By: Sam Ridge
It is well known to architects that the design process is rarely linear. The process of recognizing and resolving design problems is circuitous and influenced by various ideas, decisions, and input from stakeholders over the length of a project. I often visualize these influences and the design process as a linear spiral, where the loops of the spiral represent the many design iterations that inform a project over time.
Currently, CO is collaborating with Sundt Construction as a design-build team to complete the new Science II Building on the California State University, Sacramento campus. This is CO’s first design-build project of this scale and magnitude; needless to say the project team has learned a lot about the process, especially how delivery method influences the design process, and the few extra loops it adds to the spiral.
On Science II, my main role has been to develop the design of the exterior elements, including the façade, landscape, and planetarium. The façade in particular has proven to be quite a learning experience for me; we created over 50 composition iterations. These iterations stemmed from two basic diagrams: a ribbon window, and vertical punched window.
Early in the process, we designed the façade with a vertical pattern of faceted concrete pilasters that had significant depth and shape. Conceptually, the façade was an homage to the adjacent American River. The pilasters gradate out from the center of the building, like ripples of a stone thrown into water. The planetarium represents the stone the water ripples around.
With contractors and sub-contractors involved early in the process, we quickly learned that the design was over budget. The depth and shape of the pilasters would require glass fiber-reinforced concrete (GFRC), a more costly precast concrete material, ultimately raising the overall budget. We also realized that the facade design inhibited potential daylighting for the deep lab spaces.
While this initial facade scheme met our aesthetic goals, it became apparent that the design was flawed in its cost benefit for the university and the interior environment.
Following this realization, we moved swiftly to a ribbon window scheme as a cost-saving solution. The new design varied greatly from the previous iteration, as it no longer told the narrative of the American River. While the design met our budget and daylighting requirements, it lacked the aesthetic impact of our initial scheme, and the added glass negatively impacted the building’s energy performance.
Back at the drawing board, we developed various solutions to bridge the gap between the two schemes. The team came up with endless facade systems including pilasters, ribbon windows, and punched windows. Each option was explored in close collaboration with the contractor, sub-contractors, the university, and consultants. Together, we worked to develop a scheme that met our energy efficiency, daylighting, budget, and aesthetic requirements.
In the latest scheme, we landed on a near-perfect blend of ribbon and punched window systems. Coming back to the idea of the rippling American River, we added a vertical pattern to the concrete spandrel panel that gradates towards the building’s center. To continue the vertical pattern through the glass there is a frit pattern that also helps energy performance by reducing heat gain. As a whole, the design successfully conveys the building’s conceptual story while meeting performance, budget, and aesthetic requirements. In the end, this scheme was the extra loop in the design process that best harnessed all of our design influences.
As a young architect, I see this project as just the beginning of learning how complex the process of designing buildings can be. I suspect that no matter the project delivery method, the design process always leans a little more toward my second design process diagram. While there are always many loops and influences on a project’s outcome, it is ultimately the architect’s job to help guide the process toward the best outcome for all involved.