Text description provided by the architects. Faced with a projected increase in the enrollment of graduate and professional students, a shortfall of on-campus residences, and the goal of housing ha
lf of the student population in campus facilities, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), sponsored a design competition to develop a new residential building for graduate students. Each participating architect was teamed with a builder who would guarantee the cost to the university. The design needed to help recruit top students, convey the university’s reputation for innovation, and enhance the overall educational experience on campus.
To gain insight into UCSD students, Valerio Dewalt Train Associates (VDTA) sent one of its young designers on an undercover assignment to immerse herself for two days on campus, attending classes, walking through campus, and speaking with students. Her findings helped inform VDTA’s design. After two rounds of competition, the team of VDTA and Webcor Builders was awarded the project.
Located on a promontory at the main entrance of campus, the nine-story, 225,000-square foot building serves as a visual icon. The program consists of 225 two-bedroom units, with an average unit size of 725 square feet, and one three-bedroom manager’s unit. The concrete frame, stucco-clad structure has an “urban” quality, with exposed concrete ceilings and floors and a LEED Gold designation consistent with UCSD’s desire to increase the density of its campus and implement sustainable strategies.
A key design challenge was to make the building serve as the visual terminus of the future medical campus mall, which will be lined on either side with academic buildings. The site for the graduate housing is at the south end of this mall, where the land begins to fall away towards La Jolla Village Drive. The site is about 30 feet below the level of the main mall. To provide this visual terminus, the design balances distinctive architecture with the pragmatic considerations of budget and program.
In keeping with the informal nature of the Southern California campus, the design is decidedly asymmetrical and comprises two, nested L-shaped towers. The main nine-story tower points toward the mall to the north and the ocean to the west. The second seven-story wing nests with the taller wing to form a three-sided courtyard that offers residents a protected outdoor gathering area. To lighten the building’s presence on the landscape, the ends of the wings are elevated and clipped to help minimize their apparent mass. The short ends of the wings are colored the shade of eucalyptus leaves, contrasting with the nearly pure white elevations and helping to break up the facade. Clustered windows further create the illusion of a smaller building. The entry to the residence lies three stories below the level of the mall, decreasing the perceived height of the building from nine to six stories.
Sustainable design strategies are used throughout, lending the building its LEED Gold designation. The third floor is topped with a green roof courtyard that reduces stormwater runoff and provides insulation. The first floor includes a bicycle room to encourage alternative transportation. At one end of each corridor, and at both ends where possible, extensive glazing floods circulation spaces with natural light. Capitalizing on the unique quality of light near the Pacific Ocean, the design team ensured that there were very few north-facing apartments, allowing the vast majority of units to receive direct sunlight. Operable windows provide natural ventilation, and because many students hang bathing suits and wet suits in their apartments to dry, potentially causing moisture problems, a supplemental mechanical system provides a low flow of fresh air 24 hours a day.
With some variation, there are two typical room types: inline apartments and apartments at the ends of the wings. Each two-bedroom apartment has one and a half baths, a closet, a built-in study desk, a queen-size bed, a dresser, and a night stand. Interior finishes are kept to a minimum to conserve material resources and convey an urban aesthetic: concrete floors are sealed but not carpeted and concrete ceilings, columns, and walls are largely exposed.
Every aspect of the design supports the UCSD student experience, through sustainable strategies, an urban form that is both a casual and a formal response to the surrounding campus, and a variety of indoor and outdoor spaces that encourage a sense of well-being and community among the residents. The project was completed on budget, a year ahead of schedule—in time to open for the Fall 2010 academic year.