The Graduate Aerospace Laboratories at the California Institute of Technology (GALCIT) is well known for pioneering some of the world's most important advances in aeronautics and space exploration. So when the department asked John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects to transform their run-down, disorganized, and outdated facilities into a dynamic environment that would reflect the new types of research activities, professors, and students that occupy them, they jumped at the chance. In reworking their 33,000 square foot Bertrand Goodhue-designed, historically-protected Guggenheim Building, they sought to find formal and spatial analogies for GALCIT's collective and individual research, and create an environment that reflects its innovation and breadth.
"We also sought to provide a strong, new identity for GALCIT as it enters a new era, enabling it to attract a new kind of student with new expectations about how people can collaboratively work with one another and to maximize transparency between all spaces, promoting creative interaction and exchange of ideas".
In accomplishing these objectives, the architects explored a wide range of digital design and construction tools, many utilized in GALCIT's own research, and in the process successfully expressed the spirit of exploration, innovation, and invention that takes place within GALCIT.
The program for the project included a new lobby; new laboratories for teaching and experimental research, new exhibition areas; and new conference, office, and interactive spaces. These new spaces were configured and detailed to give GALCIT the strong and dynamic new branding that they desired - and needed - to continue attracting the world's best scientists, engineers, and students.
"We ultimately derived much of the formal language from the notion of FLOW. Almost all GALCIT research involves the study of flow - understanding how solids, liquids, and gases behave under differential pressures. Given that the building had previously been occupied by a large wind tunnel, we also began to think about it as an architectural wind tunnel - a relatively neutral container into which we could drop objects - in the form of new ceilings and wrappers - and metaphorically study their flow patterns as they interface with existing walls, columns, and voids. By gathering together all of the spaces under this rubric, we attained a very specific expression for each, while maintaining continuity between them. We also created highly functional spaces, fulfilling every nitty-gritty requirement of the academic laboratories, classrooms, conference facilities, and offices that comprise the program".