Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics
The Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics brings
together a dozen different groups with vastly different cultures,
focuses, and scopes into a single structure designed to facilitate
collaboration and spontaneous discourse.
Located on Caltech's South Campus directly across California Boulevard from the Institution's historic North Campus core, the Cahill Center physically and symbolically connects the two campuses.
The new building's scale, orientation, horizontal massing, and material language connect with the original complex of Spanish and Mediterranean buildings; a significant part of the campus' historic core as envisioned by Bertram Goodhue's 1917 master plan.
In the tradition of ancient and modern architectural
observatories found around the world, the building itself
conceptually acts as an astronomical instrument. A vertical volume
pierces the building, tilting its lens to admit light from the
skies. The result is an occupiable telescope, a public stair space
that links earth and sky even as it strives to link person to
The new building extends a primary north-south axis across
California Boulevard, stitching the two campuses together. A series
of north-south interior corridors - literally, "stitches" -
reinforce this connection and serve to orient circulation.
Floor to ceiling glazing terminates the stitches: the southern
facade's glazing overlooks Caltech's large, open athletic fields,
while the northern facade's glazing offers views back to the
historic core and to the San Gabriel Mountain Range beyond.
The ground level of the building features a series of public
spaces. The entry lobby, which includes the building's central
vertical circulation volume, the 148-seat Hameetman auditorium, and
a library maximize the building's use as a social and gathering
space. The floor to ceiling all glass east wall of the auditorium
affords views out to campus an in to the building, further
promoting connectivity between the north and south campus.
The library, located adjacent to the auditorium at the southeast
corner of the building, opens out onto a semi-private deck that
overlooks the athletic fields. Shaded by the sycamore grove, a
deciduous tree, the deck provides an outdoor gathering space that
is pleasant to use throughout the year.
All of the building's laboratories, each configured to accommodate a specific area of research or activity, are located on the basement level of the building. By setting the building back on the site and by carefully sculpting the landscape around the building, the laboratories are granted as much access to natural light as is possible and practical, minimizing the basement feel and strengthening visual connection and accessibility to the ground level and to the campus.
The building is the result of a series of forces that collide to produce unique spaces of discovery. Force lines track the movement of form and light through the building's faceted facade, the central vertical volume, and the stitches. As one moves through the space, formal fragments coalesce to reconstruct the interactions among light, architectural elements, and bodies as physical traces of the institution's new ideas.
Facts about Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics
1.0 ac /0.4 ha
Project Size: 100,010 gross ft2
John A. Martin & Associates
IBE Consulting Engineers
KPFF Consulting Engineers
Katherine Spitz Associates
Research Facilities Design
Horton Lees Brogden
Signage and Graphics:
Martin Newson & Associates
Audio Visual and Telecommunications:
Vantage Technology Consulting Group
Edgett Williams Consulting Group
Curtain Wall Consultant:
David Van Vokinburg
Code and Security:
Schirmer Engineering Corp.
Technical Resources Consultants
Photographed by Roland Halbe
Last updated: December 19, 2013
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