The Great Uniter: Yazdani Studio breathes new life into the University of California, San Diego, Price Center

Timothy Hursley (model photography by Tom Bonner)

How often do teenagers and young adults get to make multimillion-dollar decisions? Surely not often, but that is exactly what happened at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), with the $53 million expansion of the Price Center—the university’s popular, yet outgrown student union. Mehrdad Yazdani, principal of Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design based in Los Angeles, was in charge not only of the Price Center’s redesign, but also with listening to and incorporating the ideas of the project’s design committee consisting of two dozen students and numerous student organizations, as well as faculty, administrators, and the university’s own design team. “We all asked ourselves, ‘What is a student union in today’s world? How has its role changed over time? How do students interact? And how do they learn?” recalls Yazdani. “It was a dynamic, interactive design process that resulted in an equally dynamic, interactive building.”

At 172,000 sq. ft., the Price Center East expansion was designed to accommodate UCSD’s 29,000-student population, with an estimated 16,000 students passing through the building each day. Situated at the heart of the campus—the university’s “living room”—the original Price Center (West) already was well-established as a hub for dining, socializing, and events. “However, it was a very ‘introverted’ building,” says Boone Hellmann, associate vice chancellor of facilities design and construction, and campus architect. “It featured a central courtyard that was bordered on three sides by the building’s program elements, but everything faced inward.”

When the university’s growth necessitated an expansion, the solution was to create an “extroverted,” highly permeable addition that offered many points of entry and exterior design features, like plazas and staircases, to offer a sense of connectivity to the surrounding campus. The Price Center East addition expanded the bookstore and other retail spaces, as well as food service and the available area for student organizations. Because the building is located on a sloping site, the addition has two ground floors, as does Price Center West, which enhances the accessibility and usability of the building from all sides of campus. “People pass through this building to get to nearly all other areas of campus,” Yazdani explains. “We looked at the traffic flow and used that information to inform the design, namely where meeting areas, study zones, and outside venues were placed.”

Yazdani goes on to explain that by no means did his team nor the university’s student-lead design committee want to simply expand and repeat the original building’s design, but rather to complement it by becoming connected to—and contextual with—the entire campus as it grew. Consistent with the planning goals of the UCSD master plan and the University Center Design Guidelines, the addition’s architectural character and multiple points of entry aid the transformation of the surrounding University Center neighborhood into a “town center.” Yazdani explains, “The design was focused around the central courtyard, which served as a lively pedestrian-oriented area where people would move to and from the ‘downtown’ area. Therefore, the addition needed to be urban in nature to respond to the future of the campus.” With that requirement in mind, the addition is not a large mass, which is common on many academic campuses, but instead is broken up into a series of smaller volumes that overlap and respond to the urban edge of the campus. “Varying the scale offered variety and visual interest,” Yazdani adds.

Hellmann concurs with Yazdani’s perception of how the building is contextualized within the campus framework. “There is an interest in the architecture itself because there is so much variety, and this is true on the interior and exterior.” From 24-hour study lounges to a dance studio, to numerous rooms for student organizations, and a vibrant, always-bustling four-story atrium, the building is in a perpetual state of multitasking. “If you are a student today, you research online while listening to your iPod, while texting a friend, while people-watching. This addition, the hub of campus activity, responds to every need,” Yazdani says.

Yet another task the building and the students rose to meet was adhering to the university’s sustainability initiative, equivalent to a LEED Silver rating. The HVAC system is tailored to the microclimate of the La Jolla Mesa and uses relief air for multiple purposes. Additionally, students enjoy 144 bicycle racks, frequent shuttle service accessing a variety of locations, electric recharging ports, and trees and landscaping that shade 30 percent of non-roof surfaces, reducing heat-island effects.

As the UCSD architect for 23 years, Hellmann appreciates the challenge—and how Yazdani Studio and the student design committee rose to meet that challenge of building an addition to the student union of this magnitude. “It had to be a building that engaged users in a way that was productive and thoughtful, and presented a design that was both notable and timeless. I believe the Price Center does this in full,” says Hellmann. However, he is most proud of how the students utilize the building and their feelings about its design and construction. He adds, “The students have a space that they love to use, and they are keenly aware of the importance of their input. They tell me how ‘cool’ it is to see the outcome. I couldn’t agree more.”

Owner: University of California, San Diego. Architect: Yazdani Studio of Cannon Design; Mehrdad Yazdani, design principal; Craig Hamilton, AIA, LEED AP, project principal; Ron Benson, project manager; Mark Piaia, AIA, LEED AP, project architect; Craig Booth, RA, LEED AP and John Chan, senior designers; Jim Peshl, AIA, QA/QC; Jack Poulin, IIDA, LEED AP, interior design, FFE; Yan Krymsky; Tommy Yuen, LEED AP; Lily Chiu, AIA, LEED AP; Hong Gip; Frank Maldonado, AIA; Mi Sun Lim, LEED AP; Manson Fung, LEED AP; Lauren Coles, LEED AP; Radames Culqui, project team. Contractor: M.A. Mortensen Company. Structural engineer: Englekirk and Sabol. Mechanical engineer: IBE Consulting Engineers. Electrical engineer: Coffman Engineers. Civil Engineers: Hirsh & Company. Lighting: Lighting Design Alliance. Kitchen: Webb Design. Landscape architect: Pamela Burton & Company. Graphics: Harmon Nelson. Acoustician: Newson Brown Acoustics. Cost Estimators: Cumming. Vertical Transport: Lerch Bates & Associates. Acoustician: Newson Brown Acoustics. Audiovisual: Media Systems Design Group. Furniture dealer: BKM Office Works. Photographer: Timothy Hursley (all built images); Tom Bonner (model photography).

Wallcoverings: Maharam, Knoll, Carnegie. Paint: Dunn Edwards. Laminate: Formica, Nevamar, Laminart. Flooring: Forbo Marmoleum. Carpet/carpet tile: Interface, C&A. Ceiling: Ceilings Plus, Armstrong. Lighting: Kirlin Signature, Artemide, PMC, Lighting Services, Inc.Bega, Hevi Lite, Hydrel, Signature Lighting Doors: Tower Glass, Inc., Steelcraft, Algoma Hardwoods, Inc., Horton Automatics, Modernfold Inc. Glass: Viracon. Office furniture: Steelcase. Reception furniture: Custom Millwork. Laminate: Nevamar. Upholstery: Maharam, Knoll, Carnegie. Cafeteria seating: Thonet. Offices seating, cafeteria tables: Steelcase, Coalesse. Tables: Coalesse. Outdoor furniture, accessories: Landscape Forms. Architectural woodworking: Spooner’s Woodworks Inc. Drywall: Standard Drywall, Inc. Flooring: Spectra Contract Flooring. Plumbing fixtures: American Standard, Haws Corporation. Structural system: Mc Mahon Steel Co. Metal/glass curtain wall: Tower Glass, Inc. Concrete: Structural concrete, Other: Cement Plaster. Roofing: NeoGard, Adhered Thermoplastic Membrane (PolyVinyl Cloride), Roofing from Sarnafil. Hardware: Schlage Lock Co., Hager Hinge Co., LCN Closers, Inc., Von Duprin, Inc., Tydix Products, Inc., Knape and Vogt Mfg. Co.

Location: La Jolla, CA. Total floor area: 172,000 sq. ft. new construction, 66,000 sq. ft. renovated, 238,000 total sq. ft. No. of floors: 4. Cost/sq. ft. $222.

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