Nearly 16 years after founding Costa Rica’s trailblazing architecture school, Universidad del Diseño (UniDis), Alvaro Rojas, AIA, has decided to close it. Financial considerations and competition from a growing number of for-profit schools drove the decision, says Rojas. “For the past six or seven years, the majority of our teaching staff has worked pro-bono,” explains Rojas, and he has subsidized the school’s operations out of his own financial resources.
Photos © Clifford A. Pearson
UniDis distinguished itself by training students to think of buildings within the context of the city, to understand the importance of environmental sustainability, and to engage with architectural communities beyond the borders of Costa Rica. In 1999, Rojas organized a bi-annual symposium called Mundaneum, which brought international practitioners and academics such as Michael Rotondi, Charles Jencks, Carlos Jimenez, James Wines, Craig Hodgetts, Enrique Norten, and Michael Sorkin to speak at the school. UniDis also placed its students in internships at foreign firms such as the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, RoTo Architects, and TEN Arquitectos.
“The school took architecture to another level,” says Andrea Gonzalez, who graduated this year and interned with Piano. “It opened our minds and gave us great exposure to the world. It made us think in terms of society and community and offered us the opportunity to meet great architects.”