2022 AIA CA DESIGN AWARDS
Project Location: Riverside, California
Photographer: Paul Vu
The University of California, Riverside, is a campus deeply linked with the agricultural and natural sciences. This heritage is academically and physically represented with a district of greenhouses on the main campus, just blocks from the central University mall. Plant Research 1 continues this campus tradition with a new greenhouse and research building. The design is driven by the planning and organizational module of the greenhouses, inspired by the pragmatism of the historical greenhouses.
“The building concept and form are strong and the limited materials palette reinforces the concept – a very considerate and innovative solution for a highly energy-intensive building.” – 2022 Design Awards Jury
Located at a significant crossroads on the campus, the facility represents the importance of plant research to the culture and character of The University of California, Riverside by placing a utilitarian research facility in a visible and approachable location. The result is a design that puts science on display—placing the glass greenhouses above a concrete base so that students, faculty, and researchers can see and experience the research happening on campus.
The work of research is many times opaque, even on university campuses many times the public and even students do not have a connection to the work being done sometimes down the hall or next door. This project invites a connection to its campus and community by placing the research on display. The terraced site to the south gives clear views into the greenhouses letting the public glimpse the important work being done inside. This coupled with a roof terrace and connecting lobby gives the campus the possibility to invite the public inside the project to see science happening. These aspects of the project turn research and science outward.
The landscape of the project is designed as an ecotone between the natural arroyo and the campus landscape—through the use of native plants we create a seamless transition that blends both environments. A trailhead at the edge of the site and outdoor decks gives users and the campus easy access to the natural context and educational opportunities for researchers and students.
Stormwater management and conservation drove the landscape design, as building water cannot be recycled due to being primarily research wastewater. Rainwater is brought down from the greenhouse roofs to the landscaping and permeable fire lane that slows and treats the water before it leaves the site. Low water-use plants adapted to desert landscapes help preserve precious water resources and serve to demonstrate the beauty of arid landscapes.
Three main factors address affordability. First, the strict module of the building creates repetition in all building components that reduces complexity for a systems-heavy, greenhouse research building. Second, the project uses a strict and efficient planning strategy to maximize research space and minimize circulation, optimizing the cost per usable square foot. Third, the public spaces that are part of the project are multi-functional and usable for both researchers and the campus.
With the greenhouses’ purpose to let in the sunlight, the challenge of the project was keeping that heat from the mechanical cooled spaces. The concrete structure—needed for the greenhouses above—is used as a thermal mass to keep the project cool, removing any need for insulation throughout the majority of the project.
The project promotes a connection to campus and nature by placing the main and service entries at the east, campus side; through opposing rooftop terraces facing campus and nature, and the connection to a local trail.
The scientific requirements of the project demanded a concrete structure for vibration, structural loading, and waterproofing requirements (greenhouses are internally wet buildings)—so the design was primarily focused on efficiency and dual-uses of building elements. The defining aspect of this strategy is the use of the concrete system as structure, thermal mass, and facade. This allowed the project to remove almost all interior and exterior finishes—the ground floor concrete is exposed inside and out removing any additional insulation, waterproofing, metal framing, and drywall. The concrete also creates a lasting structure in its dual climate of semi-arid desert and variable greenhouse environments.
The thermal mass system of the project is designed specifically for the diurnal temperature cycle of the semi-arid climate—while the temperatures will become more extreme the daily cycle will still work to keep the thermal mass charged with the cool, night air. These extreme and rising average temperatures are the largest concern to this specific site and program.
This project is a prototype for future greenhouse projects at the University, creating a model for planning and constructing future greenhouses. The planning module of the project was designed specifically to be able to be applied to different sites by adding or removing modules as needed. This system will be replicated with user input, constructability lessons, and new site constraints to build the next greenhouses on the campus.
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