Till O&O!

October 26, 2017
Reception & Ceremony
The US Grant
Tickets Available Now!


NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center

The new LEED® Gold Certified NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center impressed the jury tremendously. Situated in a breathtaking locale overlooking La Jolla Shores, it is an exemplary building that is also respectful of its place. The jury appreciated the massing; its sensitivity to the environment and its thoughtful integration with the topography. It also maximizes ocean views and all but hides the 200-car parking garage. The jury was inspired by the massive green roof with native plants, the collaborative lab spaces, beautiful detailing and the awe-inspiring 500,000 gallon test tank. “The way the architects and designers dealt with the terrain and landscaping is fantastic; it fits so beautifully within its natural environment and allows for stunning views from every angle, engaging workers and visitors, alike.”

When buildings are placed on world class sites they require a unique design that responds to both the opportunities and challenges. The NOAA Laboratory Relocation Project goes beyond a sustainable response to those two issues.

The project embraces the location and its unique attributes with a LEED Gold design solution. Several significant issues were addressed and resolved in the process. These include protecting the spectacular view from upper La Jolla Shores Drive and placing 200 cars in a basement garage, thus providing new coastal access parking that formerly was occupied by NOAA staff.

The design responds to the unusual site shape and terrain. It maximizes ocean views from offices and public areas while concealing parking and service functions. A large open deck and adjoining 200-seat seminar room provides for public events and lectures. That area, along with areas like decks and balconies, provide a variety of places for the NOAA staff to enjoy the views and climate. The site preserved existing Torrey Pines while re-establishing coast chaparral, sage and other native material to create native fauna habitat.

The building employs earth tones and terracotta sunscreens to blend with the land form and wood on neighboring buildings. Photovoltaic panels on the roof, a high-efficiency mechanical/electrical system, sunscreens, and high performance curtain window walls all contribute to the sustainable features.

The planning, design and construction of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) La Jolla Laboratory represents a unique blend of form, function and sustainability. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the building will be a focal point for ecosystem-based fisheries research, surveys and technological development. The new facility includes 125,000 square feet of office and laboratory space for 275 scientists and a unique, multistory, 500,000-gallon Ocean Technology Development Test Tank. State-of-the-art laboratories include experimental aquaria, large animal necropsy, biotechnology, advanced survey technologies, ecology and life history, in addition to extensive research collections and a main library.

The design goals were to create a building that would take advantage of the natural characteristics of the site and local climate while fostering the ever-changing needs of science. The design also needed to continue the legacy of open architecture from the original SWFSC laboratory by providing a physical environment conducive to effective interactions among researchers from different disciplines. The architects drew inspiration from the undersea topography and coastal cliffs, creating a building that responds contextually to the landscape as an extension of La Jolla canyon. They also drew upon regional design characteristics – courtyards and exterior walkways – typical of southern California and which date to back to the Spanish Colonial period.

The new building steps back as it moves up the hill, placing support spaces toward the hill and personnel spaces toward the ocean view. This design, when combined with the mild coastal microclimate, allows for many green building opportunities such as vegetated roofs and natural ventilation and lighting. The modern facility is broken down into smaller structures which are clustered in “villages” to avoid the feeling of a single large building.

The smaller elements are organized around atrium courtyards. These are the centers of activity that enable researchers to connect for impromptu meetings. The courts and patios take full advantage of the mild coastal climate and promote natural ventilation. The split floor plan with narrow floor plates maximizes sunlight and views. The design relates to the natural topography of the site and capitalizes on the ocean views. The iconic Scripps pier is echoed in the wooden slat ceiling in the public lobby.

Projected as a continuation of the submarine canyon topology below, the stepped terrace design opens to the ocean below. The design increases the availability of views for resident researchers and visitors. Seen from the street as it curves down the hill, the design miraculously minimizes the appearance of a tall building and maintains public view corridors out to the Pacific. The landscape design was chosen to blend into the existing hillside using native coastal chaparral. Areas to the south and west will be re-vegetated while undisturbed areas to the north and east will be preserved and invasive species will be removed. Walking pathways to Scripps Institution of Oceanography will be established.

The architectural team included a wide variety of innovative design and sustainable strategies covering all areas of the project: energy efficiency, rooftop photovoltaic cells, elaborate water retention systems, regionally sourced materials, terra cotta solar shading, charging stations for electric cars, and green roofs planted with California coastal chaparral. NOAA is pursuing Gold certification of the building under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

The building is the largest construction project in San Diego funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

  • Project Awarded

    Orchid Nominee

  • Project Address:

    8901 La Jolla Shores Drive

    Project Owner/Developer:

    Cisco Warner, Director NOAA

    Owner Contact Name/Email:

    Sarah Mesnick / sarah.mesnick@noaa.gov

    Project Architect/Designer:

    Gould Evans Architects, Design Architects / Delawie, Associate Architects


Contact Us

Contact Us



P.O. Box 122228
San Diego, CA 92112-2228
Federal Tax ID: 95-3513927

Sign Up

Stay on top of your Architectural news

Orchids & Onions is an educational and fundraising program of the San Diego Architectural Foundation, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization dedicated to education and the promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

Get in the Mix