On the Boards: HGA’s Holistic Approach to Sustainability

HGA’s Design for East Los Angeles College’s Student Success Center embraces a broad view of sustainability. Image courtesy HGA.

Sustainability is in the DNA at HGA Architects and Engineers. Just recently the firm took two awards—Excellence in Social Responsibility and Excellence in Stewardship of the Natural Environment—in the 2013 Sustainable Quality Awards program sponsored by the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce, Sustainable Works and Sustainable Santa Monica/City of Santa Monica’s Office of Sustainability and the Environment. For the firm, though, sustainability means more than just designing projects incorporating recycled materials or featuring renewable energy technologies.

“We’ve always used it more holistically,” says Satoshi Teshima, the project designer of the Student Success Center at East Los Angeles College, one of the firm’s newest endeavors and a prime example of HGA’s commitment to and expansive view of sustainability. “It’s all about the human experience.” For the 130,000-square-foot building, slated to open next year, HGA is creating a space for students that nurtures their learning and facilitates their transition into the real world.

Drawing from their work designing healthcare and office spaces, the HGA team came up with an innovative approach to the classroom, which emphasizes collaboration and non-traditional layouts. Instead of a fixed set-up, with a professor lecturing at the front of the room, says Teshima, “We’ll have moveable lecterns and furniture. You won’t be able to tell where the front is. They can change the learning environment in a matter of 15 seconds.” The reimagined classrooms will foster engagement between instructors and students and among the students themselves.

Even the exits will promote connections. “The typical classroom building has a corridor in middle and classrooms on either,” Teshima explains. “When 40 people enter or leave, the conversation stops at the door, because you’re confined to a little corridor. Our design allows a lot of spill out space in front of classroom and lets groups leave together so conversations can continue.” Other spaces throughout the building will also provide for plenty of informal gathering areas to create learning moments beyond the classroom.

Perhaps most importantly, the building will be flooded with light, something that has been shown to substantially improve students’ learning outcomes. “The program sits around the perimeter, and there’s a large open atrium,” Teshima says. “It allows for a much brighter learning environment.” Ultimately, Teshima sees the environment HGA is creating as a critical to the future success of ELAC’s students. “Our design is key to supporting new learning modalities,” he notes.

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