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UC San Diego: Computer Science + Engineering Addition and Renovation

Orchid Icon  Orchid
  Interior Design

Due to explosive growth of students wanting to study computer science, UC San Diego’s world class program is bursting at the seams in a building that was built for the program just 10 years ago. The dramatic increase in CSE students and associated faculty resulted in a severe shortage of meeting, conference, and instructional spaces. Undergrads complained that they were relegated to the seven basement level computer labs that lacked a literal or figurative connection to the faculty and grad students on the upper four floors-accessible via external staircases that required exiting the main lobby/building.

To accommodate the influx of students, the existing 20’ wide basement corridor morphed into part circulation and part de facto instructional space. Not originally designed for this purpose, fluorescent lighting, a low dropped ceiling, and dated finishes contributing to undergrads feeling like they were in a dungeon. Lastly, the department felt the building lacked an identity as one of several engineering buildings ringing the Warren College quad with its iconic Bear sculpture (part of the Stewart Collection).

The solution was simple and intuitive: add a new internal staircase connecting the main lobby to the basement level, draw in as much natural daylighting as possible, provide new meeting rooms, freshen the overall lighting and material palette, and create a more clearly defined entry with department identity.

Despite being a modest addition and renovation, the impact has been immediate and very well received. The design provides: several bright and airy meeting venues, a large multi-purpose room, connected to the courtyard; several informal student-centric places to lounge, congregate, or work; and a bold entry that can’t be missed it. This project is about place making, and it succeeds.


Project Owner/Developer:

Contact Name/Email:
GREG COGHILL / gcoghill@ucsd.edu

Project Architect/Designer:

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  1. Rick Kennedy

    Excellent! The new interior accomplishes the goals of enlivening the space and infusing a distinct identity. Daylight spreads everywhere within and instensifies the sharing of scholarship, especially by glassing the meeting rooms.

  2. Paul Donovan

    Beautiful and dutiful. Transformed. Certainly an orchid but ready for perennial backpack use and skateboard abuse.

  3. Derek Emery

    As someone who spends a good deal of time in this space, I have to say it is both very aesthetically pleasing and functional. It is a treasured addition to the CSE Building here at UCSD and the jury would be wise to recognize its value with an Orchid award.

  4. Kathleen M Nelson

    I toured the newly remodeled CSE Building several months ago while visiting the UCSD campus and was thoroughly impressed by the light and airy feeling that flooded the entire space, something I definitely would not have described being the case several years ago. DeFreitas’ architectural signature is evident in this nod to mid-century modern design with attention to functional, updated spaces for students to study, collaborate, socialize, and relax. The new interior stairwell solves the decade-old problem of students and faculty having to exit the building in order to access the basement level labs. Upon entering the new space dedicated as a conference room, I immediately noticed the floor to ceiling glass panes facing the courtyard with the bear sculpture. As I eyed the partially frosted glass panes, I noticed that the etched pattern was a DNA strand pattern– commonly computer-generated and easily recognizable to students of computer science. This clever example of marrying certain existing features with fresh visual interest is what makes this architectural team and their forward-thinking designs stand out. What an improvement deFreitas and his team have made to bring this out-moded and insufficient space into the 21st century. I highly recommend this project for an “orchid” award!

  5. Manish Desai

    Truly transformed space. Going from a dark isolated basement lab space to a light filled, open, and collaborative learning hub. The intervention has created a central point of reference for students and faculty alike. Love the layered material palette and computer science narrative built into the architecture of all of the newly created spaces. Well done KdA!

  6. Jason Koh

    It’s beautiful down to the detail of the glass sheets. Walls with authentic woods are great for group photos 🙂 But actual beauty of this place lies in the purpose of the renovation, connecting undergrad students to the broader community, vice versa. I can say it’s accomplished based on the increased frequency of me chatting with undergrad students.

  7. Rahul Sabnis

    I am incredibly proud of the UC San Diego CSE Department for working on this amazing initiative to better support students’ use of the building. The changes have been both visually stunning and functionally useful. CSE has created a space that is great for students, vibrant, and will do a great job of accommodating all the students taking CSE courses.

  8. Anne O'Donnell

    Hard to imagine the physical space could match the devoted faculty and inspiring students or that it would add to the close community in CSE, one of this country’s largest computer science programs– but it does! Just beautiful and such a transformation. From dungeon to Hello World. Bravo Tritons!

  9. Josh Hagquist

    Incredibly clean lines, and beautiful touches throughout. Lots of different textures and materials make this 100% epic. This is my favorite!

  10. Kenneth D. Jensen

    Im an alumni of UCSD. Nice to see the campus expand with such great architecture.

  11. G Little

    I work in the building. This renovation is far more effective than one might expect from a “simple addition”. It fundamentally changed the traffic flow, the way undergrad students, grad students, faculty, and researchers interact, and the way that whole part of the building “feels”. The basement space used to live up to its “dungeon” name. Now, a sense of openness, air, light, interaction, and flow has been brought to that space. From multiple points in what used to be a claustrophobic cave, you can now not only see natural light and the outdoors, but there is a subtle feeling of expansive uplift from those places — you can see all the way up and out up to the sky. On a day with big white clouds it’s almost a sensation of grandeur. As others have noted, the new meeting spaces of various sizes are novel and always in high demand for the way they connect with the nearby courtyard’s sycamore trees and the big granite Bear of the Stewart collection. At the right times of year, the late afternoon sunlight makes the translucent 3-Form resin “fins” across the large conference room windows glow warmly. I am impressed by the many ways this addition and re-working connects the interior of the building with the best aspects of the outdoor setting.


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