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Scripps Opens $52M Marine Research Center

LIFE SCIENCE: New Facility Replaces Outdated Complex

Scripps Institution of Oceanography has opened a $52-million marine conservation complex in what had been a nondescript concrete monolith of a building that’s been transformed into one that could easily be mistaken for a seaside resort with large, wide-open balconies.

Designed by Safdie Rabines Architects based in Mission Hills, the 40,410-square-foot Ted and Jean Scripps Marine Conservation and Technology Facility breathes new life into the last standing structure of four that made up the original Fisheries Science Center.

Three buildings that were part of the original complex built in 1963 were razed, with the basement level of one incorporated into the renovated project.

The nearby hillside was reinforced in 2014.

Taal Safdie
Co-founder
Safdie Rabines Architects

“Brutish,” was how Taal Safdie, co-founder of Safdie Rabines, described the look of the old buildings.

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The renovated building is at the very edge of a bluff that drops steeply down into the ocean.

Because of its location, Safdie said that the marine lab was one of the most challenging projects the firm has ever done and one of its most striking.

“It’s been a really interesting and complicated project, because it’s right on the bluff and it had to go through the Coastal Commission and a really rigorous review on the stability of the hillside,” Safdie said. “In order to not put pressure on the bluff, the building cantilevers structurally, so it doesn’t put weight on the bluff.”

The three buildings that were razed had to be demolished because erosion had left them too close to the edge.

Research

“The idea of the (renovated) building was to renovate this old lab building into a usable, modern lab building for Scripps,” Safdie said. “It was a very complicated, very complicated renovation to make it a state-of-the-art building in a building that was not sized for today’s needs.”

For starters, some of the ceilings were 8 feet, compared to typical life science labs that have 16-foot ceilings.

Because of the nature of the lab work, the extra ceiling space is needed for the bigger air vents and other equipment the labs use.

“This was so tight, it required enormous coordination between the electrical and mechanical (contractors). It was just so intense,” Safdie said.

“We basically gutted the interior and reconfigured it for the programs that they have today, but we kept the bones of the building,” Safdie said, adding that the design was “like turning the building inside out so it really faced the views.”

Under the old layout, Safdie said that the best views were from parking lots around the building.

“When we saw the project, it was completely surrounded by parking,” Safdie said. “We removed the parking that was on the southwest (corner), and we made a public overlook for people.”

At both ends of the building, the view was blocked by staircases. The new design moved the staircases to the side and replaced metal railings with glass panels.

A new 1,200-square-foot café opens out onto a 2,300 -square-foot terrace overlooking the ocean.

A trellis and what Safdie described as structural “eyebrows” shade the interior from the sun.

The basement level has rows of tanks containing salt water pumped in from the ocean, including a 5,000-square-foot research aquarium.

The renovated building also has 11 research laboratories, and a data visualization lab to analyze data from thousands of research project images.

There’s also a 100-seat lecture hall, two class labs, two conference rooms, and an 850-square-foot demonstration kitchen for teaching courses in the sustainable use of ocean resources.

A Gateway

“Selecting materials for durability was very important,” Safdie said. Because of the seaside location, “everything erodes very quickly so you have to very careful in specifying the materials.”

Ricardo Rabines
Co-founder
Safdie Rabines Architects

The resulting structure is primarily concrete, and stainless steel with natural wood siding and trellises.

Ricardo Rabines, co-founder of Safdie Rabines, said that one goal of the renovation was to make what had been sterile structures into “much more of a destination place, a place where people from the upper campus could meet people from the lower campus.”

“We really wanted to bring a program to the facility that would allow them to enjoy the location,” Rabines said.

As described by Scripps, the renovated center creates a northern gateway to the Scripps campus.

Programs within it will emphasize joint efforts between the Oceanography Institute and the Southwest Fisheries Science Center and the Halicioglu Data Science Institute at UC San Diego.

Safdie Rabines Architects

Founded: 1993
Principals:  Taal Safdie, Ricardo Rabines, Eric Lindebak, Kevin Schiller
Founding partners: Taal Safdie and Ricardo Rabines
Headquarters: Mission Hills
Business: Commercial architects
Employees: 41
Contact: 619-297-6153
Website:   www.safdierabines.com
Notable:  Safdie Rabines Architects designed one of the University of California San Diego’s largest and most ambitious project – the North Torrey Pines Living & Learning Neighborhood. The project is in collaboration with HKS.

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