One of the top 15 research universities in the world, UC San Diego is home to more than 100 research centers that are advancing global solutions in science, technology, medicine and related fields. This ambitious work is driven by the efforts of 8,000 graduate and doctoral students who come to UC San Diego from all corners of the world. Increasingly, the local cost of living and scarcity of housing options is turning many of these future innovators away from this region and economy. The University, working with limited financial resources, sought to address this core issue of housing availability for graduate students through introduction of new facilities to replace aging infrastructure and low-density wood-frame structures on East Campus. The new Mesa Nueva graduate student community addresses this affordable housing shortage while creating a porous and inviting campus community with strong connections to UC San Diego and the surrounding La Jolla fabric.
Listening to the Land
To house 1,355 graduate students on the site, the design works within the existing mesa landscape topography and breaks down the scale of the program into five buildings, which are sensitively folded and scribed to fit with the existing contours of the land. The building massing steps down from high to low toward the south to maximize daylight harvesting and natural cooling in residential units. The buildings define a series of outdoor rooms that support a range of activities—from robust community gatherings to quieter, more contemplative moments—to suit the needs of the diverse students and faculty who reside here. Paseos and pedestrian paths weave through and around the buildings to link residents with bike trails, transit and surrounding districts, and welcome the larger campus and community in.
A New Micro-housing Prototype
Mesa Nueva features a new micro-housing studio unit prototype that optimizes the use of space and resources for the campus. These condensed, 275-square-foot units reduce the overall scale of the buildings while providing gracious privacy to students, and are complemented by adjacent shared amenity spaces like the laundry porches. In lieu of washers and dryers located in dark basements, every pair of floors features a laundry porch overlook space that projects from the building and offers a chance to connect with neighbors and friends over a cup of coffee. The micro-unit module is also expressed visibly in the buildings’ exterior texture and cladding to break down the mass of the building with shadow and light, and to give each occupant a sense of his or her own identity in the greater whole.
Fruits of Research
The project was conceived of and refined with the voices of many graduate students, who provided valuable input over the course of “Craft Beer Research” explorations. This feedback helped to shape the design and function of the facilities, and to provide a greater sense of ownership among current and future students. It is thus fitting that Mesa Nueva’s community heart has become a brew pub and gathering space featuring the beer of a UC San Diego alumnus. Rough Draft at Mesa Nueva is a vibrant mixing chamber that draws residents out of their rooms and sparks conversations among students, faculty and off-campus neighbors.
This LEED Gold certified project exceeds Title 24 energy requirements by 24%. It leveraged the design-build process and a lean project budget to create a new home for hundreds of deserving graduate students that is the envy of other institutions undergoing similar growth and development. Importantly, it also represents a critical first step in the development of a vibrant living and learning neighborhood on the East Mesa with strong linkage to the surrounding community and, with forthcoming transit and pedestrian bridges, to main campus. The healthy, affordable residential community provides a home that will inspire the next generation of world-class researchers and inventors for the collective benefit of this region and university.