This project is an expansion and partial renovation that houses state-of-the-art optical research labs, faculty offices, auditoria, conferencing, and interaction spaces for this preeminent university research institution whose mission is “The science and application of light”. Occupying a prominent site on the University mall, it is the first of a series of clusters that will replace the existing buildings over time.
The building is an abstraction of a “Camera Obscura” or “Dark Room”. Within the simple volume, daylight is introduced by a series of apertures in the skin, interacting and modulating the spaces within. A series of vertical light shafts, each feature a specific optical surface, penetrate the building and terminate in a series of two-story interaction spaces. Offices and interaction spaces are gathered around these two-story spaces, with views of the Santa Catalina Mountains to the North. Due to the need for absolute darkness, the optics laboratories are clustered along the Southern, “blind” elevation. The upper level contains a conferencing center and glass enclosed rooftop terrace, and the lower level lobby area houses exhibits and auditoriums.
The cast in place concrete building is sheathed in a treated reddened copper alloy recalling the color of the campus brick. The skin is a breathable “rain screen” protects the inner shell from the intense desert sun and eliminates surface sealant joints. As an interpretation of a Fresnel lens, the northern glass wall is folded as a response to the existing buildings textural façade creating apparent mass and transparency. Purposeful folds in the copper skin permit the passage of rainwater piping and lab exhaust, rendering a sculptural surface in the monolithic faces of the building.