Fusion Buildings

A new generation of college and university facilities is bringing together students and educators in unexpected ways.

As colleges and universities look to revive older, space-constrained campuses, new facilities are breaking down barriers between siloed departments and creating a vibrant mix of functions and interests. These hybrids — fusion buildings — bring together different types of students and merge indoor and outdoor spaces to spark creativity and new relationships. They serve as crossroads for disciplines and communities, engaging students in different ways.

“Fusion buildings create ecosystems of their own,” says Winston Bao, LPA’s programming director. “It’s about having that intersectional experience for people to connect and celebrate curiosity and lifelong learning.”

LPA has been working with university leaders to design efficient, high-performance fusion facilities that address multiple campus goals — providing better services, encouraging interdisciplinary exploration and keeping students on campus longer. Nontraditional combinations have resulted in unexpected benefits. Older buildings have been turned into something new, and new spaces have been created on historically constrained campuses.

Fusion Buildings 1
A new complex at City College of San Francisco will blend science, technology, engineering and math instruction with performing arts functions.

These fusion buildings can take on many different roles, depending on the needs of the institution. But recently, they’ve tended to fall into three categories.

Bases for Connections
Fusion buildings can encourage exploration of new areas and cross-pollination between fields. They can also create new hubs for campus life, combining classrooms, research facilities and faculty offices with dining and gathering spaces. “It’s creating a home base where you don’t have to go to a library to study, the student union to get food, or a faculty building to see your professor,” says LPA Director of Higher Education Steve Flanagan. “You can do all that in one location.”

Creating mini communities also makes student services and support programs more visible and easier to access. “For many students, especially those underprivileged and underserved, those services can seem hidden or absent,” says Bao. “How can we create more visibility and accessibility to these services and amenities? That’s what these projects really offer, as much as physical space.”

Fusion Buildings 2
The new Cilker School of Arts & Design at West Valley College serves a range of arts and design disciplines, in addition to child development and career services.

Designers are working with schools to find different combinations, in many cases renovating older buildings with new ideas. For City College of San Francisco, LPA recently developed a feasibility study for a new STEAM complex, combining science, technology, engineering and math instruction with performing-arts studios and rehearsal space, in tandem with the neighboring Diego Rivera Theatre.

At West Valley College in Saratoga, California, a 59,000-square-foot inward-focused Brutalist-style classroom building dating to the 1960s was turned inside-out to serve a range of architecture, engineering, fashion design, forestry services and art disciplines, in addition to a child development and career center. In the reimagined building, floor-to-ceiling glass connects exterior and interior classrooms, creating a bright, open facility. A retooled floor plan favors wide hallways for improved circulation and social connection. Outside, the design provides spaces for group learning and individual activities in a landscape designed with native plants and stormwater-collecting bioswales.

It’s about having that intersectional experience for people to connect and celebrate curiosity and lifelong learning. - Winston Bao, LPA Programming Director

Fusion Buildings 3
Palomar College’s new Learning Resource Center (LRC) forms the heart of the campus, connecting to an arrival plaza where an amphitheater also serves as a stormwater basin.

“If you program the outside as useful exterior space, it can support the ideas of these merged goals, while saving on costs and interior square footage,” says LPA Director of Landscape Architecture Rich Bienvenu. “Our goal is to add function to the site, while creating beautiful environments that people can enjoy.”

Building a Remote Campus
For some colleges and universities, growth through additional campuses and centers has made hybrid buildings a necessity. These new education hubs combine aspects of traditional campuses like academic facilities with administrative offices, dining destinations and public spaces. “They’re focused on tailoring their offerings to specific communities,” Bao says, “and giving these institutions further reach.”

Fusion Buildings 4
Merged facilities encourage socialization, engagement and unexpected collaborations.

But satellite centers can take on their own identity. For the Newport Beach Campus of Coastline College — a distance-learning college focused on a new generation of tech-savvy, eco-conscious students — LPA consolidated an existing 10.5-acre campus into a 3.9-acre site by going vertical. The LEED Gold facility includes a rooftop student quad, a community art gallery and an array of learning environments that encourage socialization, engagement and environmental awareness.

Riverside City College’s Centennial Plaza occupies a full block in downtown Riverside, California. Its four-story, 60,000-square-foot Culinary Arts Academy occupies the ground floor, including a bakery, production kitchens and a more-than-100-seat restaurant open to the public. The complex also includes a landscaped rooftop deck with spaces for events and the college’s music program next door, with over 30 practice rooms and a 450-seat concert hall. Also next door is the Center for Social Justice and Civil Liberties, which was designed as an adapted reuse from an abandoned bank building built in 1926 and now serves as both an art gallery and museum for the college and community.

