Archive for the ‘Cahill Center’ Category

A "softer" Thom Mayne, for Pasadena

01/29/2009
Caltech – The Cahill Center
Pasadena, California

Two questions: 1) What will Caltech researchers study in this new building?

Earthquakes?
Is that why the fissures and shifting planes and shakiness of the building?


No. This is Caltech’s new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. These photos are from my camera phone. This is the “softest,” loveliest (!) Thom Mayne building I know.

Second question: The address here is 1216 California Boulevard. To what does the 1216 refer? (Answer at bottom.) Let’s look at the building:


I like its scale, and how it meets the ground softly and with lightly, with glass, with transparency. I like how the earth slopes down before it meets the building, so you gain an extra floor with natural light, yet this maintains a nice height for the neighborhood.


I like the earthen texture of the facade, and its reddish-brown tone, an “academic red,” like brick. In fact, the facade is made of red fiber reinforced cement panels. But it looks like an Italian terra-cotta red, in this, the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s invention of the telescope, in 1609.

And think of this building as a telescope of sorts.

The Pasadena Independent writes,

The view from the lobby up an ever‐narrowing staircase to the skylight on the third floor … mimics the experience of peering up through a telescope.

You occasionally get views of the sky, celebrating astronomy and astrophysics. The glass is also meant to orient you in the universe, the universe of Caltech. These see-through hallways connect the viewer visually to the north and south campuses of Caltech.

And the stairways serve another purpose. Visual and vertical connections between the laboratory and office levels happen in the main staircase. People will meet, randomly. Perhaps a Big Bang of ideas will occur. “Nice ‘bumping into you.”

And every floor has “interaction areas and open break rooms” to provide more opportunities for chance or planned discussions to occur between the researchers. Morphosis designed this place to maximize the chances of interactions among the various occupants- the astronomy and astrophysics faculties, and their research groups.

We have seen other buildings designed to facilitate chance interactions. Frank Gehry’s Stata Center at M.I.T. comes to mind; as does the suburban campus the Sears Corporation built when it determined that Sears Tower was not spurring chance meetings of employees. (“It’s lonely at the top.”)

It’ll be interesting to visit Cahill in a year and see who has bumped into whom in a stariwell, and what resulted from it. Hold on to your seats.

From the brochure: The 50 million dollar Cahill Center is 100,000 square feet of offices, laboratories, and common areas. It will be given gold‐level LEED distinction for the many features that reduce negative environmental and health impacts. The building’s design provides for reducing water use by 30 percent, reducing energy use by about 25 percent and providing access to daylight to a minimum of 75 percent of its spaces.

The entrances are welcoming enough,


If still a little too industrial for me,


as Mayne and Morphosis are wont to do.

I do like the urban move, when you exit the building, it points directly to its neighbors on campus, to the history of the place, to what came before it. Like a son, directing respect to a father.


And what a history Caltech has! Heisenberg, Lorentz, Bohr, Einstein; they all spent time here as the school came of age in the early 1930’s.

And now, they’ve this new home for the researchers – philosophers really- to contemplate the stars and the universe. A new building by Thom Mayne in which to try to figure out what it all means.

For them, it’s not enough to say, “it’s beautiful.”

Answer to the question at top: “1216” comes from 1216 angstroms, the wavelength of ultraviolet light emitted by hydrogen atoms. You knew that, right?
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