The recently approved ArtCenter South Campus Master Plan promises a dramatic transformation.
By Daniel Tozier Images: Courtesy of ArtCenter
As you drive south on Raymond, past the charming shops of Colorado and the delicious cuisine of Green Street, you’ll find yourself in a strange, desolate place, surrounded by drab office buildings, medical centers, and a massive monochromatic power plant. These busy streets and empty sidewalks are jarringly un-Pasadena. But it is in this desert that ArtCenter College of Design has slowly been building its South Campus, buying up and retrofitting buildings as soon as they hit the market. Although the interiors burst with color and creativity, the exteriors still recall their former lives: a postal sorting facility, an engineering firm, and a WWII-era wind tunnel.
Over the next 15 years, ArtCenter’s South Campus will undergo a dramatic transformation. Drab buildings and 7 acres of concrete and asphalt will be terraformed, replaced with swaths of green foliage, bursts of vivid orange, and stunning architecture. We sat down with Rollin Homer, vice president of facilities and campus planning, to learn more about the changes that will affect not only ArtCenter’s South Campus, but South Pasadena as a whole.
South Campus was always meant to be more than a satellite facility, but changing that perception has proven difficult. Three buildings sit stoically on a plane of asphalt, disconnected and bare. Students come for their classes but have little reason to stick around, quickly hopping on the first tram back to the Hillside Campus. Homer is setting out to change this, to build a true campus where students can relax, congregate, and, maybe, even call home.
Accomplishing this calls for a dramatic overhaul, not just renovating the existing buildings, but revitalizing the entire area. ArtCenter worked with L.A.-based architect Michael Maltzan to develop an ambitious Master Plan to bring this dream into reality. Talks of transformation began in November 2015; in July 2018, Pasadena City Councilgave the Master Plan its unanimous approval.
Without any available land for sale surrounding the South Campus, building outward was not an option. The only way to grow was up. Taking this challenge head on, ArtCenter’s Master Plan utilizes what it calls “layered urbanism” as its leading design philosophy. The campus will no longer be comprised of separate structures, each with its own distinct purpose, but will instead be stacked and amorphous, taking on the characteristics required by any given layer.
Homer stands over a model of the planned expansion in the ArtCenter offices, explaining how each layer works together to create the new campus.
The topmost layer holds perhaps the most dramatic change: For the first time in its history, ArtCenter will offer student housing. The school has always offered resources to new students looking for housing in and around Pasadena, but those of us who have been apartment hunting here know that available and affordable options are difficult to find. By relieving students of this burden, ArtCenter is able to massively reduce both the cost and stress of attending school away from one’s home city.
Once complete, the South Campus will boast four buildings dedicated to student housing, with a capacity of about 1,500. Striving to offer more than average dorm rooms, all will come equipped with a kitchen and are intentionally being designed for artists. Bike and scooter rental programs are planned so incoming students won’t need cars to get around; trams will still run their set route between the South and Hillside campuses. And, of course, the Gold Line’s Fillmore Station is right next door, ready for any expeditions out of the city.
The next layer Homer points out could easily be mistaken for a park. Large green spaces, tree-lined walkways, and plenty of outdoor dining areas create an inviting space for students to relax, stroll, and congregate. Quads, various gardens, and an outdoor amphitheater complete the landscape.
At several points, the wide patches of green slope down to street level—a very deliberate design choice. For ArtCenter, this rebirth was always more than just about the school and its students; it was also about the South Pasadena community as a whole. Pedestrians passing by will notice how the parameters of the campus blend into the sidewalk without gates or fences.
“The goal is not to create a fortress,” Homer says. “The intent is to develop a campus that’s woven into the fabric of this end of Pasadena.”
Another level down, students can find their classrooms and studios, each one built with a medium in mind. Whether painting, photography, sculpture, or product design, each space is fitted so students and instructors have every resource they might need. Also accessible from this level is one of South Campus’ more unique features: the Cycleway.
When it came to finding a way for students to traverse the new campus, the Master Plan drew inspiration from Pasadena’s past, back to a long-forgotten project called the California Cycleway. Initially conceived as an elevated wooden platform, the Cycleway was intended to run for 9 miles, allowing bicyclists to travel between Pasadena and Los Angeles for 15 cents round-trip. In 1899, the first 1.3 miles of the path was opened, but soon after, the bicycle craze came to an end and the project was abandoned. Though the original Cycleway was dismantled and sold for lumber, its spirit will live on at South Campus in the form of a winding, ArtCenter-orange road.
The reimagined Cycleway will stretch north to south across the entire length of the campus, threading its way through and around buildings. And, much like its namesake, the path will be wide enough for bicycles as well as scooters, electric carts, and pedestrians.
As drivers exit the Arroyo Seco Parkway into Pasadena, the lower layer of South Campus comes into view. Renovations will begin here and, for much of the public, it will be the first indication that something new is happening. Built against the 1111 South Arroyo building, the Mullin Gallery (named for the philanthropic couple who made it possible) will give students and alumni a place to show their work. Wide glass windows invite the public in for a closer look at the exhibits. The first show will highlight ArtCenter’s renowned automotive design program, but the 6,300-square-foot gallery will then open up to provide space for work from all mediums. Just a short walk from the gallery, a bookstore and a café will be opened for both students and visitors.
Homer talks excitedly about the new identity South Campus will bring to this part of Pasadena. “Let’s reimagine [Raymond] Avenue and give it a characteristic,” he says. “Let’s give it something special and unique so that it becomes the new fabric of Pasadena, in the spirit of Pasadena. We’re really excited about our role in that transformation and being a part of that conversation with the community.”