This is achieved by a very simple gesture, reflecting the architect geniality that creates a poetic moment in a markedly functional architecture. These pavilions are extremely closed, only with openings on the top, through which the intake of air and ventilation is made.

The administration building, despite its three levels, states a striking horizontality due to the length of 135 meters, and a width of 15 meters, which is accentuated by its long galleries projected to the exterior. This horizontality is punctuated by the volume of the stairs, which rises above the roof of the building.

  The workshops are located in the north near a side entrance and are intended for mechanical and automobile testing.

Despite using different types of buildings, the ensemble maintains a clear unity that stems from the general conception reinforced with common elements: the colors (orange, green and white) applied to the same elements in all buildings; the grids in concrete and concrete slabs of the openings; the gargoyles, the structural elements or wooden slatted.

This lexicon, consisting of sculptural elements, keeps a thread, simultaneously, breaking the monotony of the functional architecture of obedience to the program.

Nowadays, some changes are beginning to disfigure this work. Large overhead doors in wood have been replaced by metal sliding doors, slabs in the concrete are often used to support air conditioners, one of the pavilions was lined with tile, and another floor was added.


Original de Ana Tostões e Ana Braga

(FCT: PTDC/AUR-AQI/103229/2008)

Adaptação de Ana Tostões e Daniela Arnaut.