Case Study

UC San Diego North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood New Living and Learning Neighborhood at UC San Diego Embodies Sustainable, Human-Centered Design

La Jolla, California

The Challenge

Human social dynamics, psychological needs and learning behaviors drove every design decision for UC San Diego’s North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood (NTPLLN). The challenge of weaving together living and learning in one place formed the foundation for a “campus within a campus” — a vibrant, healthy community that addresses the rising cost of housing in La Jolla, California.

The Design Solution

The design-build project team members included HKS, Clark Construction, Safdie Rabines Architects and OJB Landscape Architecture. HKS also worked with UC San Diego and the Center for Advanced Design Research (CADRE) to form a research coalition. Coalition members conducted surveys, visioning sessions, and behavior mapping exercises to determine how the project could reflect the diverse cultures and habits of students, faculty, staff and area residents and translate those ideas into the design.

Every space at NTPLLN is designed with an understanding that college years are formative for building healthy habits. The Neighborhood incorporates holistic, evidence-based architecture and interior design strategies to enhance social, mental and physical well-being.

Residential buildings provide diverse housing options including individual and shared bedrooms in suites and apartments ­­— all organized around indoor and outdoor common areas that foster social interactions, collaboration, and restorative connections to nature. The campus plan supports active mobility, and the dining experience makes it easy for students to embrace healthier eating habits. A rooftop community garden provides students with fresh vegetables and herbs, and community kitchens offer places for cooking healthy meals.

NTPLLN answers the needs of a broad user base including students, faculty, staff and local community members. It features three residence halls, two divisional academic buildings, eight general assignment classrooms, administration offices, an auditorium and a concierge office. Situated around a flexible main street, public amenities include a market, affordable dining establishments, a craft center, and an expansive network of inviting outdoor green spaces. The design promotes alternative transportation with multimodal pathways, convenient bike parking and storage, and access to mass transit.

The Design Impact

Once a parking lot, NTPLLN is now a dynamic mixed-use community that encourages social and academic interactions at multiple scales from individual apartments and residence halls, to the campus, the broader University and La Jolla community. In a region where rental costs are typically double the U.S. median, NTPLLN provides 2,048 beds at below-market rates for students of various socio-economic backgrounds.

When NTPLLN opened during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the 2020-2021 school year, researchers and student fellows gathered environmental and well-being metrics. They observed increases in students’ satisfaction with food, mobility, and residential and social spaces and an 8.2 percent reduction in self-reported depression scores even amid unprecedented circumstances for isolation and health concerns during the pandemic.

The neighborhood is targeting LEED Platinum certification for the entire project and its sustainable design emphasizes resilience and potential changes in the environment and human behavior. Conservation strategies such as high-efficiency fixtures and appliances significantly reduce potable water use and stormwater runoff is managed on-site through bioswales that capture and treat rainfall.

All buildings are designed for passive survivability with natural ventilation systems and operable windows that will help maintain indoor thermal comfort in the face of a more extreme climate future. Other energy-conscious design features include photovoltaic arrays powering a net-zero parking structure and an anaerobic digester that processes food waste into electricity and fertilizer. On-going data collection efforts show that the project exceeds operational targets with industry-leading metrics including a measured 38 energy use intensity (EUI).

NTPLLN is a “live-learn” lab with a culture of continuous discovery, iterative improvement and disruptive innovation. Observations made during NTPLLN’s design process have informed HKS’ design for UC San Diego’s next major project, the Theater District Living and Learning Neighborhood, which is currently under construction.

This transformational campus — the largest living and learning community in the University of California system— is a blueprint for future projects with its commitment to the environment and a design that promotes well-being and fosters a meaningful connection between the university and its community.

Project Features

  • 1.6 million square feet (148644 sm)
  • Seven buildings
  • 2,048 undergraduate student beds
  • Academic buildings including faculty and administrative offices
  • 1,200 vehicle below-grade parking
  • Two-story dining hall with six restaurants
  • Outdoor and public spaces, including basketball court
  • Retail space
  • Rooftop terraces
  • Multi-modal paths with dedicated bike lanes
  • Craft Center for students and community members


  • 2023 AIA COTE Top Ten Award
  • 2022 Special Commendation, Design for Discovery – AIA California
  • 2022 Innovation by Design Awards Finalist, FastCompany
  • 2022 Outcome of Design Award & Optimizer, American Society of Interior Designers
  • 2022 Platinum Recognition, Evidence Based Design Touchstone Award, The Center for Health Design
  • 2021 LEED BD+C Registered Built Merit Award, San Diego Green Building Council
  • 2021 Most Efficient EUI Built Merit Award, San Diego Green Building Council
  • 2020 Design Award, Southern California Development Forum (SCDF)
  • 2020 Honor, Specialty Sustainable Innovation Strategy: Energy / Operational Carbon, Waste, US Green Building Council – Los Angeles Chapter
  • 2018 UCSD Advisory Committee on Sustainability, Sustainability Award, Outstanding Campus Vendor