Palomar College’s Learning Resource Center creates a new heart of the campus, connects indoor and outdoor spaces, and positions the school for the future.
The design for Palomar College’s new Learning Resource Center (LRC) started with a basic rethinking of the library concept. In a swirl of new technologies and changing educational initiatives, the role of the library has changed in the last 20 years and will continue to evolve for decades to come.
“The challenge and opportunity was designing a space that is already thinking about the future,” says LPA Project Designer Ozzie Tapia. “We weren’t designing based on how a library has worked in the past, we were thinking about it in terms of flexibility and adaptability over time.”
The 85,000-square-foot, four-story learning center is the latest addition in a decade-long transformation of the community college’s campus, based on a master plan developed by LPA in 2005. Funded by a $694 million bond measure approved by voters in 2006, the LRC is the last in a cluster of four buildings designed by LPA, each fitting together to create connected open spaces that unite the different elements of the campus.
From the beginning of the master plan, the LRC was designed as the heart of the campus, “the jewel in the crown,” connecting the buildings to an arrival plaza with social areas for students. “The college always looked at the learning and resource center as a destination within the campus and an opportunity for it to serve as a student hub,” Tapia says.
The LRC is a “modern reinterpretation of a library,” Tapia says. In addition to the book stacks, there are computer rooms, tutoring spaces, study rooms and social areas. The entrance is an open atrium flooded with natural light and views of the campus, a sharp contrast to the closed off libraries of the past. Flexible furniture and collaboration spaces are available throughout the lobby, creating a place for students to hang out and study.
Each floor of the building, visible from the atrium, represents a different function, including academic technology spaces, a tutoring center, the traditional library book stacks and reading rooms. “The transparency of the atrium connects all the functions,” Tapia says. “Every program is easily accessible and encourages student curiosity and interaction, from both the inside and outside.”
Flexibility was built into every aspect of the design. The building uses a repetitive steel system that creates wide, open spaces that can be used for book stacks or divided into smaller collaborative spaces or study areas in the future. Power outlets and technology connections are available everywhere in the building. “If the building’s priorities change over time, all you’re changing is what happens within the big spaces,” Tapia says.
LPA’s integrated team was involved in every aspect of the design, including electrical, plumbing, water treatment and landscaping. Lighting specialists played a key role, creating the right ambiance for the different tasks in the different spaces, while finding ways to conserve energy. Roofs in the buildings were cleared of mechanical systems to create space for photovoltaic cells, which produce 20 percent of the building’s needs.
Throughout the project, which was designed to meet LEED Gold standards, the design focused on methods to conserve energy, including the larger “floating” upper level floors, which shade the lower floors, as well as the plaza. Natural light plays an important role in the building, reducing energy requirements. The design reduces fossil fuel use by 70 percent, meeting the requirements of the AIA’s 2030 Commitment.
The outdoor spaces focused on drought-resistant landscaping and integrated the stormwater management system with student spaces. An amphitheater with terraced seating also serves as a stormwater basin. “These landscape spaces serve a function socially, a place where you can hang out,” says Rich Bienvenu, Director of Landscape Architecture. “But they also perform a function mechanically; they are treating stormwater.”
The landscape team worked closely with the existing horticulturists on campus to design the property, Bienvenu says. A committee was formed to oversee the landscape design with a series of meetings and discussions, including staff, students and Tony Rangel, who directs the campus arboretum. The project became an opportunity to display all these different specimens that they had gathered or propagated on their campus. “They view their entire campus as an Arboretum,” Bienvenu says.
In many ways, the new LRC is designed to connect with nature, including the transparent separation of indoor and outdoor spaces and the framed views of the campus and mountains. The views and the interaction between the buildings were strategies and goals explored years ago as part of our informed design process.
“You can see that the LRC creates a dialogue with other buildings on campus,” Tapia says. “It shares the same DNA as the other buildings, but it also stands out on its own. That’s what we call campus building, and that was all part of the master plan.”
Shortly after the LRC opened, it was clear that it was fulfilling its new role on campus. Spaces both inside and out were filled with students taking advantage of the new center of campus. At a ceremony, Palomar College President Dr. Joi Lin Blake described the LRC as a “stellar example of Palomar’s commitment to innovation and building for the future.”
This story originally appeared in Catalyst Issue 3 2019. Subscribe today to receive Catalyst, a quarterly publication that takes a deep dive into design ideas, industry leaders and initiatives.