John Friedman Alice Kimm

John Friedman Alice Kimm

All photos Benny Chan, Fotoworks

LA firm John Friedman Alice Kimm were able to expand what was originally intended to be a seismic renovation of Caltech’s Graduate Aerospace Laboratories into a transformative project, with a sense of invention that matches the spirit of a department all about exploration and movement. The project includes a new lobby, new labs and classrooms, meeting spaces, and new exhibition areas, covered with brightly-colored walls and ceilings with energizing angles, curves, and glass openings.

The firm created powerful new graphics and curving surfaces out of  computer-milled and laser jet–cut materials like 3-form resin, drywall with steel framing, felt over laser-cut wood, and perforated steel. These weave in and out of the three-story, early-1900s building’s exposed concrete frame. The warped surfaces define spaces and generate a sense of movement. The lobby’s ceiling ribbon twists and turns like a mysterious pathway. And a large conference room on the second floor features a ceiling of curved, sound-absorbing felt shaped to mimic the Karman Vortex, a pattern of swirling vortices discovered by Caltech professor Theodore von Karman. The firm also designed the glass, acrylic, and steel conference table, with its visible compartments to house many of the department’s treasures.

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Sam Lubell