JFAK sheds light on the importance of transparency

Roberts Pavilion by JFAK. Photos Benny Chan (Fotoworks)

CLAREMONT – The Roberts Pavilion appears to hover weightlessly above the ground on a ‘ring of light’, produced by 3.65-m-high sheets of glass on all sides. The architecture allows natural light to penetrate the building’s interior, creating a set of spaces where both the mind and the body are rejuvenated. JFAK partner John Friedman explains how the new sports centre at Claremont McKenna College, 50 km east of the centre of Los Angeles, introduces light without compromising the building’s function.

What makes light so important to the design of the Roberts Pavilion?
JOHN FRIEDMAN: Activating spaces with natural light makes for powerful architectural environments that people relate strongly to, even if they don’t realise why. The skylight brings light straight into the centre of the structure and turns the reception area into a warm gathering space – great for lounging, informal studying or campus-wide gatherings.

We always knew that this building would become a social nexus for the campus and that its public areas would serve as flexible multifunctional spaces that today’s students would use in unpredictable ways. Athletics buildings do not normally get this kind of attention to natural light but we thought of the Roberts Pavilion as more than just a place for sports.

You describe the building as an experience of ‘lightness and light’. Can you expand on this?
The exterior glazing – as well as providing terrific views of the surrounding campus – lifts up the building to introduce a sculptural quality that gives it an athletic, floating appearance. Just as important, though, is the interior glazing that creates surprising views between the internal elements. The openness introduces a strong sense of community throughout the building, as well as inviting participation in all sorts of events. The overall effect is a strong sense of transparency throughout the structure. I would say that ‘light and lightness’ are tools towards creating an inspiring, communal, flexible environment that transcends any particular function.

What more can you tell us about the influence of light on the main arena?
The court is set at a level below grade, along with most of the locker rooms and other programmatic elements that do not need natural light. The advantage of this is that when the spectator enters the arena to see a game, they descend into their seat and stay above the court, which provides a more formal experience and a functional separation between the players and spectators. That being said, the arena is not a hermetic space, closed off from the rest of the building. The ‘ring of glass’ surrounding the court creates a clear view from the reception hall, into the arena, across the arena and then out to the sports fields on the opposite side – even if you have to look through four layers of glass to see it.

How does the desire for extensive natural lighting affect sustainability?
The idea of maximizing daylighting was obviously integral to our approach and this made the need to limit heat gain very important. Each elevation is designed in an appropriate way to its cardinal orientation. The west-facing façade, for instance, is primarily solid (except at the lower level, where it is shaded by an overhang and trees) to keep out the punishing afternoon sun. The same goes for the east. The south contains a great deal of windows but utilizes horizontal eaves to allow the low winter sun to penetrate, while blocking out the high summer sun. Finally, the north elevation, with little heat gain to worry about, uses a maximum amount of glass. The fitness centre is orientated on this side to take advantage of the expansive views of the pool and the mountains just beyond.

Section  – East/west

Section – North/South

Location 690 N Mills Ave, Claremont, California

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