the SFTV undergrad building at a Los Angeles university glows at night
In the evening, the new SFTV undergrad complex—the main building, in back; the adjoining theater with rooftop terrace, front left; and the outdoor planted patio, front right—takes on a soft lanternlike glow.

Loyola Marymount University Gets a Theatrical Addition

The word design may derive from the Italian verb segnare, meaning to sign, but Skidmore, Owings & Merrill senior associate principal Carlos Madrid III eschewed a splashy signature in favor of cultivating a sense of community in two recent projects at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. The School of Film and Television Undergraduate Building, a four-story slab of teaching spaces with an attached theater—24,000-square-foot in all—and the Drollinger Family Stage, an outdoor performance pavilion, both serve as student magnets that foster and sustain campus life. “The main driver was creating and activating people-oriented buildings,” says Madrid, who led both projects.

The main SFTV building is straightforward, a no-nonsense block of concrete finished in troweled stucco. Its upper levels host flexible multipurpose classrooms while staff offices, post-production classrooms, and a camera directing studio occupy the ground floor, which is pierced by a wide breezeway leading to a landscaped courtyard and the existing SFTV graduate building in back. The 86-seat theater, housed in a separate yet adjoining volume clad in matte silver aluminum panels, sits in front.

SOM Designs The School of Film and Television Undergraduate Building

the exterior of Loyola Marymount University's School of Film and Television Undergraduate Building
At Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, a semitransparent brise-soleil covers the east facade of the ground-up School of Film and Television Undergraduate Building by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which also designed the campus’s new Drollinger Family Stage.

For Madrid, form did not mean shape—or at least, not unusual shape. Rather, the architect used it to organize patterns of movement and rest around the simple slab, to create an armature for all the in-between moments of student life: getting to and leaving from class; hanging out; sitting down to chat, read, check phone messages. Some interiors have windows but most do not, so Madrid extroverted the introverted program. “We started thinking about how to activate the building’s exterior, putting all the circulation outside,” he says, “so we would see people moving up and down the stairs, like an ant farm.” L.A.’s mild climate allowed him and his team to service the classrooms with outdoor corridors—a stack of cantilevered aerial sidewalks, wide enough to accommodate tables, chairs, and casual encounters alongside bustling foot traffic—with staircases at each end. The whole east facade is populated and alive, a human terrarium, not simply a designed composition.

Madrid veiled the vertical streetscape with a gauzy brise-soleil. Made from pleated sheets of perforated powder-coated aluminum, the semitransparent screen lets breezes flow through the corridors while shielding them from the direct morning sun. The space between the veil and the facade acts as a passive buffer, a naturally regulated microclimate that augments building energy efficiency, exemplifying why SOM is ranked not only 19th among our Sustainability Giants but also 49th amid the 100 Giants.

The firm put additional outdoor square footage to use by turning the adjoining theater rooftop into a planted terrace, which Madrid calls a “meditative space,” while the plaza next to the theater, outfitted with bright yellow umbrellas and café furniture, serves as a shaded patio. All the outdoor zones overlook a wide, landscaped pedestrian mall—the spine of the university complex—which has a pleasingly symbiotic relationship with the SFTV building. “The patio has become one of the most popular places on campus,” Madrid reports. “It’s always active, with people hanging out and classes being taught there.”

a landscaped walkway on the campus of Loyola Marymount University
The SFTV building sits on Alumni Mall, a landscaped walkway that’s the spine of the campus.

Building Interiors Feature Mobile Furnishings

In what was a soup-to-nuts project, Madrid and the SOM team designed and furnished the school’s interiors, addressing requirements for a high-tech electronic infrastructure and highly mobile furniture that’s easily moved or stored for multipurpose classroom flexibility.

Loyola Marymount is a repeat client for which SOM has helmed eight projects over the last decade. The architects have taken contextual clues from the existing modernist buildings, conceiving structures with a simplicity and clarity that fit into the larger ensemble, seeking agreement rather than disruption—a strategy Madrid continued with the Drollinger Family Stage. Asked to design an outdoor theater to support film, dance, and drama, he was able to take the program further, in part because the pandemic proved the relative safety of gathering outside. “The building could be more,” he explains, “a classroom for everyday use, plus a facility for health, wellness, movement, and meditation—not just a place for a performance several nights a week.”

