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The School of Cinematic Arts

The School of Cinematic Arts

The University of Southern California

The design of the new School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California illustrates both its legacy as the first film school and its leadership as one of the top schools in the world. The chosen California style – popular 80 years ago when the school was founded — marks that distinction; meanwhile advanced design features ensure its 100-year durability and high-performance efficiency.

In January 2009, faculty, staff and students moved into the largest and most innovative portion of the eventual “campus within a campus.” This Phase 1 portion is a two-building set — each with four floors plus one combined sub-level — totaling 137,000 square feet of space and serving as the central location for administrative and educational functions.

Celebrating the school’s 75th anniversary in 2004, the administration and various members of the alumni evaluated possible solutions to the school’s crowded conditions and aging and inefficient set of buildings. They decided that a major renovation would be too costly and would amount to only a short-term fix. The university decided to enter a building program, and then handed two goals to the architectural firm, Urban Design Group of Dallas, Texas:

  • Adopt building information modeling (BIM) technology for team collaboration, material fabrication and long-term facility management use
  • Design it to meet the 100-year life span goal by incorporating extreme earthquake resilience and flexibility in both interior spaces and technology

BIM Technology

BIM is being used for design, materials fabrication, construction, facility maintenance and management after occupancy and for the lifecycle of the buildings. Nine different 3D models were merged into one “supermodel” using Navisworks software. All aspects of the design and construction were digitized to create the “virtual” buildings to provide the specifications for construction.

BIM use also aided in the manufacturing of materials. The exterior walls are customized 40-foot-high rebar steel cages set in place. They are specially built for easy and quick installation in a tight space common for a large campus. Plus, the cages – later filled with concrete and covered in plaster – are joined together with expansion joints that will isolate and re-route earthquake shocks. BIM improved the customized fabrication process.

Use of BIM also is occurring on the construction site itself. The Phase 2 contractors on the site today have the ability to check the 3D model as they work. Computer screens feature scope and orientation capabilities, as well as hyperlinks to the full extent of material and process details.

Finally, USC’s Facilities Management Services is currently working to integrate the 3D model of Phase 1 with its other software for real-time monitoring of the heating, air conditioning and plumbing systems.

100-year Life Span Goal

The owner charged the designer with the mission of creating a set of buildings that would not be outdated and ill-suited for educational and technological changes in the future. To achieve the goal, the structures had to be designed to withstand seismic earthquakes – common for Southern California. The design called for the use of “fuses” or connectors that isolate and redirect a quake’s heavy jolts away from walls, ceilings and floors so the damage is done to reparable and non-foundational areas.

Most buildings built to code in Los Angeles achieve an inelastic standard, thereby making them literally crack without collapsing – ensuring that occupants are safe but that the building is non-repairable. This method is the first of its kind in the Los Angeles area. Building tests revealed that the Phase 1’s complex will not only protect occupants during a quake, but will also retain its structural integrity.

The owner also required that the design provide flexibility in space and technology so that the changing nature of educational programming and high tech – especially for cinema, television and interactive media fields — would be accommodated for 100 years. Urban Design provided the floor plans for unique and informal meeting places in hallways that are wired for laptop computer connection and for viewing on flat-screen monitors. Classrooms are equally equipped with technology, but with touch pads for accessing a range of input devices, as well as the school’s server where edited projects and other digital and film items are stored.

All technology originates in the sub-level of the complex by design. This ensures that, as older technology gives way to newer, the changes are not disruptive to classrooms, screening rooms or hallway tech coves.

Contact the architects:
Urban Design Group of Dallas, Texas
15950 Dallas Pkwy # 325
Dallas, TX 75248
(972) 788-9242

Download PDF The School of Cinematic Arts


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