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College of the Desert Visual Arts Building
(# 39)
Images Description Credits
Completion NA
Specific Use of Building Visual Arts Facility
Project Location Palm Desert, California
In the shade of a palm oasis, a new Visual Arts facility extends the core campus and reinterprets a 1960’s architectural language at the College of the Desert in Palm Desert. The new 14,000 square foot building is the anchor for a re-conceived Arts District, celebrating the creative programs located within while consolidating existing Visual Arts Department programs into a new home on the northern edge of the growing campus.

This complex is planned around an exterior Arts courtyard which acts as a destination terminus, completing a pedestrian spine connecting this facility to the core campus. Students approach the site from this spine and enter through a portal formed by the large sheltering roof. The roof, made of custom perforated metal, covers the pedestrian spine and folds over the facades of the building, offering protection from the harsh desert sun. The perforations are derived from abstractions of photographs taken of the shadow patterns from an adjacent palm grove, allowing a dappled light to invoke feelings of cooling and calm. 

Once inside, daylight from rooftop monitors floods the interiors with soft and stable north light while their projecting profiles evoke the surrounding mountain peaks. The building design takes its cues from the highly adaptive native desert flora, by protecting itself from the extreme temperatures through multiple shading strategies. By extending large overhangs to the south and west the building elevations are shaded against extreme solar exposure, while creating protected outdoor work areas. In addition a protective layer of perforated metal protects a majority of the exposed building facades allowing for the displacement of heat through natural ventilation, minimizing the transfer of heat through the exterior skin. A durable palette of concrete block and stucco in desert tones couples with exposed steel and the custom perforated panels to create a fresh new identity distinct from the original campus architecture. The 1960s era campus was conceptualized as a series of heavy, concrete buildings surrounding courtyards with covered exterior walkways. That same language of colonnades is extended here, but with a much lighter and more delicate rhythm and feel. Interior finishes will complement the role of the students as young artists by creating a neutral palette that will allow the artwork to be the focus as well as creating a collaborative, open work environment for the activities of the Visual Arts Department.

The project was conceived as a vessel for the celebration of the craft of art making, providing visual connectivity from the passing students to interior exhibit and critique spaces. This ‘program transparency’ is a primary goal and serves as the prime catalyst for a campus-wide engagement of the art program. Similarly sustainability has been a goal for the project since its inception; it is currently tracking LEED Gold.


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