The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Plaza del Sol stylish addition to CSUN

Where once there was only the noise and dust of construction, now there is a modern student center: the Plaza del Sol.

“Futuristic” is how Mitch Lozada, who is majoring in information systems, describes the new USU. “The place is awesome, very open. It makes me think, ‘Wow, I’m happy to be at CSUN,'” he said. He now spends about five hours a week in the center.

Once upon a time, three years ago to be exact, the space would have appealed to Socrates. It had a sunken amphitheater and covered walkways wound with vines. Now, rather than looking to the past, the University Student Union reaches toward tomorrow.

Glass, metal and concrete make up today’s USU. Large green-tinted windows make the most of Southern California’s abundant sunshine, while sheets of dark corrugated metal add texture to otherwise flat surfaces.

“From an engineering point of view, I kind of like things where the form expresses the function,” said Dr. Roger Di Julio, professor of structural mechanics and civil engineering. Di Julio and several of his colleagues go to the new Freudian Sip every day. “We always look forward to going there,” he said.

The outsides of the buildings are painted in alternating dark and light grays, blending with the concrete plaza. On the walls of the Sol Center itself, the paint creates the illusion of shadows, aligning with the palm trees planted right in front. Green trim, intended to match the green of the copper roofs, gives a bit of relief from all of the gray.

“The green accents make it distinct, more noticeable rather than just blending in,” said Lozada.

CSUN buildings certainly aren’t worried about blending in. Each one has a design all its own; Manzanita Hall was inspired by the Titanic, the Art and Design Center is full of bright colors and angles, and Santa Susana Hall was designed by someone who usually worked with prisons (great courtyard, though).

“(The USU) fits in with the hodgepodge,” said Di Julio. His wife, Dr. Shoeleh Di Julio, would rather the campus find a design and stick with it.

Since every building is different, “it looks like it just popped out of nowhere. They should create some kind of homogeneity,” she said. Shoeleh teaches in the mechanical engineering department.

The buildings making up the USU match, despite the lack of a theme for the rest of the university.

“It’s more than a complex of buildings. It’s really a village,” said Brent Miller, the studio lead for higher education at Harley Ellis Devereaux, the firm that handled phase two of the renovation. The paint scheme really tied the whole complex together, and the Sol Center was the final link, Miller said.

The inside of the Sol Center sticks with the modern design. Large glass windows make up entire walls, and glass makes its way inside as well. Every door in the Sol Center is framed on three sides by glass, with the same intention of making the most of naturally available light.

The use of natural light and the switch to a boiler/chiller system for heating and cooling are both convenient and cost effective.

“It’s keeping our bills lower; that’s money we can spend on students,” said Jason Wang, the associate director of operations and services for the USU. The Sol Center’s energy use is 27 percent more efficient than state mandates require, he added.

“The minimal approach to the materials was also an approach to sustainability,” said Miller. The carpeting in the building contains recycled materials, and the floor in the reception area is really the original concrete base that was stained and polished.

“It was an experiment,” Wang said. “We crossed our fingers, and now we’re really pleased with it.”

Another experiment: unlike the other buildings on campus, all of the wall clocks in the Sol Center are connected by satellite, and tell the same time. Hopefully the trend will spread.

The Sol Center has a state-of-the-art Executive Boardroom that can be reserved by students or faculty. The room is filled by a large desk that has computer access and microphones at each seat, and has a plasma television mounted on the wall for presentations or video conferencing.

Chartered clubs can use the room twice a week free of charge, Wang said. There are also smaller study rooms that are always open to students, similar to those in the Oviatt Library.

There is also a lab that houses 70 new computers. So far, Lozada has been impressed that he is always able to find an open computer, though he acknowledges that things will get tighter as midterms approach.

Lozada, Di Julio, Miller, and Wang all commented on the openness of the Plaza del Sol.

“It’s better than the original,” said Lozada. “It’s more open, spacious. Things are easily seen.”

“It invites you to come out into the center of the campus and interact with what’s there,” Di Julio said.

“The plan was to provide a variety of environments for students to participate in the learning experience,” Miller said – hence the television and study rooms in the Sol Center, tables in the Freudian Sip, and the tables out in the plaza.

“It’s an outdoor space that is really alive,” Wang said. “I’m not sure that we could ever have achieved that in the old space.”

The project is not finished yet, Wang said. Furniture is still being assembled, bike racks are on the way, and they have ports in place for increased lighting in the plaza. There are plans to expand the seating area in front of the Freudian Sip, and they are looking to improve the Fitness Center.

“We’ll always be working on something,” Wang said.

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