Library Plan a Study in Contrasts at CSUCI

Times Staff Writer

It has been no easy task, this mission to meld the old with the new at Ventura County's recently opened Cal State campus, set as it is among the stately Spanish-style buildings of the former Camarillo State Hospital.

So when it came to designing a new library for Cal State Channel Islands, architects had their hands full deciding how best to bridge the hospital's historic past with the university's ambitious future.

The resulting project -- a two-story, glass-and-steel structure set to merge with a mothballed medical unit -- is scheduled to start winding its way through the plan review process next week and should break ground this summer.

The $50-million library will be built in two phases and is expected to be completed in 2005.

"This is a great opportunity to breathe new life into some splendid historic buildings," said project manager Nick Roberts of the Los Angeles office of Leo A Daly, the project's executive architect.

The company's portfolio includes the newly opened Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles and UC Irvine's Sprague Hall.

"The library should take the campus from a 1930s mental hospital to an information center for the 21st century," Roberts said.

Designed by modernist Norman Foster, a renowned London architect who has submitted proposals to rebuild at the World Trade Center site, the library will be state-of-the-art in function and design.

The 260,000-square-foot building will feature a piazza and a reflecting pool designed to help cool the naturally lighted building in the summer. Solar cells on the roof will transform sunlight to electricity. A footbridge will connect the second story to staff and faculty housing under construction on the east end of the campus.

Architects say they took great care to create a space that respects the architectural integrity of the surrounding 1930s-era buildings, designed by former President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration.

The new structure, from its scale to its glass facade, is intended to blend with the existing buildings. In fact, students will be able to look out through the facade onto the grounds.

"I was glad to see that the response to this particular challenge [blending the old with the new] was a totally transparent building," said Jesus Fondevila, Leo A Daly's vice president. "Instead of mimicking the existing historic structures, this building will not impose anything on what's already there."

Architects intend to reuse some materials, such as roof tiles and light fixtures, from portions of the medical unit that will be demolished during renovation.

Former Cal State Channel Islands President Handel Evans, who convinced Foster to tackle the project, remembers hearing early concerns about whether the new library would meld with the existing architectural design.

But as a trained architect, Evans knew that Foster had designed several projects that had addressed those concerns, including renovation of Berlin's parliament building, the Reichstag. In recognition of his body of work, Foster in 1999 was awarded the Pritzker Architecture Prize, considered the Nobel of his profession.

"One of the things I thought he would be able to do was take us from that rather institutional architecture into a new realm," Evans said. "I think it will be a significant piece of architecture on a significant campus."

With the project barreling toward construction, the design effort has shifted to Southern California, headed by the Leo A Daly firm. As executive architect, the company does everything from work up detailed drawings to oversee construction.

The firm hopes to put the project out to bid in March.

"I think ultimately what you'll see is a distinctive building that is both a landmark in itself and also very much a part of the fabric of the campus," said Roberts, the project manager. "It's not just a building. We are creating a ceremonial space in the heart of the campus where the whole university body can gather."

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