Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics

February 08, 2010 /

Pasadena, California, USA

Photo © Roland Halbe

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.

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

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 person.

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

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.

Photo © Roland Halbe

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.

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

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.

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

Photo © Roland Halbe

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.


Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Site Plan

Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Ground Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Second Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Third Floor Plan

Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Longitudinal Section

Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Cross Section

Drawing courtesy Morphosis
Central Stairway Plan

Facts about Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics

Site area:

1.0 ac /0.4 ha
Project Size: 100,010 gross ft2


Project Manager:

Kim Groves

Project Architect:

David Rindlaub

Job Captain:

Salvador Hidalgo

Project Designers:

Martin Summers
Shanna Yates
Project Team:
Irena Bedenikovic
Pavel Getov
Debbie Lin
Kristina Loock
David Rindlaub

Structural Engineer:
John A. Martin & Associates


IBE Consulting Engineers

Civil Engineer:

KPFF Consulting Engineers

Landscape Architect:

Katherine Spitz Associates

Laboratory Consultant:

Research Facilities Design

Architectural Lighting:

Horton Lees Brogden

Signage and Graphics:

Follis Design

Acoustical Engineer:

Martin Newson & Associates

Audio Visual and Telecommunications:

Vantage Technology Consulting Group

Vertical Transportation:

Edgett Williams Consulting Group

Curtain Wall Consultant:

David Van Vokinburg

Code and Security:

Schirmer Engineering Corp.


Technical Resources Consultants

Cost Estimator:

Davis Langdon

General Contractor:

Hathaway Dinwiddie

Photographed by Roland Halbe

Last updated: December 19, 2013

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