Spacey Times In Pasadena

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009
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Roland Halbe

Roland Halbe

Yesterday we toured Morphosis’ new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Caltech. The 100,000 square foot, $50 million building’s most notable architectural features are its cracks, fissures, tilts, and expanding and contracting walkways and apertures; elements that seem to suit it more to a seismology building, but also work to represent the epic tumult of space.

The building’s façade is composed of a folding and angling screen of red fiber reinforced cement panels set over a pvc membrane. The horizontal frontage is beset with large, cracked voids and sharp, warped thrusts of wall that provide a good preview of what’s inside. The building’s main stairway—a steel mesh and then concrete surface that compresses and expands as it progresses— is its visual centerpiece. It twists through a surreal, and somewhat disorienting, conglomeration of intersecting white walls, angular windows, and telescoping skylights, violently sending visual pathways and shards of light in every direction. This area, which is at times surprisingly narrow, is shockingly dramatic, but at times dizzying.

Cahill’s three floors of warped-walled offices and classrooms are peaceful by comparison. They’re located on long, angled blue hallways following a grid-like plan that contains glassy offices along its exterior and conference rooms and meeting spaces along its interior. The building’s labs are located on a basement floor lit both through artificial light and a large light moat that circles the building. We’ll be featuring a critique of the building, which has finally united all of Caltech’s astronomers in one place, in our next California issue, so stay tuned…

Roland Halbe

Roland Halbe

Roland Halbe

©Roland Halbe

Roland Halbe

©Roland Halbe

Roland Halbe

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