NanoSystems Institute (CNSI)
Rafael Viñoly

May 19, 2008 /

Los Angeles, California, USA

Photo © Brad Feinknopf

The site UCLA selected for its California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), a narrow, steep lot adjacent to a parking structure on its dense South Campus, tendered a number of physical challenges.

Likewise, nanotechnology, a multidisciplinary field addressing the control of matter on a molecular level, presented a unique set of programmatic hurdles, including highly specific laboratory requirements.

Photo © Brad Feinknopf

Initially considered an obstacle, the parking structure turned into a design impetus. Constructing three floors over part of the parking facility maximized the building's potential and opened new possibilities for laboratories and common areas. Brick-paneled cores touch down at street level lending rhythm, scale, and a sense of accessibility to this large building.

Photo: arcspace

The result was a partially below-grade, seven-story building with a central courtyard intersected by suspended bridges and stairs, and a main entrance facing the other structures on the Court of Sciences.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

The open-air entrance lobby and courtyard inspire interdisciplinary collegiality, directly engaging the adjacent pedestrian zones. The lobby connects to research floors and the adjacent parking structure through the zigzag network of bridges, facilitating an atmosphere of communication more commonly seen in compact buildings.

The view to other researchers' offices, stairs, bridges, and public spaces is a constant reminder of the surrounding community of scientists and the Institute's collective mission.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

The lobby is punctuated by the terra-cotta-clad circular auditorium volume, which juts onto the Court of Sciences' outdoor path.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

The multipurpose meeting space overlooks the Court of Sciences through floor-to-ceiling fenestration. Track-driven whiteboards and movable furniture form casual discussion alcoves.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Both inside and outside, the CNSI establishes a distinctive user environment: the crisscrossed center courtyard enlivens the UCLA campus' predominant form of structure-with-center-atrium, workstations are personally controlled through low-level ambient and task lighting, and acoustic buffer areas create interior quiet zones.

For a complex and small site, the CNSI creates a large variety of pedestrian spaces, using innovative structural solutions - both within and around the building.

This is a building that houses a transformational field of new technologies. While respecting the strong character of the campus, the design offers the flexibility and openness that reflects the way in which this work is performed: large undetermined technical spaces with unexpected modes of circulation that encourage random interactivity.

/Rafael Viñoly

Drawing courtesy Rafael Viñoly ArchitectsSite Plan
Drawing courtesy Rafael Viñoly ArchitectsLobby Level (Third Floor) Plan

Drawing courtesy Rafael Viñoly ArchitectsLab Level Plan
Drawing courtesy Rafael Viñoly ArchitectsSection

Facts about NanoSystems Institute (CNSI)

Gross area:

189,000 ft2

Rafael Viñoly Architects

Structural Engineer:

Nabih Youssef & Associates

Civil Engineer:

RBA Group

M/E/P Engineer:

Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates

Laboratory Planner:

GPR Planners Collaborative Inc.

Landscape Architect:

Katherine Spitz Associates

Building Physics:


Construction Manager:


Last updated: December 19, 2013

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