An Innovative Outdoor Theater Designed by SOM 

In devising the 3,200-square-foot open pavilion, Madrid took the formal restraint of the SFTV building to the point of minimalism. Located on a central grassy plaza, the stage comprises a low concrete podium with a row of eight slender columns on each side supporting a canted roof that seems to hover weightlessly 24 feet above the ground. In fact, the canopy incorporates a hefty grid of 2-foot-deep perforated steel beams, its coffered underside packed with lighting and audiovisual systems. Thanks to its anodized aluminum–clad perimeter soffit, which extends some 10 feet beyond the columns while tapering to a razor-thin edge, the roof appears to have no mass. Slimmer than the trunks of the surrounding palm trees, the steel pillars have no visible lateral bracing to break the structure’s floating spell or block audience sightlines and yet are sturdy enough to accom­modate conduits running up to the ceiling apparatus.

This futuristic bandshell is more than a feat of sophisticated engineering, however. In its purity and symmetry, the pavilion is like a modern take on a garden folly or a cyber-age version of a classical tempietto. Full-length curtains hang ready to encircle the performance area if required. Stirred by breezes from the nearby ocean, the billowing drapes turn the stage into a sailing vessel—a poetic moment singular on campus.

Inside Loyola Marymount University’s New Film and Television Building

a building's screen made of perforated powder-coated aluminum
The diaphanous custom screen is made from pleated sheets of perforated powder-coated aluminum.
students stand on a balcony behind a screen on the exterior of an undergrad building at Loyola Marymount University
It is separated from the concrete building, which is clad in stucco, by cantilevered balconies that serve as open-air circulation corridors.
students wear VR headsets in a classroom at Loyola Marymount University
Giancarlo Piretti’s Pirouette tables outfit a classroom, where linear LEDs provide illumination and acoustic paneling is covered in Suzanne Tick’s Heather Tech polyester.
an outdoor corridor with tables and seating outside a university building
Fermob tables and chairs designed by Frédéric Sofia turn an outdoor corridor into a breakout zone.
the SFTV undergrad building at a Los Angeles university glows at night
In the evening, the new SFTV undergrad complex—the main building, in back; the adjoining theater with rooftop terrace, front left; and the outdoor planted patio, front right—takes on a soft lanternlike glow.
inside a theater at the undergrad film and TV building at Loyola Marymount University
Equipped with a 4K projection screen, the state-of-the-art 86-seat theater is swathed in plush polyester-velvet curtains.
a multipurpose outdoor pavilion glows at night
Recessed lighting illuminates the broad aluminum-clad roof soffit of the Drollinger Family Stage, a multipurpose outdoor pavilion.
curtains blow through a multipurpose pavilion at a university
Stirred by the breeze, performance-fabric curtains billow through the structure’s slender steel columns, which echo the surrounding palm trees.
Lawton Plaza at Loyola Marymount University
The pavilion is located on grassy Lawton Plaza, which is bounded by wide, bleacherlike steps.
a theater-like pavilion at a Los Angeles university
The roof comprises a grid of steel beams, its coffered underside packed with theater light­ing and audiovisual equipment.
skidmore, owings & merrill: paul danna; tannar whitney; karl gleason; brandon horn; wooil kim; abel diaz; john gordon; yanhong liu; lonny israel; kacey bills; nour mourad
mig: landscape consultant
hlb lighting design: lighting consultant
ama group: mep
KPFF: civil engineer
w.e. o’neil: general contractor
fermob: tables, chairs (hall, patio)
ki: tables (classroom), seating (theater)
luum textiles: acoustic panels (classroom, theater), curtains (theater)
Tuuci: umbrellas (patio)
sunbrella: curtains (stage)
alphabet: handrail lighting
chauvet: theater lighting
valmont structure: custom brise-soleil
axis lighting; targetti: light fixtures
alucobond: exterior cladding
automatic devices company: curtain tracks

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