Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Santa Monica College IT Relocation

This project is a new information technology and media center for Santa Monica Community College in California. The college currently has an enrollment of 30,000 students and is experiencing rapid growth that requires a major upgrade to its’ current information technology department and computing infrastructure.

The project includes 12,000 square feet of new space and approximately 6000 square feet of renovation to the existing campus library. 
In addition to the specific functional and maintenance requirements of an IT/media center, the college had three principal architectural goals. The first was to reverse the current and all too typical trend to sequester the information technology staff away in residual space with little or no natural light; the College specifically desired for the department to be visible and seen as the equal of the academic faculty.

The second objective was to use the new building mass to strengthen the definition of the southern edge of the campus. Most of the recent construction has been on the northern portion on the campus and the project site lies at the terminus of the school’s major pedestrian core. Given that the building’s mass is rather small to convincingly define both a street edge and the terminus of a major green-space, the design challenge was to make the building appear larger than it actually is.

The College’s final wish is that the building be a model of integrated ‘green’ technologies that goes beyond LEED minimums and creates a high-performance building that acknowledges and productively advances the campuses’ architectural DNA.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Morris Architects recently completed a study proposing that high speed rail could effectively reconnect the city, not just at the scale of the mega region but also at the level of the neighborhood. Regional transportation agencies in Houston are evaluating locations for an intermodal transit hub for commuter and high speed rail. The Morris design exercise shows how this terminal is potentially catalytic at multiple scales.

The site is an underused mail facility on the edge of Downtown Houston, perched on a retaining wall above Buffalo Bayou with the downtown street grid beyond. To the east, separated by freeway ramps and freight rail, is the elevated campus of the University of Houston Downtown.

The project unfolds in three moves: the street that currently segregates the bayou from the site is relocated to its center; the bayou banks are re-contoured to connect bayou level paths to the street grid; and the university is linked in with an elevated plaza. New public spaces are created on multiple levels: the sloping banks of the slowly moving bayou, the urban street and intermodal terminal, and the elevated path overlooking the skyline.

The rail terminal is seen not as a sealed box but as a porous fabric. Transfers are made to high speed rail, bus, light rail, cabs, bikes, bayou paths, and even kayaks. These connections unfold outside the terminal itself, on streets, pathways, and bayou greenways activated by the presence of students and residents. A fractured fabric is transformed into a hyper-connected node, linked to Dallas and Austin as well as to the surrounding city’s neighborhoods.

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Friday, December 16, 2011


The 8th China International Garden Expo in Chongqing, China is a showcase for a variety of landscape typologies throughout China and the world. The theme, “Better Garden, Better City”, promotes harmony between landscaped and built spaces. The City of Houston is one of thirty-two international cities invited to participate in the Expo. Morris Architects partnered with SWA Group to design the Houston Pavilion.

Houston is built on the coastal plain of the Gulf of Mexico. It has three natural datums:  water, land, and tree canopy (sky). The level of water is established in the extended network of slow-moving waterways known as bayous. Over time, they have carved their own landscape though the heart of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods. The slow-moving waterways can suddenly rise as much as eight meters in a few hours of heavy rain. After decades of trying to contain the bayous, Houstonians are beginning to appreciate this unique topography and ecosystem.  Bayou waterways are being transformed into urban parks and connectors, linking neighborhoods and providing a meaningful interface between the constructed and natural systems that comprise central Houston.

The Houston pavilion is bounded by an embossed concrete wall that refers to the long Chinese tradition of walled gardens; the wall is inflected to allow entry and to retain an earthen hill that is intended to reference the topography of a Houston bayou. Visitors move along a path guided by a water course that winds between the perimeter wall and the hillside. The path is further defined by a trellised canopy to provide shade and to refer to the natural tree canopy of a typical bayou landscape. The trellised canopy is made up of plasma-cut plate steel, welded and painted white, covered by a perforated steel layer that will produce intricate patterns of shadows along the path. The hill is planted densely with indigenous grasses and wildflowers.

An orthogonal stone “bayou” guides visitors through the space, anchored by large steel cisterns that serve as the source and basin. The basin is flanked by limestone walks and steps, and surrounded by a tall grass and meadow flower prairie. At the top of the hill, visitors will exit down a stair attached to the bounding wall and return to the original grade.

The Houston garden is intended to speak to the ecology and climate of the city; a modern industrial city which is defined in large part by its dense tree canopy and its capacity to domesticate the heat and humidity of coastal Texas.

The Houston Pavilion at the 8th China International Garden Expo opened on November 18 in Chongqing, China.
Images of the built pavilion during the grand opening:

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