Graduate Aerospace Laboratories, Caltech
Pasadena, CA / Completed January 2009
Change: Housed in a historically-protected structure originally designed by Bertand Goodhue in 1921, the Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) has accomplished some of the most revolutionary breakthroughs in the history of aeronautics. This 33,000 square foot renovation of the department’s laboratories, conference rooms, and common spaces acknowledges these past achievements while also suggesting the multitude of exciting directions for its future.
Inspiration: To bring relevance and meaning to the project’s spaces, the design employs some of the same concepts, processes, and sophisticated technologies used in the department’s widely varied and interdisciplinary research. The results are joyful, creative environments that encourage interaction, teamwork, and the free flow of ideas.
Flow/Materials: Drawing on the idea of “flow,” a concept central to almost every facet of aeronautical engineering, many of the project’s forms were derived by imagining the building as an “architectural wind tunnel.” The complex curves of the lobby ceiling element, digitally designed and fabricated of PETG thermoplastic with the most advanced software and computer-controlled machines, is a prime example of this strategy. The integration of subtle dimples into its surface also acknowledges the crucial role that materials research plays in the field – small deformations like these have huge effects on aerodynamic behavior.
Identity: The felt ceiling of the main conference room is a direct representation of a seminal flow diagram by Theodore von Karman, the founder of both GALCIT and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Overall, the project’s design has provided an updated identity for the department and served as a model for future renovations on Caltech’s campus.
Transparency and Display: Throughout the project, new glazed walls and windows bring light into formerly dark laboratories and classrooms, while also allowing views of innovative research being performed inside them. This heightened transparency has contributed to an atmosphere of interdisciplinary collaboration and cooperation. Many of these new glass walls also incorporate vitrines that display meaningful historical artifacts. The overall result is that GALCIT’s students and faculty are constantly inspired by the department’s past achievements, as well as the scientists and engineers responsible for them.
- Principals-in-Charge: Alice Kimm, John Friedman
Project Architect: Claudia Kessner
Project Designers: Brendan Beachler, Garrett Belmont, Robert McFadden
Project Team: Pamela Schriever, Daniel Poei
Project Assistants: Casey Hughes, Long Truong
Structural Engineer: TMAD Taylor + Gaines
Mechanical and Plumbing Engineer: MEDG Engineers
Electrical Engineer: Pacific Engineers Group
Lighting Design: Light Vision, FIRE Ltd.
Graphic Design: Patricia Kovic, Maureen Nishikawa
General Contractor: Del Amo Construction
- California Institute of Technology
- 2011 AIA/CC, Merit Award
- 2011 Westside Urban Forum, Design Citation Award
- 2010 Southern California Development Forum (SCDF), Design Award
- 2010 Los Angeles Business Council, Los Angeles Architectural Awards, Award of Excellence
- 2009 Architect Annual Design Review, Citation Award
- 2009 Architectural Record, Record Interiors Award
- 2009 Real Estate & Construction Review, Building of America Award
- 2009 AIA/Pasadena & Foothill, Merit Award
- 2008 3form People’s Choice Best Installation Award, Best Ceiling
- 2007 AIA/Los Angeles, Next LA Merit Award
- 2010 Archigraphics (Mao Mao Barcelona)
- 2010 February, Licht + Raum, "Irdische Weltraeume" by Sandra Greiser
- 2010 ID+C, “Flowing - A Reforming Case of GALCIT in USA”
- 2009 November, Architect, Annual Design Review
- 2009 September, Architectural Record, Record Interiors Feature by Sebastian Howard
- 2009 September, Azure, “A Detailed Look: Look Book 2009”
- 2009 “Design to the Power of 3Form” Video Interview and Dialogue with Alice Kimm
- 2009 July, The Architect’s Newspaper
- 2008 Caltech News No. 4, “Alumni propel GALCIT into new era”
- 2008 Engineering & Science No. 1, “Ad Astra per GALCIT” by Douglas Smith