Newly opened Emerson College Los Angeles blends form with function


March 10, 2014

Emerson College Los Angeles provides spaces for education, accommodation and administration (Photo: Iwan Baan)

Emerson College Los Angeles provides spaces for education, accommodation and administration (Photo: Iwan Baan)

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Bringing together form and functionality in harmony is the holy grail for design of any type. The newly opened Emerson College Los Angeles (ELA) achieves just that. The building needed to be sustainable and provide spaces for education, accommodation and administration whilst at the same time fostering social activity and creativity.

Emerson's original institution in Boston, Massachusetts, focuses on a communication and arts curriculum. The newly-opened LA campus offers seven disciplines with the same focus, as well as running post-graduate, certificate and professional study programs. ELA will also host workshops, lectures and other alumni and community events.

"The building is designed to expand the interactive, social aspect of education," says design director Thom Mayne of Morphosis on the ELA website. "We focused on creating with the broader community in mind – both in terms of public space and sustainable design."

Two towers provide accommodation for 217 students and are joined at the top by a multi-purpose platform. The platform features rigging for screens, media connections, sound and lighting, and serves as a means of facilitating outdoor productions. An "undulating metal scrim" on the inside wall of each tower hides their staircases and walkways whilst providing an aesthetic addition to the buildings.

The 10-story space between the towers is described as an "outdoor room" by Morphosis. It contains classrooms, an open-air screening and performance space, a Dolby Surround 7.1 audio post-production suite, a 4K video screening room, computer labs, mixing suites and a planned green-screen motion capture stage. The site fills 120,000 sq ft (11,148 sq m) in total and took three years to build.

Morphosis expects ELA to gain a Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design Gold rating, which is a mark of environmental excellence. Temperature is regulated using a passive valence system, high-performance glass and an automated sunshade system. Efficient fixtures should reduce water use by 40 percent, and energy savings are monitored using a management and commissioning infrastructure.

Sources: Morphosis, ELA

About the Author
Stu Robarts Stu is a tech writer based in Liverpool, UK. He has previously worked on global digital estate management at Amaze and headed up digital strategy for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). He likes cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and RSS feeds. All articles by Stu Robarts

What a waste! I didn't see a mention of cost, but I don't think "low cost" was on the requirements list. This is why we spend so much on education here in the US, but don't get an equivalent amount of learning. Good grief!


There's not much more then schools with brown box buildings in L. A. Koolski so this is truely an exception. To go to school in a place that shatters the norm encourages inspiration. Now some views of the building don't please me but it does break the mold and that was the point and that pleases me. I like it and I'm glad they spent my L. A. tax money on it.


Impressive but sterile.Virtually no plants or art.

Richard Janovsky

Koolski is correct. The trustees of Cooper Union decided to go the same route, building 41 Cooper Square, a fancy, very expensive building to raise the institution's prestige. Thanks in large part to their excessive spending on that building - reportedly over $110 million - Cooper Union suffered huge financial problems. As a result, it will start charging its students tuition for the first time in its 150+ year existence, ending the promise Peter Cooper made when he founded the school that anyone who is worthy of attending should do so without having to pay.


No mention of solar panels. Retrofit with panels on the roof. Otherwise, I don't see sustainable; I see a great, big carbon footprint.

Art Toegemann

Clunky, junkie and hideous—Congratulations, the Pompidou Centre now has a North American rival!

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