Safdie Rabines Architects have designed a $50 million renovation and expansion of KPBS television on the campus of San Diego State University. Rendering courtesy of Safdie Rabines Architects.

Safdie Rabines Architects have designed a $50 million renovation and expansion of KPBS television on the campus of San Diego State University. Rendering courtesy of Safdie Rabines Architects.

Safdie Rabines Architects has designed a $50 million renovation and expansion of KPBS that will give a new look to the public radio and television station on the campus of San Diego State University.

“It was really drab and gray and depressing. It is nondescript and I don’t think has a strong identity. It really didn’t fit nicely on the street,” said Taal Safdie, co-founder of Safdie Rabines Architects. “You could walk by and not know you walked by it.”


The 56,000 square-foot renovation and expansion will open up what had been a boxy, block-like building with expanded outdoor space, a two-story expanded open glassed-in lobby, a community room and patio for events and an expanded newsroom.


“We’re trying to bring a lot of natural light and circulation through the building and we’re trying to create a relationship between the indoor and outdoor space,” said Taal Safdie, a founding partner of Safdie Rabines. “The current facility feels like a big, dark box.”
Construction began in November 2020 and is slated to finish in November 2022.


Clark Construction Group is the general contractor. Marcie Harris is the landscape architect.


Transparency
Safdie said the old building had an institutional feel and look.


“We really wanted to give the building a friendlier, inviting presence,” Safdie said. “The other thing that we were really going for is to make a building that’s more pleasant to work in. It’s super important for the people who are there day-in, day-out to have an environment that feels comforting both in terms of natural light and being able to walk outside.”


From the expanded two-story lobby to the added outdoor space and clearly delineated pathways through the building, the new KPBS will have a look and feel that better reflects the station’s philosophy, said Nancy Worlie, interim general manager.
“The nice thing about it is the transparency of who we are as a journalism organization reflected in the building that we work in,” Worlie said.


From the outside, the entire eastern and southern portion of the building is being redone, Safdie said.


The interior of the building also will be reconfigured to accommodate evolving digital technology to replace rooms originally built for what is now outdated equipment that required far more space.


“They no longer need these outdated individual control booths for one person at a time to record. Everyone can kind of work from their laptops and create the concept they need,” said Brett Milkovich, a Safdie Rabines principal.


While maintaining a two-story atrium in the lobby, a special type of glass was used that has a metal mesh embedded into it that reduces the amount of solar heat, Milkovich said.


Growing
Worlie said the renovation and expansion was “long overdue to really update our current building to accommodate the latest technology.


“Our current building was built and finished in 1995 as what my predecessor used to call the last great analog facility,” Worlie said.
Since 2011 when KPBS started daily evening television newscasts, the old broadcasting studios did double duty, serving as a set for the newscasts and a reception area for community gatherings.


“It really limited our ability to use our studios for events,” Worlie said.


The renovation will add a 6,000 square-foot stand-alone community room that opens up to an outdoor patio.
“We have the ability to have an outdoor reception, and outdoor event,” Worlie said.


On the second floor, the newsroom is being expanded by 6,000 square feet and administrative offices moved and reconfigured so they jut out from the side of the building, creating shade for the patio below.


“We needed to expand our news space because our news staff is growing,” Worlie said.


The newsroom was meant for a staff of 15 to 20.
“We’re at 50 right now,” Worlie said. “We made it work but we have intentions of growing in the future and this really just gives is the space to do that.


Celebrating
Planning for the renovation and expansion began in 2015 under the station’s former general manager, Tom Karlo, Worlie said.
A big question was how to pay for it.


KPBS started what it calls its Building on Trust Campaign with a goal of raising the $50 million to pay for the project.


As of late April, KPBS was 90% toward achieving its goal, helped by an $8 million gift from the Conrad Prebys Foundation and other donors, Worlie said.


In an ironic twist, the COVID-19 pandemic helped the project in a way because it enabled construction to be expedited because most of the KPBS staff switched from working in the office to working from home.


 “We were trying to figure out how we could move people around the building while we demoed their newsroom,” Milkovich said.
Worlie said the pandemic also gives people extra cause to celebrate the building’s completion.


“The timing of the construction with the pandemic wasn’t planned but when we get through this at the other side, those in person events will be something a lot of people will be ready for, especially coming back in 2022,” Worlie said.