How does one respect and update a midcentury modern brutalist building, insert a new lecture hall in the middle of it, and also design a new means to allow daylight to permeate much of the dynamically reconceived interior? San Diego architect Kevin deFreitas showed how in the renovation of Galbraith Hall at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).
Originally designed by Deems Lewis Martin & Associates in 1965 as the campus library, the building was based on a California version of a heavy brutalist style, with expressive concrete structural elements and a ubiquitous three-foot-deep waffle slab. Inside, the original architects had placed a large, square, two-story reading room in the center with a clerestory and skylights to flood the interior with daylight.
Recently, though, the university chose to renovate the building and place a 417-seat lecture hall in the core. That decision was seemingly at odds with the natural daylight entering the center of the structure from above. For deFreitas, who was initially hired by the university only to undertake a feasibility study for the project, the preservation of the clerestories and skylights became the central organizing principle for his winning bid to design the project.
Preserving light and views
Instead of closing in the central space to create the dark environment necessary for a lecture hall, deFreitas proposed a box within the box to allow shafts of daylight to spill down the surfaces of the exterior of the hall and continue to activate the heart of the building. This was especially critical, in deFreitas’s view, since the building has many enclosed spaces along its perimeter for different academic departments—including two enclosed student study spaces, three practice studios for the department of theater and dance, shared conference rooms, and academic office space—that close off views to the outside from the central circulation areas.
“This building was all about reduction,” says deFreitas, referring to a misguided 1998 renovation that had placed dropped ceilings under the waffle slabs and added many interior partitions. “The daylighting is what fundamentally makes this building extraordinary, so we did a lot of stripping back, painting the waffle slabs white, and removing carpet to expose concrete floors.” The exterior of the lecture hall is completely enclosed with faceted metal panels, slanted at seven degrees to improve interior
acoustic performance, as well as to allow daylight to filter down from above. A lightweight steel frame for the panels is connected to the concrete post-and-beam waffle slab structure that underpins the ground level, which is actually the second floor.
Galbraith Hall has a basement, a partially buried first floor, and two above-grade floors. All of the 30,000-square-foot renovation construction occurred while the two lower levels were fully occupied. The interior of the lecture hall is wrapped in wood panels, with a perforated metal ceiling laminated with wood and concealing sound batting behind it to help achieve the 30 NTC acoustic rating the university demanded. A new staircase connects the second and third floors and is adjacent to an existing elevator that is now surrounded by reclaimed timber. Although the architect originally wanted a bamboo garden next to the staircase, maintenance concerns resulted in an art installation of metal bands that mimic the feel of bamboo.
A warm environment in which to teach and learn
Reclaimed wood also defines many of the 24-hour study spaces that were renovated along the perimeter of the building. deFreitas likes the juxtaposition of the rough wood with the crisp detailing of the lecture hall’s metal panels. Surfaces within the 24-hour study spaces were painted bright colors such as yellow and red to reduce the institutional feel of the building. Glass partitions, with a variety of frit patterns, keep the spaces open to the interior core. “Many of these young students are studying core sciences and taking classes like organic chemistry,” deFreitas says. “So we wanted to create something more natural, warmer, and familiar for them in the study areas.”
The university considers the project, which is certified LEED Gold, a success, and the much-needed lecture hall is continuously in use by faculty. Joel King, UCSD’s campus architect, says the design preserved the building while taking it to another level. “Not only did we gain a new function, but we brought improvements to the rest of the building vicariously,” King says. What most impressed King, however, was deFreitas’s ability to bridge the gap between drawings and fabrication: “Kevin is like a craftsman and an architect.”
Galbraith Hall at UC San Diego
- Architect: Kevin deFreitas Architects
- Client: University of California, San Diego
- Where: La Jolla, California
- What: 30,000 total square feet on two floors
- Cost/sf: $243