UC San Diego’s Sixth College Settles in at North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood

UC San Diego’s Sixth College Settles in at North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood


Designing and delivering a college campus through a deliberate client directive with human and environmental health at its core, the HKS-designed North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego has opened. 

UC San Diego’s Sixth College moved into its new home in September with nearly 1,000 undergraduate students in residence as phased construction continues on the new ten-acre campus neighborhood. The design-build project team members include HKS, Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architecture. 

Photo by Kehaulani Crooks
Photo by Kehaulani Crooks

Guided by a broad set of design principles – designing to human scale, maximizing views, breezes and natural ventilation, outdoor placemaking, living and learning integration – the vibrant 1.6 million square-foot neighborhood will include academic buildings, classrooms, extensive outdoor areas, six new restaurants, a dining hall, public art, an 11,000 square foot craft center and 1,200 below-ground parking spaces. The neighborhood is also home to the university’s Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities Divisions.

Photo by Kehaulani Crooks
Photo by Kehaulani Crooks

Human social dynamics, physical and psychological needs and learning behaviors drove every design decision for North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood. “This new UC San Diego community was designed with students in mind,” said Thom Greving, principal in charge of the project and HKS-Los Angeles design director. “Every care was taken to create a place of health, wellness and environmental responsibility that supports the students’ academic endeavors and social life. We hope that life-long relationships and inspirational achievements will be created here.”

A Living and Learning Lab

North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is serving a broader and important purpose as a “Living Lab.” From the beginning of design, the project team explored issues around student health and well-being and without making assumptions, made design decisions based on research and observation.

“Their evidence-based design approach was critical to the success of the HKS design team,” said Matt Smith, Program Manager, UC San Diego. “They responded to the Detailed Project Program (DPP) with a rigorous process and tested it with longitudinal research. With intentionality, the design team took our words and turned them into architecture. They didn’t jump directly from the RFP into test-fits and form-making, but instead remained disciplined and took the time to develop evidence-based strategies that led to their design solution.”

Early in the design phase, the HKS research team went to UC San Diego to interview Sixth College students and ask which elements of their environment contributed positively and negatively to their college life. The survey results provided deep insight into the student experience and contributed to the design significantly. HKS used a persona mapping tool to understand the user experience from all points-of-view, which informed our design solution for each building type.

Photo by Erik Jepsen
Photo by Erik Jepsen

Striving for a data-driven understanding of the effectiveness of the Living and Learning Neighborhood concept and to guide the success of future capital building projects while adding to the body of research on the topic, UC San Diego has formed a coalition with the non-profit CADRE (Center for Advanced Design Research and Evaluation), HKS and the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) to study the built environment’s impact on student mental health and resilience.

“The simple but revolutionary concept of adding research to the DPP by the University’s representative and architect Matt Smith has now led to this coalition between academics, administrators, agencies and the industry,” said Dr. Upali Nanda, principal and director of research at HKS. “We hope that this project is a catalyst for not just the evolution of design but compelling research and pedagogical agendas.”

Girded with the research gathered prior to occupancy, the coalition’s first study is investigating the impact of North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood as compared to the original Sixth College residential facilities by assessing student behaviors and habits related to social connection, learning, health and well-being, and environmental stewardship; comparing space utilization and patterns of behavior changes to assess the efficacy of the new living and learning neighborhood; and comparing overall student wellbeing and academic achievement.

The coalition’s overarching objective is to inform the design of large capital projects through the creation of design guidelines for future construction and renovation projects and forming the foundation for an ongoing program in which living-and-learning neighborhoods can function as live-learn labs in which students can engage with and enhance their environments via a curricular infrastructure.

“The new Sixth College is a living lab that uses architecture to augment positive behaviors and outcomes and integrates that understanding into current academics and future capital planning,” said Lakshmi Chilukuri, UC San Diego’s Sixth College Provost.

Unique to this study is a new and immersive research methodology: due to restricted access for visitors to campus during the pandemic, researchers are unable to conduct in-person observation, interviews and focus groups. To that end, CADRE is supporting its first Live-Learn Fellow, a UC San Diego student living at North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, to conduct and advance the study. Learn more about the Live-Learn Lab Coalition and background on current and future research projects.

Targeting Climate Neutrality by 2025

Designing a Living and Learning Neighborhood that aligns with the university’s vision and its core values was imperative. Founded in 2001, Sixth College prepares its students to become engaged 21st century citizens, offering rich and varied programs focused on the nexus of culture, art and technology. Students said it was key that their culture of innovation and creativity be included in the design in a way that respects time-honored traditions while embodying future ideals: sustainability is a crucial tenet and aligns with UC’s initiative to be carbon neutral, system-wide, by 2025. North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood aspires to be a place where environmental responsibility is not only achieved in the construction but also expressed in user’s lifestyles.

To help the university reach its ambitious climate action goals, HKS’ integrated, high-performance design features fully embrace targeted carbon-neutral operations to measurably reduce energy consumption, water use and waste, ensuring the new sustainable neighborhood will meet the current and future needs of UC San Diego’s administration, faculty and students.

Photos by Kehaulani Crooks
Photos by Kehaulani Crooks

More than 70% of the residential building area is naturally ventilated – an alternative passive measure to using energy intensive mechanical ventilation and cooling. Substantial reductions in lighting power in the project was achieved by using exclusively LED lighting technologies for all interior and exterior spaces. North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood will solely purchase power from green power sources and providers.

During project construction, 75% of the construction waste was diverted from landfills and recycled. North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood utilizes conservation strategies such as high-efficiency fixtures and appliances to reduce potable water use in buildings by more than 35%. Storm water runoff is managed on-site through bioswales which are draught resistive vegetated and landscaped areas that infiltrate, capture and treat storm water runoff. This landscape design strategy inherently promotes biodiversity and reduces heat island effects of the built environment.

Photo by Erik Jepsen
Photo by Erik Jepsen

An anaerobic digester provides on-site generation of electrical energy from the organic food waste and materials generated by Sixth College, while also producing valuable enrichened liquid fertilizer for its community gardens.

North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is on target to achieve LEED Platinum certification.