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How Johnston Marklee transformed an old factory into an art studio

The UCLA Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios are a 2020 Innovation by Design honoree.

How Johnston Marklee transformed an old factory into an art studio
[Photo: courtesy Johnston Marklee]
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When architecture firm Johnston Marklee set out to design a new facility for the UCLA Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios, it wanted to “honor the legacy of the building and the rawness of the space” even as it reimagined all 48,000 square feet, according to partner Sharon Johnston.

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The building itself was an old wallpaper factory built in the 1940s; UCLA took over the warehouse in the ’80s, and over the years, students had added sheds and lean-tos outside the building, creating a maze of studios and workspaces that were beloved but inefficient. Johnston Marklee wanted to keep this spirit of experimentation and discovery while modernizing the building and making it more accessible. Its stunning redesign was a finalist for our 2020 Innovation by Design Awards in the category of Learning.

The graduate school has six areas of study with different needs in terms of space, but Johnston says it was critical that they were all treated the same. “One of the things that’s really interesting about the UCLA program is that there’s absolutely no pedagogical hierarchy, so there was a desire for no architectural hierarchy as well,” she says. That meant streamlining things like air flow so it would work whether the studio space was used by a painter or a ceramicist.

Johnston says thinking about the building this way “resulted in a climatic approach,” with lots of open space, including an entry garden full of acacia trees. Sustainability was infused into the design process from the beginning. The thickness of the concrete walls eliminated the need for waterproofing and insulation, while the three covered yards create an “umbrella” around the building to help keep it cool. “We love solving problems where one move can solve multiple problems,” says Johnston. “Sustainability engaged a lot of that.”

See more honorees from the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards here.