Surprise is the greatest gift which life can grant us. – Boris Pasternak
Gus Fischer, AIA, LEED AP is a Partner with Dreyfuss + Blackford. His holiday “present” came a little early this year.
Digging around in my attic looking for holiday decorations, I came across boxes that remained unopened since we moved into our “new” house 10 years ago. Inside were items we were unable to part with back then. But time had not been kind; the contents had diminished in value and usefulness or attained “junk” status. It was then I was reminded of what makes timelessness and flexibility so important in design.
As architects, we complete our projects and then sometimes, they are mentally put away for a while. Once the owner takes over, we move on to the next project and the building may end up in the “mental attic”, so to speak. When we have the opportunity to revisit later on, we‘re not always sure what we’ll find. The needs of Owners change, technology improves and what was modern and cutting edge, starts to show its age.
That was definitely on my mind during a recent visit to the Academic Resource Information Center (AIRC) at Sacramento State. Completed in 2005, it is a 100,000 SF, 4-story flexible data center, information and technology building. But unlike the boxes in my attic from a decade ago, AIRC has stood the test of time. It is as functional and well utilized today as it ever has been.
Designed to be the information technology hub of the University campus, it included the campus data and telecommunications center, providing both the faculty and student body with systems and spaces used for everything from distance learning to computer labs. The AIRC building was designed as a state-of-the-art facility; it provided pleasant and efficient spaces for all technical needs. But very few things in life change faster than information technology and devices. A decade ago, not every student had a laptop, no one had a tablet, and smart phones were nonexistent. You had to plug in…wifi was just too slow. Although we could not have anticipated these technological changes, the AIRC is still serving in the capacity we envisioned.
From studio classrooms, open study rooms and administrative offices, to go-to laboratories with full computer resources for student and faculty needs, AIRC remains a hub of activity and communications. It is buzzing 24/7. Many spaces are used differently than originally programmed, but this building still functions efficiently and technologically, is still cutting edge. Simply put, it still works….and works well.
The look of AIRC is even suggestive of its purpose today. From the use of glass, metal and concrete, to the angular shapes, the building looks like a space for technology in the information age. Unlike the adjacent library which functions to control the flow of materials and offers a single point of entry, the porosity of AIRC’s design is accessible, drawing people in from all sides and encouraging them to stay; even at night when the building “reverses” and glass reveals all the activity happening inside. Since many students live off campus and commute in for the whole day, they land here. AIRC gives them a place to study, camp, socialize and interact; to connect while “connected”.
So, while time has been the enemy of many things I discovered this holiday season, AIRC was not one of them. It meets the needs of the students today as well as it did 10 years ago. Maybe better. What a gift. If only my old “how to” books in the attic had fared as well.