Learning by the Lake: Science center takes advantage of views and daylighting

Northwest Vista College, a two-year college in San Antonio, Texas, was originally built in 1997 for 3,300 students. Today, the college supports an enrollment of more than 10,000. San Antonio-based OCO Architects was one of the architects selected to contribute to the school’s new expanded campus master plan and was awarded the design of Live Oak Hall—one of five new buildings to be located on campus.

The architects met with faculty, staff and students in collaborative work sessions to review three different concepts for the design of the science center, which includes science laboratories, tutoring labs, classrooms, faculty suites and informal study spaces for disciplines ranging from math to microbiology.

“One of the goals for the building was to take advantage of views and daylighting opportunities, yet minimize energy costs from solar gain on glass and walls,” said Mickey Conrad, principal with OCO Architects.

Sited to form the northern edge of the campus commons, Live Oak Hall takes advantage of views of the newly designed, man-made lake. The three-story north-south wing is aligned for lake views, while the two-story east-west wing forms the north side of the commons. An open pathway at ground level allowing passage from the parking lots to the campus commons separates the wings.

The main stair tower doubles as a campus landmark and multilevel study nook with views of the lake and surrounding buildings. The building’s exterior suggests the scientific life inside, while its inviting interior encourages students to hang out and study. The brick, glass and metal used on the exterior acknowledge the existing campus, but are composed to express “science.” The building materials were selected to articulate the internal functions—brick wraps the classrooms, while metal expresses the offices and science labs. Perforated screens and awnings control solar heat gain while maintaining views. The perforated metal acoustical deck panels are used as translucent shading devices, while the perforated metal stair risers allow natural light into the hall.

According to Conrad, the perforated metal panels with large corrugations from EPIC Metals Corp., Rankin, Pa., were selected for the vertical screening because its longer spanning ability allowed the architects to reduce the amount of framing required to support them, while maximizing the views to the south and west from the faculty offices. Houston-based MBCI’s 7.2 profile perforated corrugated panels were used on the horizontal shading “eyebrows” over the windows for their ability to span the support spacing.

“The aesthetics and dynamics of the perforations, in both the vertical and horizontal panels, allows just enough transparency for light and shadows to move on the walls as the sun moves around the building,” Conrad said.

A priority in designing the science center’s interior was the need for clear organization of the building, while providing areas for collaboration among students and faculty. Decentralized lounges, as well as faculty suites of varying sizes, provide such collaboration areas. Labs are customized for the needs of chemistry, physics, biology and geology, and the modular classroom design allows for flexibility in course and room arrangement. Tutoring labs are wired for 21 computer stations.

Sustainability was a priority for the college and science center. The site was planted with native or adaptive vegetation, allowing for open space, including the first outdoor classroom on campus. The paints, coatings and carpets were all low-emitting materials. The lake adjacent to the science center also serves as a storm water management and water reuse feature.

Live Oak Hall Academic Center, Northwest Vista College,
San Antonio

Owner: Alamo Community Colleges, San Antonio
General contractor: Bartlett Cocke General Contractors, San Antonio
Architect: OCO Architects, San Antonio
MEP engineer: Baron Engineering, San Antonio
Structural engineer: Alpha Consulting Engineers Inc., San Antonio
Civil engineer: CDS/Muery Services, San Antonio
Landscape architect: SWA Group, Houston
Metal wall panels: MBCI, Houston,
Perforated screens: EPIC Metals Corp., Rankin, Pa.,