High art goes low tech at UCLA art studios, which are taking an innovative passive approach to climate control.

In Culver City, Los Angeles, a 21,200 square-foot vintage wallpaper factory has been renovated to grand effect. The facility now hosts Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios at UCLA, a multipurpose art gallery and arts classroom where art, architecture, and design students can learn their craft. The school’s previous art studios were located in Culver City’s Hayden Tract region. Thanks to this renovative project, this dated structure has morphed to take the form of a 48,000-square-foot campus.

The new arts complex offers 42 graduate studios, computer, ceramic, and print labs, and a studio loft to accommodate the school’s artist-in-residence. ‘Designed’ for artists of all media and disciplines, the studio building boasts private studio spaces, along with shared exhibition and critique areas.

This cutting-edge arts campus, designed by LA architecture firm Johnston Marklee and overseen by architect Sharon Johnston, will open to graduate students this year when renowned female faculty members such as conceptual artist Barbara Kruger and photographer Catherine Opie will conduct courses in the new facility.

The structure’s sustainability level is achieved through the LEED Gold concept. Passive sustainability is the order of the day, with revolutionary building systems and elemental materials taking the place of high tech.

The designers ordered the ‘tilt up,’ industrial-style installation of thick concrete walls. These concrete walls need no waterproofing and insulation, minimise the construction footprint, and lesson waste. The walls enshroud a network of semi-indoor courtyards. Pulling double duty as workspaces and gardens, these courtyards are exterior features nonetheless sheltered by the structure. One even features a growth of ornamental acacia trees.

This passive approach to building design permits pupils and faculty to make free use of these hybrid indoor-outdoor spaces, with no concerns about energy-draining air-conditioning or heating units. The passive cooling plan also passively cools indoor workspaces located between open-air spaces.

The art studio campus was made possible by a $20 million philanthropic gift from gallerist Margo Leavin. Made in 2016, this marked the most sizable grant given the school by an alumna. She stresses the importance of artists, without whom, she points out, there would be no art world.