A Southerly Course

A Southerly Course

An elevated cycleway connecting to Pasadena’s green streets is the centerpiece of a reimagined South Campus for Art Center.
Courtesy Michael Maltzan Architecture / Tina Chee Landscape Studio

Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design acquired the iconic Jacobs Engineering Building, located at the end of the 110 Freeway, through the largest gift in the college’s 85-year history. Now, when you stop at the light at Arroyo Seco one of the first things you see is Art Center’s unmistakable orange dot logo. This is just one of the recent moves on the property acquisitions chessboard that has laid the groundwork for the college’s ambitious ten-year master plan designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture.

With the slogan “one college, one community,” the plan seeks to better connect the college’s Hillside and South campuses and proposes a mix of new facilities for the latter to be phased in over the next decade.

On the third floor of the former Jacobs building—still undergoing renovations—resides a sprawling 6- by 20-foot foam core model of the envisioned South Campus at 3/32 scale.


The model shows buildings in Maltzan’s signature white palette—just conceptual placeholders, he explained. Moreover, this isn’t just about buildings. “When buildings drive the mission it can be disastrous,” said Art Center president Dr. Lorne M. Buchman, who spearheaded the initiative. He described a tendency for institutions to be seduced by great buildings that ultimately drive up costs and don’t necessarily fit into the bigger picture of an academic mission.


For Art Center, part of their mission is to model the values they try to impart in students. For this reason, the plan embodies multiple levels of consideration: not just about living and learning, but also about mobility and connectivity—transportation is one of the school’s core programs.


With input from staff, students, and teachers, as well as the local community, Maltzan and his team have put together what he called “a supple armature that can evolve.”  The foundational elements of the plan include housing for 1,000 students (50 percent of the student body), studio spaces and workshops with courtyards, recreational facilities, a cafeteria, and community accessible retail, gallery, and event spaces. At the center is a dramatically elevated campus quad that bridges over the Metro Gold Line, sloping and terracing up three stories to foster connections between different buildings and programs. “This is all about making a more complete life for students,” said Lorne.


The “cycleway” for bicycles and carts (similar to golf carts) is planned to run through campus. This, says Maltzan, was inspired by the historic 19th-century elevated cycleway that once connected Pasadena to downtown. Maltzan’s version, envisioned as the central spine of the campus, would also connect to future bike paths in the city. This is part of a comprehensive transportation strategy that includes shuttles to the Hillside Campus and a fleet of ZipCars so students residing on campus are less dependent on their own cars.

Working with Arup, Sherwood Design Engineers, and Tina Chee Landscape Studio as part of a larger environmental agenda, Maltzan’s team proposed to transform Raymond Avenue, which defines the western edge of the South Campus, into a more pedestrian and bike-scaled street, complete with bioswales to form a green linkage Pasadena’s Central Park several blocks north. Other measures include facade improvements and system upgrades to existing buildings, including Craig Ellwood’s bridge building at Hillside, passive cooling for housing, a high performance central plant, and roof-mounted photovoltaics.

“I don’t know of too many schools taking on the goal of not just moving the campus forward but also being a real progressive agent for positive change on a broader level,” said Maltzan. As both urban design and campus design, the masterplan supports the college’s higher ambitions to connect to the city and the region.