The fall semester at the California Institute of the Arts began with the first major campus renovation since the repairs after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Los Angeles–based wHY, Kulapat Yantrasast’s multidisciplinary architecture and design practice, transformed an uninviting and obsolete cafeteria into a light-filled cafe and student center that meets the varied needs of the students, faculty, and staff at the renowned art institution.
“CalArts is paradise for workaholics,” said president Steven Lavine of the school’s dedication to individual practice and private studio spaces. “We’ve always operated 24-7 but we hadn’t adapted to the idea of shared work spaces.”
While multiple disciplines share the five-story, 500,000-square-foot building first envisioned by Walt Disney and completed by Ladd & Kelsey in 1971, there were few informal spaces for students and faculty to meet and collaborate. “Historically, CalArts has under invested in amenities,” noted Lavine. “Any time we had money, we put it into equipment, scholarships, and faculty. We hadn’t thought very hard about the overall work environment.”
The new design not only updates the food service area to appeal to the students, it creates a variety of dining and lounge seating areas with custom furniture designed by the firm. WHY also reworked the entry sequence to include a mobile grab-and-go kiosk and ad-hoc “apple crate” furniture that students can move into swap-meet arrangements or use in other ways.
However, wHY’s first order of business was to open up the 13,000-square-foot space and bring in light. The team gutted the old cafeteria and removed the walls and a drop ceiling from the dining room, revealing panoramic views of the Santa Clarita hills and a waffle-slab ceiling that provided an opportunity for skylights.
The now-luminous white space is home to various seating arrangements. Communal tables were designed by wHY’s Objects Workshop and locally fabricated by Cinnabar Fabrication; made from powder-coated aluminum with steel bases, they slice through the space at oblique angles. Overhead, lighting consultant Luminesce Design added simple strip fixtures that continue the visual lines of the tables. In a lounge corner dotted with candy-colored chairs, the firm added a few built-in booths to create more private reading areas.