If you program the outside as useful exterior space, it can support the ideas of these merged goals, while saving on costs and interior square footage. - Rich Bienvenu, LPA Director of Landscape Architecture

Fusion Buildings 5
Going vertical enabled Coastline College Newport Beach to consolidate a 10.5-acre campus into 3.9 acres.

Palomar College went in a completely different direction, repurposing a 110,000-square-foot office building into a new education center 14 miles from its main campus in San Marcos, California. LPA designers worked with the college to transform the office building into a mix of classrooms, a community center, science and computer laboratories, a library, a food court, faculty offices and a student center. Basically, a “campus in a building.” Two new glass-enclosed staircases bookend the original structure, freeing up area for student collaboration spaces within the existing footprint to support the academic programs.

“It doesn’t look like your typical campus building, but moving through it, you see all these public spaces serving students,” Flanagan says. “It almost looks like a grand hotel lobby rather than a place where you just go to class.”

It doesn’t look like your typical campus building, but moving through it, you see all these public spaces serving students.

Fusion Buildings 6
Palomar College’s Rancho Bernardo Education Center added two glass-enclosed staircases to an existing office building, freeing up space for student collaboration.

Recreation + Wellness
Fusion higher education buildings have increasingly paired traditional student recreation centers with wellness and preventive health services.

“We started describing recreation centers, wellness centers and student unions as a nexus of student life,” Bao says. In the past, colleges had fitness centers: places to work out and play games; fusion centers are social hubs and provide resources to support students’ mental and physical health.

Fusion Buildings 7
Riverside City College’s Culinary Arts Academy includes a rooftop deck for campus events.

At California State University Northridge, the three-story, 123,000-square-foot Student Recreation Center, with a gymnasium, jogging track, fitness center and pool is located directly adjacent to the Oasis Wellness Center, with an outdoor garden surrounded by therapy and treatment rooms for counseling, holistic wellness education, massage and sleep therapy. A planned new student union expansion next door will complete the student-life–centric hub on campus.

Before these buildings were completed, CSUN was “more of a commuter campus, where students were really just coming here to go to class and leaving,” says Kaila Lavin, the Recreation Center’s former director. These facilities “really changed everything,” providing reasons for students to come to campus, stay longer and engage with fellow students.

Fusion Buildings 8
Riverside City College’s Centennial Plaza, which occupies a full block in downtown Riverside, California, is a mix of culinary arts, music and social justice programs.

The trend is only growing. For California State University Dominguez Hills, LPA developed a new 74,740-square-foot Health, Wellness and Recreation Center, which is in the design phase. A new icon of student life, the facility, financed by student fees, will provide a range of fitness and recreational offerings, in-house wellness center, flexible event and gathering spaces inside and out, and a skills lab with its own nutritional demonstration kitchen.

Fusion Buildings 9
CSU Dominguez Hills’ Health, Wellness & Recreation Center will be a new icon of student life, providing fitness, recreational offerings, wellness, nutritional education and event spaces.

The Mount St. Mary’s University Wellness Pavilion, currently under construction, is a 35,680-square-foot, two-story student recreation center focused on promoting wellness. Designed by LPA, the pavilion boasts breathtaking views of the surrounding Los Angeles community. As students enter the building, they are greeted by a spacious atrium that provides direct access to a range of amenities, including a physical therapy lab, gymnasium, fitness studio, outdoor pool, social spaces and sleep lounges.

As a group, fusion buildings are efficient by design. They maximize opportunities to reduce operating costs by combining functions and sharing resources. Moving forward, these facilities will provide resilience and flexibility, serving students in different ways for many generations to come.

A Hybrid Spirit

LPA’s expertise in creating hybrid buildings extends beyond the higher education practice. The firm’s integrated teams are designing facilities that blend functions in innovative ways across various practices, including healthcare, civic and commercial projects.

Fusion Buildings 10 Fusion Buildings 11

In K-12 school design, hybrid buildings are the norm due to space and budget constraints. Classroom spaces are combined with learning environments, educator spaces, offices, libraries and student services to create a holistic approach to learning, making the most of available resources.

Fusion Buildings 12
Pleasanton Elementary School.

“It’s focusing on an all-encompassing and holistic approach to learning to make the most of available resources,” says LPA Director of K-12 Kate Mraw.

In commercial spaces, amenities such as lounges, cafés and rooftop gardens are being combined to adapt to the realities of a hybrid workplace. Health centers are bringing together health, wellness and recreation. For the Redding Rancheria tribe, LPA is combining a 70,000-square-foot outpatient clinic with a 90,000-square-foot wellness center to address holistic tribal goals.

Fusion Buildings 13
Alamo Heights High School.

Civic projects are maximizing taxpayer dollars by incorporating flexible spaces that serve multiple needs. For example, a police department training room doubles as community space, and a museum links to new resources.

“We are always asking the question ‘How does this best serve the community?’” says LPA Director of Civic and Cultural Jeremy Hart.