CalArts Student Center & Lounge

A new hub for the CalArts Community

The California Institute of the Arts is a unique community of highly progressive and creative artists working within the confines of a Brutalist building set in the rolling hills of Valencia. The 70s building was for the most part intact, except for layers of impressive graffiti, and with the vast changes that academic life has undergone in the last few decades, was in desperate need for a student hub. Instead of building a new facility which could have taken several additional years of fundraising, wHY transformed the outdated $10,000 SF Dining Hall into a 24/7 “Student Union”.

The Project had several inherent challenges. The students and faculty were highly critical of the existing space resulting in a level of skepticism towards the possibility of transformation. In addition, the space had structural elements which simply could not be altered within the tight budget and the project uncovered a list of long overdue facility upgrades in the area that needed to be completed. Last but not least, every aspect of the project had to be timed perfectly to minimize impact on the school calendar and the space was in use all year.

With these obstacles, it was apparent that a substantive outreach effort needed to occur with multiple objectives: build excitement for this space; understand everyone’s expectations for the student hub; perform detailed programming, prioritizing and critically assessing what could be accommodated within the project parameters; and assist Bon Appetit, the Operator, with embarking on a new campus-wide Dining Services strategy for the years to come, including a new menu, sustainable measures and re-branding.

Through the engagement process led by our Ideas Workshop, the project gained the momentum necessary for an unconventional design, reflective of the behaviors and spirit of the CalArts population. Sensitive and subtle changes were made in the layout and flow, maximizing what minimal view corridors existed between the shear walls, perceptively expanding the space. The lighting and acoustics were thoughtfully considered from the beginning and fully integrated in the design of the space, ensuring flexible use and controls for various ‘modes’ required of a 24/7 gathering space.

This process, which included extensive research, also led to the conclusion that the right furniture was crucial to the way the students wanted to use this space. The tables especially needed to help to define flow, flexibility and use, in lieu of defining such aspects of the design through architecture. With nothing on the market that seemed to fit the bill, wHY sought additional engagement to focus on custom furnishings. And by fabricating some key elements the aesthetic became highly customized to CalArts reflecting the diversity and sprawling nature of the students’ creative interests and pursuits.

Since completion, the Dining Hall which was previously characterized as “the worst place to be” has been buzzing with people around the clock, spurring the creation of new programs and further enriching campus life.

  • Workshops
    Buildings, Ideas, Objects
  • Client
    California Institute of the Arts
  • Location
    Valencia, CA, US
  • Year
    Completed 2015
  • Area
    10,400 sq ft
  • Role
    Outreach & Engagement Coordinator, Design Architect, Furniture Designer and Contractor
  • Status
    Planning & Design
  • Scope
    Building Programming & Stakeholder Engagement (IDEAS), Design Services- Interior Arch, Space Planning, Furniture, Fixtures, and Equipment, including custom furniture (IDEASxOBJECTS)
  • Program
    Lobby, Servery, Lounge Areas, Main Dining Hall, Outdoor Dining Terrace, Classrooms
  • Status
    Commenced 2013, Completed 2015
  • Collaborators
    Exec Arch.: Behr Browers Architects Inc., Food Service Design: Webb Food Service Design, Operator: Bon Appetit, Lighting Design: Luminesce Design, Structural Engineer: Inertia Engineer, Custom Fabrication: Cinnabar, Restauranteur: Jason Berkowitz
  • Budget
    $6.5M (total)

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