Geffen Academy at UCLA
Category: Design excellence
“This is a masterful translation of an existing office building into a whole school focused on creativity and active learning.” - Jury comment
A new, university-affiliated secondary school serving 620 students from across Los Angeles, Geffen Academy at UCLA provides world-class education opportunities focused on solving the critical issues facing society today. Housed in a repurposed building on the south side of UCLA’s campus, the school is ready for future flexibility through adaptive re-use and student-first ideals that promote engagement, curiosity, and collaborative learning.
The idea of a school on the university’s campus began in 2015, sparked by a donor’s gift. The project came with an aggressive timeline, and the team spent just three years collaborating with the school to realize its educational vision and develop a new enterprise. The design focuses on casual social interactions and providing students with choices that heighten their sense of empowerment. Wellness, evident in the school’s ample daylight, strong connections to the outdoors, and the stylish kitchen designed to deinstitutionalize food service, was also a key driver. Investment in dining services has since helped shift perceptions around healthy eating at the school, and an outdoor dining commons fosters impromptu conversations among students.
Serving as the school’s active hub, an open library addresses the challenge of balancing independent and collaborative work throughout the school. This innovative library model, open and freely accessed, features an immersive study and resource circulation spine that connects all of the school’s instructional and faculty spaces. At its front door, the library’s “living room” serves as a less formal solution to a lobby and is the first in a number of choices for studying and gathering found throughout all three of the library’s levels. Since the school opened in 2018, the heavy use of the library has demonstrated its ability to anchor the school and deepen engagement among students and faculty.
The project achieved LEED Gold certification, and the team was encouraged to re-use as much of the original 75,000-square-foot building as possible. While the existing envelope remained in good condition and glass roll-up doors helped establish strong indoor-outdoor connections, the building’s parking lot setting, lack of a welcoming entryway, and awkward interior circulation required significant attention. The team added a new interior stair that stitches all three levels of the library together, and the upper floors were gutted to accommodate larger classrooms. Minimal renovations were required on the ground floor, which houses classrooms, athletic facilities, food service, and art studios.
houses classrooms, athletic facilities, food service, and art studios.