Clive Wilkinson Architects | CWa – Case Studies – CYCLES OF EDUCATION: Santa Monica College Center for Media and Design
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Santa Monica College Media Technology Campus

By Ed Ogosta

The success of a college education is increasingly gauged by a single criterion: how well does it really prepare students for the workplace? In addition to instilling academic fundamentals, colleges are expected more than ever to produce fully skilled graduates capable of entering the modern workplace with little on-the-job training. But few institutions are truly committed to breaking the schism between education and work. Santa Monica College and KCRW public radio came to us with precisely this design challenge. The new Media Technology Campus that resulted is an experiment in co-locating a media education program and a professional broadcasting organization to maximize the collateral benefits between them.


Our design process began with an intensive period of curriculum analysis, in-situ classroom visits, facility tours, client meetings, and visioning sessions. In group discussions, it became clear that our client felt instructional education alone is insufficient to make sense of a world in constant flux. It is seemingly more difficult for their students to reconcile classroom-based academic learning with applied professional learning. After several weeks of working with our client, we both recognized that the fundamental idea uniting KCRW and SMC’s media program was that of storytelling. Together we envisioned this project as presaging a future educational model, one that leverages the possibilities of new media as a clarifying agent to shape the complex narratives of the world into a meaningful story.


We thus set to work on creating an architecture that acts as the narrative vehicle, binding the campus into a sequence of experiences that present education as a progressive cycle, which tells the story of this campus from the first day of college on into the professional workplace. Three campus buildings, all opening onto a central orienting courtyard, embody this cycle of education, as in follows:

1. Existing Media Technology building: arrival point + incubator for ideas.
This building, slated for a complete interior redesign, consists of instructional classrooms and offices deployed along a main path, indicated by a yellow folding ribbon. Figure 2. Interior glass walls maximize transparency into classroom spaces, thereby exhibiting ideas-in-formation.


2. New Media Technology Addition: experimentation + discovery.
The ribbon continues into this building, wherein students can explore and test their ideas in professional-grade production spaces. A film studio, screening room, student radio station, newspaper lab, control rooms, and editing workbays give students the tools to realize and exhibit their work.


3. New KCRW building: maturity + real-world application.
KCRW is a professional center for the convergence of media, and is the logical endpoint for this narrative sequence of learning. Characterized by a similar internal path and open, visible workspaces, KCRW will share resources with SMC to encourage reciprocal education.


4. Courtyard: creative arena.
The “glue” between these experiences is the courtyard, which, via a café, supportive landscaping, and event infrastructure, enables all programs to publicly converge into a single creative community.

By co-locating the nascent realm of academia with the applied realm of the professional workplace, a new kind of community arises, one that approaches creative work not unlike a medieval guild, albeit with digital tools. Our architecture provides an armature for this new guild-like hybrid. Openness, transparency, spaces for interaction, flexible workspace and places for exhibition are the architectural means we’ve invented for breaking down the barriers between school and the office. The new campus will thus be an experiment in synergies: diverse disciplines will converge within a village-like clustering, and work together to illuminate the stories of our world.