College campus from scratch

December 01, 2001 |

Big things are happening in Aliso Viejo, Calif. Construction of the first new, private liberal arts college to be built from the ground up in the last 25 years was completed, just in time for the fall semester.

Situated on 103 acres in Orange County, the $220 million campus for Soka University of America (SUA) includes 18 buildings, providing more than 750,000 square feet of learning, living and public space. The campus was master-planned and designed by New York City-based Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates (HHPA) and Santa Monica, Calif.-based Summit Architects Inc. Swinerton Builders of San Francisco was construction manager and general contractor, while the Los Angeles office of Ove Arup & Partners provided the structural, mechanical and electrical engineering services.

The master plan for SUA capitalizes on the natural topography, with buildings sited to mirror existing landforms much like a Mediterranean hilltown. A loop road defines the campus core, limiting traffic and parking to the perimeter. Surrounded on three sides by 400 acres of wooded parkland, campus facilities have been clustered toward the center of the site. According to architect Norman Pfeiffer of HHPA, this allows for easy pedestrian travel and encourages student-faculty interaction through the creation of formal and informal public spaces, while allowing for more than 50 percent of the site to remain open space.

The campus features numerous plazas, courtyards, paseos and overlooks, as well as a man-made lake — the first vista seen by visitors to the campus. Outside gathering areas are wired to provide students access to the Internet, the campus intranet and library/information systems.

Mediterranean village

Contemporary interpretations of Mediterranean-style buildings, terraced within the scenic hilltop terrain, are constructed of smooth, hand-troweled plaster with Italian travertine and American cherrywood detailing, heavy timber eaves, copper flashing and gutters, and terra-cotta roofs and chimney pots. The 18 buildings are clustered to encourage student and faculty dialogue, and are intersected by small plazas, terraces, gardens and colonnades.

The 124,000-sq.-ft. Daisaku and Kaneko Ikeda Library serves as the gateway to the university, with a grand stair that leads into the campus via a monumental arch. Behind the library are two four-story academic buildings that together house classrooms, seminar rooms, lecture halls, student lounges, student team workspaces, conference rooms and administrative offices.

Serving as link between the residence halls and the academic core, the student center building will be constructed in phases to reflect the growth of the student population. Tiered steps leading up to the four-story facility from the academic core are designed to encourage impromptu meetings and to serve students as a place to interact and socialize between classes. An open-air plaza allows for "marketplace" activities, outdoor dining and receptions.

Housing exists close to, but apart from, the academic core, and is arranged around courtyards and terraces. The first phase of student housing accommodates approximately 470 students in eight residence halls.

The most distinctive structure is the 60,000-sq.-ft. Founders Hall student services building, which faces the university's man-made lake. It incorporates a 54-ft.-diameter double-dome atop a 10-story-high atrium. The dome's exterior shell is constructed of lightweight, prefabricated concrete and clad with 3,750 pounds of copper. The interior shell is constructed of prefabricated gypsum with articulated, architectural coffers. Dome lighting incorporates state-of-the-art fiber optics, both on the interior and exterior. Moreover, the building's lakefront entrance is enhanced by an 18-ft.-high-by-195-ft.-long stone belvedere.

With the judicious placement of the buildings, the campus is planned to feel complete, even during initial stages. Fully built, SUA will serve as many as 1,200 students. Future phases include additional classrooms, laboratories, administrative offices, residence halls and a 2,000-seat performing arts center.

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