Case Study: UC San Diego

In Blog, case study, Design Resource by Morgan Dix

Summary: UCSD needed to develop three unique custom-designed items to flesh out the functionality of Mesa Nueva, their brand new graduate student studio apartments.

Case Study: UC San Diego

Name: Mesa Nueva Studio Apartments

Location: La Jolla, CA

Size: 853 Studios

Building Type: Graduate Student Housing: Single Studio Apartments

Product List: Counter Height Table with Foldout Leaves and Stools, C-Table, 8-Drawer Dresser

UC San Diego

UCSDUC San Diego is a distinguished part of the University of California System and a  “Public Ivy”. Noted for its extraordinary commitment to science and engineering—UCSD’s annual research budget is more than $1b—it’s considered one of the top 15 research universities in the world.

The school was originally established in 1903 as the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and officially joined the UC System in 1960 becoming the University of California San Diego. Bordering the Pacific Ocean, UCSD sits on approximately 1,200 acres of pristine coastal woodland in La Jolla, CA.

UCSD boasts six undergraduate colleges, five academic divisions and five graduate and professional schools. The total campus enrollment in 2016 was approximately 35,800 students with 28,127 undergraduates and 7,689 postgraduates.

According to the London-based Times Higher Education World University Rankings, UC San Diego was named the fifth best public university across the globe. U.S. News & World Report has included UC San Diego among the nation’s top 10 public universities.

Commitment to Sustainability

UCSD’s robust commitment to sustainability is woven into the very roots of the school. According to a short history of the school:

Even before UC San Diego had its own campus, faculty recruits had already made significant research breakthroughs, such as the Keeling Curve, a graph that plots rapidly increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and was the first significant evidence for global climate change.

The University proclaims its dedication to sustainability in unequivocal terms:

Sustainability is part of UC San Diego’s institutional DNA. More than 30 campus structures are equipped with solar panels and more than a dozen buildings are LEED certified; wireless sensors are situated across campus to determine the best time to gain and expend energy; and more than half of the campus community utilizes alternative transportation.

sustainability at UCSDUCSD’s active engagement in both sustainability research and application have yielded awards and accolades.

Based on its combined contributions to published studies in significant science journals, the University is ranked second in the United States and third worldwide among academic institutions in earth and environmental research by the journal Nature.

Sierra Cool Schools

UCSD cracked the top 10 in Sierra Magazine’s Cool Schools coming in as the 7th “coolest school” in America in 2015 and number 10 in 2017.

Citing UCSD’s deep commitment to safeguarding the environment, tackling climate change, and fostering environmental stewardship, Sierra wrote:

After Pope Francis issued his landmark 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si’, calling on Catholics to confront climate change, UCSD made “care for our common home” an explicit part of its mission. The Catholic university operates one of San Diego’s only electronic-waste recycling centers, coordinates local governmental climate action through the Climate Collaborative, and runs a nonprofit energy-policy initiative. Cementing USD’s break into the top 10, the university has saved more than 10 million kilowatt-hours and 30 million gallons of water annually since 2010, thanks largely to a 1.23-megawatt solar array, a lighting retrofit, and extensive use of fuel-cell power.

Process & Approach

In September 2017, UCSD opened the doors to a new graduate housing facility and one of the nation’s largest graduate housing communities. It’s called Mesa Nueva, and it’s expected to win the coveted LEED Gold certification.

Indeed, the project was conceived with sustainability values front and center.

Mesa Nueva is on track to be LEED Gold Certified and features: Renewable energy sources, low-flow plumbing fixtures, drought tolerant/native planting, enhanced daylight harvesting for energy efficiency as well as covered bike storage and alternative transportation enhancements.

UC San Diego is committed to meeting UC system-wide goals of achieving at least LEED Silver Certification for all new buildings and LEED-CI (Commercial Interiors) Certification for all major renovations.

By achieving LEED ratings, the campus is re‐thinking how campus buildings are designed, constructed, maintained and operated with respect to six major categories: Sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovations in design.

A Question of Design

graduate apartment mesa nuevaAs part of the massive project, UCSD had built 853 fully furnished single studio apartments in Cala and Cresta—two of the five contiguous Mesa Nueva buildings for graduate students.

Each studio came furnished with a bed, a desk, and a chair. However, the housing team wanted to deliver even more value and further optimize the space.

To this end, they identified some potential functionality that would compliment the existing furniture and make the studio a more complete living space.

It was at this stage that we came in to consult with our interior design team.

Responding to the housing team’s feedback, we were able to translate their vision into some immediate suggestions and ideas.

Three Pieces To Complete the Puzzle

To start the creative process, we did Mesa Nueva room renders and shared different concepts. The UCSD team loved our ideas and so we continued to develop them.

The first thing that jumped out was there was nowhere to eat. The studio needed a multi-function table. Students need a place to sit down and eat apart from their study desk and bed.

The table needed to accommodate a guest if they wanted to eat, work, or study with friends.

  1. Multifunction Table

Together with the Mesa Nueva housing team, we developed a custom table with collapsible leaves that could fold out. We also created a set of stylish and economical stools that fit under the table so they wouldn’t take up extra space.

The overarching goal was to create something versatile that students could use to meet different needs. So the table is custom size to fit in the studio space, counter height with a drawer for storage, and it doubles as a TV stand.

We also created an orange shelf under the drawer to play off the orange cabinetry in the studio.

mesa nueva dresser

2. 8-Dresser Drawer

Second, there was no drawer space in the apartment, so we proposed a stylish 8-drawer dresser with custom size and look to match the core design motifs in the room.

This is a beautiful contemporary dresser with modern design highlights that accomplished a number of key things. Functionally, it provided students with the much-needed drawer space while at the same time elevating the design of the room.

It’s also custom sized to fit by the entry door for use as a convenient countertop and functional surface.

In terms of design, the dresser features metal feet and a distinct modern design. The top two drawers accentuate the modern style with a sleek white look.

mesa nueva C Table

3. C-Table

Finally, we created a “C-Table”. Made from metal and wood laminate, we custom designed it to best work with the dimensions of the room and the bed height.

The idea with the C-Table is that it can serve as a tv stand or laptop stand to be used in bed when it’s upright or it can also serve as a small side-table.

Together, these three items filled a functional and aesthetic gap in the overall composition of the studio apartment.

Local Manufacturing

Finally, in line with UCSD’s leadership in the field of sustainability, all of this furniture was made locally just 22 miles away from the University in Chula Vista, CA.

(Photos via Flickr CC: Mithūn, IBM ResearchAlejandro Mallea)