Building Cool into the Campus

In a word, the University Student Union building at California State University (CSU) San Marcos is a stunner. With the four-story building nestled into a hillside, 9,000-square-foot ballroom, U-shaped outdoor amphitheater, multiple indoor and outdoor dining areas, glass pavilions, and countless other impressive details, it is set to be a landmark structure and the hub of student activity on campus for years to come.

The stunning U-shaped outdoor amphitheater.

The University Student Union building at California
State University (CSU) San Marcos.

PCL won the 89,000-square-foot, design-build project through a best value competition selection process. The winning proposal was selected from 28 separate submissions, and the project is earmarked as the first of three significant developments for the campus.



With energy efficiency paramount, the University requested that the building exceed California’s Title 24 (Building Energy Efficient Standards) by a whopping 26 percent. As the project was already extremely efficient, the PCL project team had to carefully comb through each aspect of the design and build to achieve this exceptional standard for the client.
While the finished product is a striking example of energy-efficient and organic design, getting there proved to be an exercise in problem solving. Access to the site was limited to a single point of entry, and building into a hillside presented many logistical challenges. “We were almost building four one-story buildings instead of one of four stories,” said Harold Oakley, PCL superintendent.
“Each level of the building had to be brought much further along than if we had access to more than just one side—and getting equipment, materials, and trades up and down that hill several times a day made for some interesting moments.”


In addition to logistics, the unique geological composition of the area also presented challenges. While the surrounding topography makes a picturesque backdrop for the university, the dense rock made for more carving than excavating. “Dealing with all of the granite, and the trials of building into a hill, meant nothing was simple on this project,” said PCL senior project manager Michael Gallen. “It was an incredibly interesting and challenging build. We were constantly improvising to solve various issues—like putting together the pieces of a puzzle that was always changing.”
The granite and the hillside made Oakley and Gallen feel at times “like mountain goats,” both are thrilled to have been part of such a unique build and successful project team, and partnered with a great client.
But most of all, they feel the gratification that comes with seeing the building being used for its intended purpose. “The energy and wonder of the students when they were able to explore the building for the first time was a phenomenal rush,” said Gallen. “Seeing them use every single inch of that facility, and to hear them remark how cool it was, made the long days of problem solving completely worth it.”

Cool indeed. And considering that the next major project for the campus was recently won by PCL, it looks as though the PCL partnership with CSU San Marcos will be inspiring students for years to come.



 Related Links