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Nestled between the steep Santa Ynez Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara is a Californian pocket of the Mediterranean. Known for its pleasant climate and striking natural setting, the city is also home to the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) campus, which boasts a showpiece ocean-front campus — and over 25,000 students. It’s a setting that inspired the university’s first major classroom expansion in nearly 50 years, the 8,361-square-metre Interactive Learning Pavilion.

Designed by Seattle-based LMN Architects, the two-volume complex sits on a nearly 15,000-square-metre lot at the heart of the campus, forming a western extension of the school’s Pardall Mall lawn. But while the rest of the mall is a ground-level green space, the new structure extends the pedestrian- and cyclist-oriented milieu into a different kind of setting, incorporating generous outdoor spaces up and across the body of a classroom building.

From the ground floor public plaza to the network of elevated walkways and seating areas that connect the four-storey building’s two volumes, the design knits laid back outdoor life into an institutional setting. And after dusk, understated warm lighting extends the welcoming ambiance into the evening hours, filtering through the building’s perforated metal railings.

Inspired by the jagged, rocky central coast — as well as the courtyards, paseos and terraces of California’s vernacular housing — the terraced form of California’s vernacular housing concrete panels and tonally varied buff bricks carves a sort of canyon through the site.

Inside, meanwhile, the coastal connection is reinforced by a colour palette that translates the seaside’s varied blue, green and yellow hues into vivid interior accents, which double as intuitive wayfinding tools. Ranging from five large lecture halls to traditional classrooms and more open, collaborative “active learning” spaces, the Interactive Learning Pavilion comprises some 2,000 seats of learning spaces in a variety of configurations.

“The Interactive Learning Pavilion seamlessly integrates with the campus surroundings, drawing inspiration from the Central Coast of California’s climate and its unique site,” says Jennifer Milliron, Principal at LMN Architects. “The building creates a vertical extension of the adjacent campus spaces by providing outdoor terraces at each level that encourage student learning and collaboration outside of the classrooms. To further enhance this connection, we have brought the same design philosophy to the building’s teaching spaces, utilizing materials and colour palettes that are inspired by its distinctive setting. We integrated natural light into every classroom and the upper floors offer contemporary learning environments with expansive views of the lagoon and ocean. The result is a building that we believe captures the essence of the campus and its surroundings.”

Editor’s Note: This article previously stated that the UCSB campus is home to nearly 50,000 students. The correct figure is 25,034.

LMN Architects Channels the California Coast at UC Santa Barbara

LMN Architects translate a laid back coastal spirit into an institutional setting.

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