"It is a good sign when architecture students see the built environment as their medium," says Frank Clementi, a principal in Los Angeles–based Rios Clementi Hale Studios. The firm recently completed a new studio building in Burbank for Woodbury University's architecture school. "It was our goal when we designed the space, so it is amazing to actually see the students inhabit it—there are holes in the walls, paint in weird places, and evidence that they are immersing themselves in the space—and ultimately learning from it," he continues.
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The studio building, which completes the architecture facilities at Woodbury, is part of a $27 million campaign that includes a business complex, a residence hall, and a 300-car parking lot. According to Clementi, the studio building's design is emblematic of a shift in architecture school culture. It is a hybrid of sorts—a space conceived as part building, part teaching tool, with multiple studio spaces to inspire students to actually teach one another. "Architecture itself has always been a star-based system, and I think that is beginning to change," he says. "The students go to class together, they work together, they eat together, and they sleep together, which teaches collaboration. It's a great incubator for what the real work world is like."
The two-story, 19,000-square-foot structure is nestled among existing, traditional brick-and-mortar buildings, which once housed a convent. The architects incorporated studio and critique space for about 200 students, as well as a double-height space for exhibitions, fundraisers, graduations, and all-school lectures and events. A giant glass lantern illuminates the room. A custom film for the glass, in a graphic leaf pattern, pays homage to an olive grove that once stood on the property.
The building forms a perimeter along the southeast corner of the 22-acre campus. In order to avoid a monolithic appearance, the architects laid the exterior cement blocks in different colors and textural patterns. But it is the technological expression of the building that Clementi hopes will have an impact on the students. The structural and mechanical systems are exposed to serve as teaching tools. "The structure of a building becomes obvious when it is showcased," he says. Cantilevered steel beams support a balcony and the roof; metal decking forms the roof. There are also metal ducts and DuctSox for the HVAC system, sprinkler pipes, and pendant lighting. "Layer upon layer of the building is exposed," Clementi says, and according to faculty, the impact is already clear: "This building has instilled a sense of pride of place," says professor Paulette Singley. "I think it has improved everyone's attitude, and it has ultimately improved the work—it has been truly transformative."