UC San Diego North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood 

Architecture Firm: HKS, Inc & Safdie Rabines Architects

Owner: University of California San Diego

Location: San Diego

Project site: Previously developed land

Building program type(s): Education – College/University (campus-level)

The largest project in the University of California, San Diego’s history, the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood reflects the school’s reputation as a longtime leaders in climate change research and education and its quest to be carbon neutral by 2025. The neighborhood is a mix of three residence halls, two academic buildings, eight general assignment classrooms, offices, parking, and public amenities that work in concert to foster iterative improvement and innovation among the next generation of environmental stewards. Conceived through evidence-based design, it is the most substantial project in the higher education sector to receive LEED Platinum certification.


UC San Diego is a longtime leader in climate change research and education, dating from Dr. Charles Keeling’s groundbreaking work linking rising levels of atmospheric carbon to fossil fuel emissions. Building on this legacy, the university aims to be carbon neutral by 2025.

This landmark construction project, the largest in the university’s 57-year history, includes three residence halls, two academic buildings, eight general assignment classrooms, administration offices, underground parking, and public amenities.

Expanding its facilities within the context of a statewide housing crisis, increasingly extreme heat, and rising sea levels, UC San Diego chose to prioritize sustainability and well-being. Today, the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) is the largest higher education project in California to achieve LEED Platinum certification.

In approaching the design for NTPLLN, the architects began with a question: Can design improve the health of both people and planet?

The architects employed evidence-based design to encourage healthy habits and cultivate social connections among students, staff, and members of the La Jolla community. Upon completion, members of a research coalition that includes architects, administrators, faculty, students, and engineers measured the health and environmental outcomes of the design. As their research shows, the design realized measurable outcomes.

Bringing human scale to the massive site was a primary design challenge. The architects began with the idea of nested scales to address this while also designing to foster social interactions. To minimize energy use and maximize the benefits of the Pacific coast site, the design connects indoor and outdoor spaces in myriad ways.

The architecture features rooftop gardens for residence halls and access to outdoor educational spaces for classrooms. Community members can enroll in classes at the Craft Center, attend events at the public auditorium, and enjoy dining establishments and newly established green spaces.

All buildings are designed for passive survivability with natural ventilation systems and operable windows. The team used future weather files and shoebox modeling to determine each residence’s exposure to calibrate the enclosure’s design and ensure its intended energy performance.

Native plantings on the site—previously a parking lot—attract songbirds and insects that have reinhabited the landscape. To encourage healthy eating habits and allow students to connect through food, the design features edible gardens and shared indoor and outdoor kitchens.

Data from the first year of occupancy show that NTPLLN has reduced its measured EUI by a whopping 81% while realizing an 8.2% reduction in students’ self-reported depression rates. This reduction occurred at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting mental health crisis. These metrics, along with many others, exemplify AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence and showcase the design’s meaningful impact.

Today, the Neighborhood is home to future generations of environmental stewards who will fight to protect their university’s legacy, its neighborhood, and our planet.

Additional information

Project attributes

Year of design completion: 2018

Year of substantial project completion: 2020

Gross conditioned floor area: 1,057,950 sq. ft.

Number of stories the building has: 61

Project site: Previously developed land

Project site context/setting: Suburban

Annual hours of operation: 8,760

Site area: 915,500 sq. ft.

Cost of construction, excluding furnishing: $534,679,042

Total annual users: 2,904

Project team

Architect: HKS, Inc.  

Associate Architect: Safdie Rabines Architects

Electrical: A.O.Reed & Dynaelectric  

Engineer - Civil: Michael Baker International

Engineer - MEP: McParlane & Associates

Engineer - Structural: Magnusson Klemencic Associates

General Contractor: Clark Construction Group

IT: ISEC Inc.  

Landscape Architect: OJB Landscape Architecture

Lighting: Elen


Katie Ackerly, AIA, Chair, David Baker, Oakland, Calif.

Julian Owens, Assoc. AIA, Jacobs, Arlington, Va.

Seonhee Kim, AIA, Design Collective, Baltimore

Avinash Rajagopal, Metropolis, New York

Image credits

NTPLLN’s evidence-based and high-performance design reduces environmental impact and supports well-being of students, staff and community members.

Tom Harris

NTPLLN’s architecture reflects UC San Diego’s belief that student and community interactions are important to holistic development. The design mitigates loneliness and invites local residents in to enjoy public amenities.

Tom Harris

The North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN) at UC San Diego is designed to promote physical and mental well-being, support the school's environmental commitments,

Tom Harris

NTPLLN’s design makes healthy choices accessible and appealing. A central dining commons and market offer affordable, healthy food options and plenty of indoor and outdoor spots to eat, socialize, and study.

Tom Harris

NTPLLN includes native and regionally appropriate plants that provide new habitats for birds and pollinators. Expansive green spaces and accessible roof terraces throughout the campus offer biophilic benefits.

Tom Harris