HGA Uses Biomimicry in East Los Angeles College Building

East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park recently debuted a 135,000-square-foot Language Arts and Humanities Building. Photo Credit: Tom Bonner Photography
East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park recently debuted a 135,000-square-foot Language Arts and Humanities Building.
Photo Credit: Tom Bonner Photography

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — In an effort to promote interdisciplinary communication for students, colleges across the country continue to consolidate related departments into one building, and East Los Angeles College (ELAC) in Monterey Park is no different. The college recently debuted a $55 million, 135,000-square-foot Language Arts and Humanities Building that consolidates nine, once-dispersed departments into one five-story complex that uses biomimicry — an approach to innovation that seeks sustainable solutions to human challenges by emulating nature’s time-tested patterns and strategies — and other sustainable design techniques.

The project was part of a design-build competition with Anaheim, Calif.-based Pinner Construction and Los Angeles-based HGA Architects and Engineers providing the planning, design, interior design and sustainability initiatives for the new classrooms, offices, language labs and common spaces. An open-air courtyard separates the facility into two distinct wings — one for faculty offices and one for classrooms — and serves as the building’s main entrance and vertical circulation spine, according to a statement.

Both wings feature atriums that provide informal gathering spaces for students and teachers. The building also features alternative learning spaces that can accommodate a variety of teaching styles. The first and second floors house tutoring and learning labs while other active learning classrooms feature moveable furniture to create a more collaborative teaching environment.

Because the Language Arts and Humanities Building has a central location on campus, it now serves as the gateway to ELAC’s central quad. As such, HGA designed the facility to weave into the campus in a way that enhances ELAC’s collegiate character. Key building components included engagement, adaptability and smooth transitions, according to a statement. HGA also included a variety of enclosed collaboration areas without having to increase the square footage and incorporated an exterior plaza area into the front of the building.

“The completion of the Language Arts and Humanities Building has not only energized the campus, bringing a more university-like feel to ELAC, but has boosted the morale of students,” said James Matson, AIA, HGA’s principal-in-charge, in a statement. “Keeping the needs of the faculty and students in mind, we designed the classrooms to be flexible spaces to meet a range of teaching needs for a variety of departments and can adapt to new and changing technologies.”

HGA used biomimicry design approaches throughout the space. For instance, the building’s open spaces maximize natural ventilation, while the open quad also features a landscaped area with drought-friendly plants that provide a natural element to the concrete-filled campus.

“The Language Arts and Humanities Building is the backdrop for virtually every student attending ELAC. To celebrate this, the design embodies a rich learning environment that evokes and supports ELAC’s cultural diversity,” said Satoshi Teshima, project designer for HGA, in a statement.

Architectural elements of the facility include a translucent glass mosaic marking the grand central open space, transparent views into learning and office environments, and brick panels that reinforce a collegiate character, which is also abstractly represented on the east building wing by red window shades, according to Teshima. These shades vary in color, and the frequent and random use of the shades will impact the appearance of the façade, creating a reflection and interpretation of the activity inside the building.

Designed to achieve LEED Gold certification, the building was planned using three guiding principles: to create a great human experience for learning, meet target performance and create financial value for the client. Considering the dry, California climate, HGA created a forage tank to collect rainwater that can be used for landscape irrigation. Low-flow water fixtures are also incorporated throughout the building. Using these tactics helped the building reduce water use by 52 percent, well beyond the 20 percent ware-use reduction standard, according to a statement.

While the building also gets a portion of its power from a central campus solar photovoltaic system, HGA also incorporated solar shading panels into the project to reduce solar heat gain and to take advantage of natural ventilation and cooling. The design team also incorporated an energy monitoring system to manage and monitor energy used in the building.