Rafael Vinoly Conquers Limitations at UCLA

UCLA Campus

As if there weren’t enough mind-boggling architecture in Los Angeles already, Rafael Vinoly has added to the city’s structural luster with the California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), at the University of California, Los Angeles. Some of the reasons to salute this building are enumerated by Christopher Hawthorne in a Los Angeles Times article. That story, however, is short on visuals. Fortunately, another nearby website provides a lavish collection of photos and drawings.

Located near the southern edge of the University’s campus, CNSI presents varying aspects. On the side adjoining the Court of Sciences, its façade is low and wide, and a certain amount of red brick lends a subliminal feeling of coziness. From other angles, there are more layers to this cake. This is partly because the site is not flat, and partly because another building, a parking facility, already occupied some of the space.

The land falls away steeply as you move from the Court of Sciences back toward the west, and right behind the site an existing six-level parking structure is built into the slope… Of the nine full-service University of California campuses, UCLA has both the smallest land area (419 acres) and the most built square footage (24 million), making it by far the densest of the UCs…Of those 24 million square feet of built space, nearly a third — 7.6 million — is dedicated to parking structures.

So there the thing was, and it had to be dealt with. Obviously, cantilevering was called for, so a separate wing containing labs juts out over part of it. But another element of the solution turned out to be the network of walkways that criss-cross over a portion of the parking structure like spider web threads. Horizontal pedestrian routes play a key role in Vinoly’s design philosophy as applied to places where scientists work. When all meetings are planned, thought is sterile and regimented.

So, when creative individuals are quartered in the same building, few things are more important than providing for the fortuitous meeting and the serendipitous reunion. These folks need corridors where they can bump into each other, and niches into which they can retire for a few minutes’ collegial chat about whatever is on their minds. This airy, suspended “courtyard” provides all that.

According to local humorists, UCLA stands for “Under Construction in Los Angeles.” And just like the rest of the city, the campus poses a challenge for all new construction: compromised sites, complicated sites, and an often severe set of pre-existing limitations for the architect. To keep things flowing, there is a campus architect, Jeffrey Averill, who oversees all new construction at the University.

Students and visitors are still getting used to the 189,000 square foot building, dedicated at the tag end of last year. The whole building is about three times as wide as its ground footprint, and was also designed with the mitigation of vibrations, and acoustic and electrical noise in mind. Furthermore, the potential for expansion is built in, as Vinoly says three more similar wings could be added along the parking structure’s rooftop.

SOURCE: ” Architect Rafael Viñoly gets inventive for UCLA’s California NanoSystems Institute ” 04/27/08
photo courtesy of rdesai , used under this Creative Commons license

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