by Allison Milionis
The new Center for Embedded Network Sensing (CENS) building designed by Culver City-based Studio Pali Fekete Architects (SPF:a), is unlike the red brick edifices that grace most of the University of California, Los Angeles campus. Surrounded on all sides by 1960s buildings and occupying a formerly neglected courtyard, the glass and steel structure is like a diamond in the rough.
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An interdisciplinary and multiinstitutional venture, CENS is developing embedded networked sensing (ENS) systems and applying the technology to a diverse range of scientific and social applications. The systems monitor and collect information on subjects ranging from buildings and bridges to endangered species and plankton colonies. In applying for approximately $40 million in core funding from the National Science Foundation, UCLA realized a showcase facility would be essential for the program.
"The staff and students had been holed up in small, dark offices and needed a space to hold their equipment and an environment to foster what they do," says Zoltan E. Pali, FAIA, design principal of SPF:a. "They wanted their building to be transparent and stand out among these brick buildings."
The challenge was designing such a building to be constructed on the irregular site, atop a decommissioned nuclear reactor housed in a two-story basement.
Bordered by six-story buildings, the courtyard is canyon-like, receiving little direct sunlight throughout the day. Access is available only through the surrounding buildings. The former CENS lab had been at the west end of the courtyard above the bunker-like basement housing the small reactor. Above that is a bridge connecting the math and science departments. There is no entry point for a truck or place for a crane.
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