Rita Atkinson Residences
Valerio Dewalt Train (VDTA)

May 09, 2011 /

San Diego, California, USA

Photo: Nic Lehoux

Located on a promontory near the main campus entrance, the Rita Atkinson Residences serve as a distinctive gateway for the medical school mall and provides much needed housing for graduate and professional medical students.

A key design challenge was to make the building serve as the visual terminus of the future medical campus mall. 

Photo: Nic Lehoux
In keeping with the informal nature of the Southern California campus, the design avoids the typical approach of having a symmetrical tower serve as terminus. Instead, it is decidedly asymmetrical. The main, nine-story, L-shaped tower points towards the mall to the north and the ocean to the west. The U-shaped space that acts as the terminus is completed on the west edge of the space by a wall of eucalyptus trees.

Photo: Nic Lehou
Photo: Nic Lehoux
The second, seven-story, L-shaped wing nests with the taller wing to form a three-sided eastern courtyard, creating a space for the residents which maintains a sense of being secluded while remaining a part of the larger campus.

Photo: Nic Lehoux
To lighten the building's presence on the landscape, the ends of the wings are elevated and shaped to help minimize their apparent mass. The form of west wing is clipped to sculpt an offset "V" from the north and the west arms of the "L." Marking the center of the "V" is a narrow tower marking the centerline of the mall.

The east wing is similarly clipped. The short ends of the wings are colored the shade of eucalyptus leaves, contrasting with the nearly pure white elevations and helping break up the apparent mass. Clustering windows further creates the illusion of a smaller building.

Photo: Nic Lehoux
Photo: Nic Lehoux
The entry to the residence lies three stories below the level of the mall, decreasing the perceived height of the building from nine to six stories. The third floor is topped with a green roof, which extends the plane of the mall and serves as a courtyard, while reducing stormwater runoff and providing insulation.

Photo: Nic Lehoux
Photo: Nic Lehoux
At one end of each corridor, and at both ends where possible, extensive glazing floods the circulation space with natural light. Interior finishes are kept to a minimum to conserve material resources and convey an urban aesthetic: concrete floors are sealed but not carpeted and concrete ceilings, columns, and walls are largely exposed. Operable windows provide natural ventilation.

Photo: Nic Lehoux
Photo: Nic Lehoux
Photo: Nic Lehoux
Photo: Nic Lehoux
The post-tensioned concrete frame, stucco-clad building has a LEED Gold designation consistent with UCSD's desire to increase the density of its campus and implement sustainable strategies.

The campus master plan calls for the mall to be lined on either side with academic buildings, one of which has already been built. The site for the graduate housing is at the south end of this mall, where the land begins to fall away towards La Jolla Village Drive.

Drawing courtesy VDTA
Site Plan

Facts about Rita Atkinson Residences

Site area:

5.6 ac
Building area: 26,000 ft2

Valerio Dewalt Train Architects (VDTA)

General Contractor:
Webcor Builders

Photographed by Nic Lehoux


University of California
San Diego

Last updated: December 19, 2013

See also

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