California Style

Professional-grade audio-visual equipment, a plethora of screening rooms and theaters, and an earthquake-resilient design — all set against the backdrop of old Hollywood — are just a few of the reasons students and faculty at the School of Cinematic Arts are embracing the future, and the past, at the University of Southern California.

The new $175 million, 137,000-square-foot instructional and administrative complex, designed by Dallas-based Urban Design Group, opened this year and marks the completion of the first phase of a two-phased building program that will expand and modernize the 80-year-old film school with a new campus-within-a-campus design.

A Nod to the Past

The film school was founded in 1929, and its aging facilities could no longer accommodate the growing cinematography program, which now includes nine academic divisions and an increasing enrollment.

Prompted by cramped conditions and outdated buildings, university officials decided in 2004 to build a new film school that would provide students and faculty with a sense of place within the urban sprawl.

Architects were tasked with creating a five-building compound that would honor the school’s heritage, incorporate sustainable design strategies and last at least 100 years.

Taking its cue from existing campus structures dating back to the 1920s and ’30s, including the Edward L. Doheny Jr. Memorial Library and the George Finley Bovard Administration Building, the firm worked with university officials and donor LucasFilm Foundation to develop a modern version of the California style, says Ray Kahl, managing principal at Urban Design Group.

“Parts of those buildings were used to give the flavor and context that this complex of buildings was original to the campus,” Kahl says.

The style is characterized by low-pitched roofs, building symmetry, and windows and door arches. The new complex, the first of five planned structures, also features an arcade and the use of an exterior plaster that contains ground stone.

Two wings of the four-story structure are named after George Lucas, one of the school’s most famous alumni, and Steven Spielberg, a trustee of the university. They are joined by a single corridor to form an 80-by-60-foot courtyard adorned with balconies and arches.

A majority of the 123,000 square feet of interior space is dedicated to instructional spaces, including eight classrooms, three large-format mixing labs, 23 conference rooms, four screening rooms and three theaters. Students also have access to a 700-square-foot exhibition space and a 200-seat indoor/outdoor café.

Although the university is not pursuing LEED certification, the complex is designed to meet LEED Gold requirements.

In addition to eco-friendly building materials, the complex features radiant floor and ceiling panels, occupancy-based temperature sensors and an energy management system. Energy-efficient windows and 12-inch-thick concrete walls are designed to help reduce heating and cooling costs.

“The period styles have a tendency to be a bit more energy-efficient than the modern styles,” Kahl says. “If you go back and look at the performance of buildings that were built in these eras, they achieve some very high energy standards.”

The building’s courtyard design allows abundant natural light in parts of the wings and along the corridor, providing views of the campus and the courtyard.

100-Year Design

The design team took a two-pronged approach to meet the university’s mandate that the building have a 100-year life span, with a resilient building structure that withstands earthquakes and a flexible design to accommodate educational and technological changes.

An exterior shear frame and a system of fused rotating walls are designed to reroute fissures and prevent the facility from being destroyed.

“Most buildings are designed for one thing, and that’s the safety of the occupants,” Kahl says. “They are not designed for the survivability of the building itself.”

The fused walls serve as connectors that isolate and redirect shocks from an earthquake away from walls, ceilings and floors so that damage is done to non-foundational areas. The result is a basic structure that is elastic, with inelastic connectors.

The shear exterior frame pairs with a light steel interior to create a flexible interior.

“We made the structure very simple,” Kahl says. “We have few columns in the space, and we concentrated all the permanent elements, including the toilet rooms, vertical shafts and electronic feeds, into cores, which created a space where you could tear everything else down and reconfigure it any way you want.”

Classrooms are designed to be flexible, with movable furniture and equipment to allow seminar-style teaching, traditional teaching or screenings. Hallways are also designed to provide informal collaborative spaces and are wired for laptop computer connections.

Teaming rooms — unassigned spaces with audio-visual equipment — located on the top three floors allow students to hold conferences, preview work or meet with professors.

BIM Modeling

Architects were able to trim more than six weeks off the delivery time using building information modeling, which created a virtual model of the building to provide specifications for construction.

BIM allowed coordination among all master trades, including structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing and architecture, Kahl says.

“We managed to reduce the amount of errors that occur throughout the coordination in the field and speed up the job,” he says.

In phase two, the design team started the project with virtual modeling and used it for visualization, programming and the generation of construction documents. In addition to aiding with design and materials fabrication, the technology will help with facility maintenance after occupancy.

“In both cases, we are doing something unique,” Kahl says. “They are taking the model and using it for their facilities management and doing everything from preventive maintenance to energy monitoring.”

The 3-D model of phase one was integrated with the university’s software for real-time monitoring of the building’s HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems. BIM will allow monitoring of more than 5,000 sensors located throughout the building.

“Our facilities guys have been involved in the design from the beginning and they are doing what’s called smart tagging, where they want to see valves tagged or air-handling units tagged with the information of what that unit is,” says Mandeep Rabhari, project manager for USC. “Down the line, when technicians go out for a trouble call, they can look at the model and pinpoint where the unit is.”

Phase Two

Hathaway Dinwiddie, of San Francisco, oversaw construction of phase one and is now managing work on phase two, which includes a 36,000-square-foot instructional building, a 9,500-square-foot soundstage, a 9,200-square-foot soundstage and an 8,450-square-foot soundstage.

The instructional building will be used for animation and digital arts production and as both a production equipment center and the new headquarters for the school’s admissions/student services operations. Phase two is expected to be completed by August 2010.