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Academic Learning Center – University of California, San Diego

Client: University of California, San Diego

Location: San Diego, CA

Type: Innovation and Academic Learning Center

Study Completion Date: February 2015

The University of California, San Diego’s new 60,000 GSF Academic Learning Center will be located on the site of the now defunct Craft Center along the Ridge Walk between Bonner Hall and Original Student Center.  The new center will house the re-imagined Craft Center, a new Academic Learning Center, a 350-seat interactive auditorium in the round, and a sizable area dedicated to flexible academic surge space.  Programmatically, our design seeks to create synergy between these elements.  The Craft Center will provide a creative place for making and testing.  The Academic Learning Center will create supportive, flexible and collaborative environments for students and faculty to work more effectively and be more innovative.  The academic surge space will create opportunities for residency and the serendipity of diverse building occupants.

The concept for the building is structured around the idea of weaving; the weaving together of these different, but overlapping programmatic elements into an interdisciplinary and collaborative environment; the weaving together of disparate areas of the campus to make physical connections and a strong sense of place, and the weaving together of community through programmatic outreach and the creation of a center within the institution and the broader region.  These ideas are rooted in aspirations that are outlined in the University’s recently completed strategic plan.

The ‘weaving’ concept permeates the design of the Academic Learning Center, from the shape of the building and the way in which it positions itself on the site, to the connections it facilitates, the spaces it reinforces and activates, and the address and identity it establishes programmatically and physically on campus and within the broader community. This concept also serves to focus and integrate more detailed aspects of the design, from the interweaving of interior and exterior spaces, to themes that articulate the exterior wall and the materiality of the building.

To better integrate itself into the informal character of Muir College, the new building takes on an organic and curved form, allowing it to weave into the dense fabric of the site, respect existing and desired circulation paths, and create strong connections from the Ridge Walk (the academic side of the site) down to Gilman Drive (the more public side of the site).

The 3-story West Wing of the building occupies the site of the existing Craft Center.  This wing clearly defines the southern edge of the plaza adjacent to the Original Student Center in a way that the Craft Center building never could.  This West Wing houses most of the Academic Learning Center and the new 350-seat Auditorium which sits above the Collaboratory and overlooks the revitalized plaza.  The Collaboratory and the Auditorium strongly address the plaza and the existing grassy Hump to create an interactive forum for events, team work and collaboration that flows from the building out into the plaza and further activates this important intersection of cross campus circulation.

The 4-story South Wing sits in the Grove.  The upper floors of the building look directly into the tree canopy.  This wing houses the Craft Center at its lowest level with an open air courtyard on the west side facing Bonner Hall, providing service access and outdoor space for glass blowing, ceramics and other activities.  Above this are 3 floors of flexible academic surge space linked by an atrium and interconnecting stair.  The South Wing also has a strong presence on Gilman Drive and creates a public image for the Academic Learning Center in the broader community.

The building draws heavily on one of the most powerful and unique spatial typologies on campus, the Grove.  Composed of gridded Eucalyptus trees, this iconic and paradoxical landscape is simultaneously natural, man-made, organic and ordered.  The trees define a powerful sense of space that creates unique spatial qualities of connection, movement, sight, and shelter with beautiful patterns of dappled light and shadow in the strong San Diego sun.  The existing plaza between the Craft Center and the Original Student Center is one of the few places on campus where the Grove comes into, and helps to define, a paved pedestrian space.  While the grid of the Grove is almost unrecognizable here, the impact of the trees on the scale of the space and the quality of light are unmistakable.  OFFICE 52’s design proposes to bring the Grove fully into the plaza and create a unique paved pedestrian space in the trees that recalls a defining characteristic of the now defunct Craft Center building.  In this way, the new plaza will reinforce the more informal character of Muir College and offer a strong contrast to the strongly formal spaces of the neighboring Revelle College.

This theme is continued in the tectonics and materials of the building.  The diagonal patterns of clear and fritted glass on the building’s upper floors define a geometry that, like the Grove, is gridded, but off the orthogonal.  The pattern references themes of weaving and the dappled light and shadow of the Grove.  The plaza level of the building has a clear glass wall that mirrors the verticality of the Grove while the open air circulation on the south and west faces of the building recalls elements of exterior circulation at the Original Student Center and many other buildings on campus.