Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios, UCLA

Architecture firm: Johnston Marklee

Owner: University of California

Location: Culver City, Calif.

Category: Merit

Project site: Previously developed

Building program type(s): Education - college/university (campus-level)

Through a comprehensive renovation and addition of new space, the UCLA Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios gathers a community of artists and faculty in a building that supports today's artistic practices while anticipating their future. The 48,000-square-foot LEED Gold–certified building unifies new and old to house the disciplines of the university’s MFA program. Driven by sustainability and integration of an existing structure, the project includes everything artists need to explore the possibilities of their mediums while evolving their practice.

UCLA’s studios have been located in the Culver City’s Hayen Tract since 1986, and this project embraces the area's industrial legacy. The overall project encompasses the adaptive reuse of a 21,200-square-foot former warehouse and an accompanying 26,800-square-foot addition. The former factory has been transformed into a neighborhood of graduate art studios, while the L-shaped addition includes a garden, work yards, galleries, and an artist-in-residence loft that supports an array of mediums. Inspired by the concept of an urban plan with an orchestrated mix of community and private spaces, the project combines new and old to support the complete needs of the university’s program.

The university’s existing facility was marked with a series of ad hoc renovations and additions. While earlier efforts contributed to the building's vibrancy, it lacked the modern production facilities needed for the school's celebrated program. The team optimized the existing vernacular as it approached the project, and its objectives were to purge obsolete structures, create a new ground plane and expanded roof, and define a new perimeter that supports fluid programmatic boundaries.

Sustainability was a fundamental consideration for the project, and the team relied on innovative building systems and elemental materials to arrive at an integrated approach. The team’s iterative process explored ways to optimize conditions, beginning with the transformation of the warehouse into a highly functional building. A strategic reduction of conditioned floor area in the addition maximized natural ventilation through the covered and unconditioned work yards. The building’s yards and gardens filter daylight with polycarbonate panels to minimize heat gain and allow for passive ventilation, eliminating reliance on mechanical cooling in two shared production spaces and buffering the adjacent conditioned spaces.

The team’s approach to sustainability is also evident in the sophisticated design, characterized by a sense of openness and an invitation to engage in creative development. Material restraint can be found throughout, beginning in the warehouse’s upper zone, where remnants of decades of use remain on the original roof trusses and concrete walls. Exterior concrete tilt-up walls, selected for economy and longevity, are reflective of the neighborhood’s character, demonstrating that cost-effective materials can be used to construct a building of this scale with a 200-year lifespan. In addition, 78% percent of the total construction waste was diverted, amounting to 213 tons separated into four waste streams, including cardboard, gypsum board, metal, and wood.  

“The simplicity of the palette is commendable. They did a lot with three materials.” - Jury comment

From the outset, the voices of students, faculty, donors, and adjacent neighbors shaped nearly all pragmatic elements of the design, from parking to landscape planning. For instance, the students highlighted their need to move materials from loading and delivery areas to their personal studios, shaping the building's extra-wide hallways. Numerous spaces perform multiple functions, such as circulation and exhibition, providing chance interactions critical to this dynamic learning environment's success.

“This project is innovative in how it creates a ‘hackable’ space for students. It marries an existing warehouse and auxiliary buildings with a new addition to create a new compelling space." - Jury comment

Though the building was occupied only by faculty and students for a short time in fall 2019 and winter 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic restricted access, it has received nothing but acclaim from students and faculty. By supporting the wide range of its users' needs, the new building reflects the MFA program's stature, ranked number one in the country by U.S. News & World Report in 2020.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of substantial project completion: 2019

Gross conditioned floor area: 38,000 sq ft

Project team

Consultant - Code & Accessibility: Jensen Hughes

Consultant - Cost Estimation: Capital Projects Group

Consultant - Environmental Graphics: Mollet Geiser & Company

Consultant - Green Building: GAIA Development

Consultant - Specifications: C Plus C Consulting

Engineer - Building Enclosure: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH)

Engineer - Civil: KPFF

Engineer - Lighting: Horton Lees Brogdon (HLB)

Engineer – MEP: ME Engineers

Engineer - Sound, Acoustical & A/V: Veneklasen Associates

Engineer - Structural: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger (SGH)

Engineer - Vertical Transportation: Van Deusen & Associates

General Contractor: Abbott Construction Concrete

Landscape Architect: Pamela Burton & Company

Subcontractor: Largo Concrete, Inc.

Subcontractor - Polycarbonate Roofing: Duo-Gard Industries    


Diego Barrera, AIA (Chair), Stantec, Plano, Texas

Richey Madison, AIA, SmithGroup, Los Angeles

Xuemei Zhu, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas

Pam Loeffelman, FAIA, DLR Group, Estes Park, Colo.

Oswaldo Rivera-Ortiz, Assoc. AIA, Dallas Independent School District, Dallas

Image credits


Iwan Baan

entry garden

Iwan Baan

sculpture yard

Iwan Baan

Artist studio

Iwan Baan


Iwan Baan