Graduate Aerospace Laboratories / John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects


Architects: John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects
Location: Pasadena, CA,
Partners-in-Charge: Alice Kimm, AIA and John Friedman, FAIA
Project Architect: Claudia Kessner
Project Designers: Robert McFadden, Garrett Belmont, Brendan Beachler
Project Team: Pamela Schriever, Casey Hughes, Daniel Poei
Owner: California Institute of Technology
Structural Engineers: TMAD Taylor & Gaines
Mechanical and Plumbing: MEDG Consulting Engineers
Electrical Engineers: Pacific Engineers Group
Project Area: 1,672 sqm
Budget: $6.4 million
Project year: 2008
Photographs: Benny Chan, Fotoworks

0023-2 0372-2 0570-2 2061-2


The Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) has been behind some of the most significant and revolutionary achievements in the short history of flight, yet by the time we first visited the department in 2006 its historically-protected facilities, designed by Bertrand Goodhue and constructed in 1921, had barely seen any modernization. This project involved the renovation of approximately 33,000 square feet of the department’s laboratories, offices, common spaces, and conference rooms.



To bring relevance and meaning to the project’s spaces, the design employs some of the same concepts, processes, and sophisticated technologies used in the department’s own, widely varied and interdisciplinary research. The results are joyful, creative environments that encourage interaction, teamwork, and the free flow of ideas.

exploded axo
exploded axo


Drawing on the idea of “flow,” a concept central to almost every facet of aeronautical engineering, many of the project’s forms were derived by imagining the building as a kind of “architectural wind tunnel.” The dimpled lobby ceiling element, digitally designed and fabricated of PETG thermoplastic with the most advanced software and computer controlled machines, is a prime example of this strategy. But it goes even further by acknowledging another cornerstone of aeronautics – namely, that seeming small material deformations have huge effects on aerodynamic behavior.


The felt ceiling of the main conference room is a direct representation of a seminal flow diagram by Theodore von Karman, the founder of both GALCIT and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Overall, the project’s design has completely updated GALCIT’s identity, raising its profile considerably and making it easier to attract the best students and faculty from around the world.


Transparency and Display

Throughout the project, glazed walls and windows bring light into formerly dark spaces, and allow people to see the innovative research being performed inside the various laboratories and classrooms. This heightened transparency has contributed to an atmosphere of interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation. The glazed walls often double as vitrines that display artifacts collected throughout the history of GALCIT, so that those who study, research, and work there are constantly inspired by past achievements and the scientists and engineers responsible for them.

Cite: "Graduate Aerospace Laboratories / John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects" 02 Nov 2009. ArchDaily. Accessed 29 May 2015. <>
  • ygogolak

    This is a great project. Great example of how design can benefit the client in a project that is typical done in an industrial style.

  • cad

    The original building structure got lots of potential but then you add the chessy graphicky forms flying around looking like a bunch of retail stores. Give me a break, eddy current ceiling, lmao…

    • Gorgos

      I too immediately had the word `retail store` in my head. Not my cup of thee…

    • rag

      The “original” building is also part of the project. Much much more to the project than 3 ceilings.

    • Diego F.

      Architecture is ignored in the name of fashon and meaningless decorations.

  • the uninformed observer

    The Cadillac Escalade is a chevy pickup with “cool” plastic stuff glued to it.

    • Diego F.


  • cad

    On their website JFAKA does a lot of good projects. They have made money on this but bombed in the design. Must of layoff all the good designers.

    • ygogolak

      Sounds like you think highly of yourself.

      • cad

        Sounds like you work for JFAKA.

  • mahka

    it is like a dream in a dark reality

  • scud shop

    what a cool space for students…Its tight

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