CSU San Bernardino Santos Manuel Student Union

San Bernardino, California

A student union expansion changes the core of a university and addresses the interests of a diverse, growing student body.

The three-story, 105,000-square-foot Santos Manuel Student Union creates a new hub of student life on the California State University, San Bernardino campus, while responding to the region’s difficult climate. The new facility features a vibrant activity center on the ground floor, including a bowling alley, restaurants, a bookstore and pub; a double-height, 12,000-square-foot conference center and multi-use meeting space on the second floor; and a flexible array of spaces for student organizations on the cantilevered third floor, which creates a large, shaded plaza on the ground level.

Funded by student fees, the student union expansion shifts the epicenter of campus life from a traditional quad to a promenade, the Coyote Walk, linking the new buildings to the rest of the school. On the constrained, sloped site, the building fits like a jigsaw puzzle piece into the evolving campus, with activated outdoor spaces and connections to the older student union and the nearby Center for Global Innovation (CGI), a three-story, LEED Platinum building also designed by LPA.

The building’s orientation protects the building from the elements — harsh winds and temperatures that average over 90 degrees in the summer — while maximizing access to natural light and views. The conference rooms and meeting rooms on the second floor are connected to the ground floor by a towering, glass-enclosed lobby, which fills the spaces with natural light. The third floor offers a variety of offices and meeting spaces for campus organizations, with cross-cultural common areas arranged in the cantilevered overhang that presents broad views of the campus and mountains.

Outdoor spaces are activated throughout the site, including an elevated plaza that sits above the bookstore and connects to the conference center. Amphitheater seating was added to the sloped site; a covered area adjacent to the pub includes a conversation pit with video screens and gaming, creating a natural gathering spot. The university invested in moveable furniture and custom recliners near the food court. On the elevated plaza, louvered metal structures were built to provide shelter from the sun and winds.

The LEED Gold facility’s design responds to the elements in different ways to reduce energy use and create healthier environments. The structure’s orientation to the sun and strategic self-shading features help reduce energy use in the building by 78% from the AIA 2030 Commitment baseline. Approximately 25% of the building’s energy consumption is offset by ground-mounted photovoltaic systems. The facility is also designed to allow for additional photovoltaic systems on the roof to further reduce net energy use.

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