Contract Magazine - January/February 2018 - 77
By Michael Webb
Many universities are trying to fit more people and
buildings into limited acreage. Mesa Court Towers
on the campus of the University of California, Irvine
(UCI), in Orange County, demonstrates how density
can enhance the quality of life for the 900 freshmen
housed there, as well as for the larger student body
of 2,500. The architecture firm Mithun created three
seven-story residential towers for UCI as part
of a design-build commission.
"The freshmen housed here are mostly
19-year-olds who have never lived away from home,"
explains Bill LaPatra, Mithun's partner in charge
of the project, which was designed by the firm's
Seattle office. "Their priority is making friends.
Combining small rooms with amenity-driven
communal spaces is a recipe that works well
for UCI while allowing them to hold down costs."
A central two-story facility contains
a fitness center, a game room, and other shared
services, as well as an expansive skylit dining area,
which opens up to a terrace via pocketed glass
sliding doors. "The students we polled told us that
they wanted multiple dining options with an
emphasis on freshness, more like a farmers' market
than a cafeteria," says Elizabeth McPherson, a
partner at Mithun who led the interior design team.
"There are seven different stations, fresh fruit in
baskets, demonstration cooking, and a diversity
of seating options inside and out."
In each tower, five residential floors feature
15-foot-wide corridors linked by double-height great
rooms that contain small kitchens for club meetings
and other events. An array of social and study areas
are along these concourses for student gatherings.
"The live-learn concept has been evolving over the
last few years," says LaPatra. "Academics have
discovered that learning is happening outside the
classroom through collaboration and group study
in the residential environment."
Staying within budget, connecting Mesa
Court to its neighboring context, and achieving
the highest level of sustainability required careful
planning. Designed to exceed the requirements for
a platinum rating in LEED for Building Design and
Construction, the towers are nearly 75 feet tall. "Over
that [height], they would be classed as highrises,
which involve more exacting code requirements,"
LaPatra says. High-performance glass and louvers
minimize heat gain on south-facing facades,
and the upper levels are cooled by ocean breezes
Each residential tower
great rooms that contain
small kitchens for club
meetings and other events.
Carpeted floors and soundabsorbent materials on walls
and ceilings mitigate noise.
through open windows. Only the ground-floor large
rooms require air conditioning. Rooftop photovoltaic
panels provide electricity, and solar thermal panels
The student life emphasis is on comfort
and practicality, with a dining area that is open 16
hours per day and breakout areas that never close.
Carpeted floors and sound-absorbent materials
on the walls and ceilings mitigate noise. Expansive
glazing enclosing the ground floor and the doubleheight great rooms in each tower enables views
of the campus, connecting residents to the activity
beyond. Each tower has a signature color-orange,
green, or blue-to give it a sense of identity, which
is reinforced by graphics and furnishings.
"We're competing for top undergraduate
and graduate students, so amenities and the quality
of the living environments are crucial," says UCI
Campus Architect Brian Pratt. "The success of Mesa
Court Towers gave us the confidence to move ahead
with another version of this project, also designed
by Mithun." c