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HOK’s Renovation of Caltech’s Linde Hall of Math and Physics Is Far From Formulaic

Interior Design explores HOK’s design of a new home for the math and physics departments at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Excerpted from Interior Design:

HOK’s project entailed completely renovating the 1922 building’s three main levels, transforming part of the 1931 wing’s top level into an auditorium, and replacing all mechanicals, electricity, and plumbing. All told, it came to 27,000 square feet. An endowment from an alum trustee and his wife was the catalyst. Ergo the new name, the Ronald and Maxine Linde Hall of Mathematics and Physics.

Gutted to the slabs, then rebuilt, interiors boast private offices for the departments’ professors and postdoctoral candidates as well as shared offices for graduate students. [Senior Design Professional] Mike Goetz’s planning intermingled these offices on every level of the 1922 building, alongside classrooms and conference rooms. But here the scheme departs from the norm, a response to input from the professors that he had interviewed. “They were thinking outside the box, looking to teach in different ways. They were the most receptive to new ideas of any client I’ve ever had,” he says.

Because the physical act of crossing an office threshold is inherently intimidating, suggesting a specific ask or mission, he provided plenty of spaces where faculty and students could meet serendipitously, without structure or intent. It starts just inside the entry, where lounge chairs in an eye-catching chartreuse gather in a circle near a chartreuse alcove—a hangout for all passers, not just official visitors. On two, a hallway widens to accommodate a seating niche wrapped in perforated felt in contrasting chartreuse and lime green.

With pragmatic and historic aspects squared away, he added a touch of levity. That would be a pervasive program of graphics hinting at math nuances. For example, the entry’s floating ceiling is downlit to emphasize cutouts representing the transcendental number pi. Frosted film on glass walls alludes to geometric forms. One iteration, fronting a graduate-student office, is Caltech orange. Even a coffee bar references sine waves, via wall tiles. Given the profusion of pattern, the pops of color, and the prevailing openness, graduate-level math might not be so forbidding after all.

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