Process of Illumination

College of the Desert’s newest facility celebrates the school’s midcentury design and aims to shed light on the arts

Ashley Breeding Modernism 0 Comments

The new Visual Arts Building at College of the Desert is a 13,700-square-foot structure.
Photo by Daniel Chavkin


When architect John Carl Warnecke sought inspiration for College of the Desert’s original campus design in the 1950s, the area was abundant with date palm trees.

He mimicked their physical form in his work, evident in the curvature of the colonnade as well as the beautiful light and shadow created by the canopies.

“When designing this Visual Arts Building, we wanted to relate the architecture of the new building to the old campus in a fresh, contemporary way,” says architect Darren Adkisson of Los Angeles firm Perkins+Will, who envisioned and executed the plan for COD’s latest addition, which opens this fall and houses studios for 2-D drawing and painting, 3-D sculpture, printmaking, digital and print photography, and ceramics.

“We tried to refresh the idea of the palms and what it’s like to experience light among them," says Adkisson.

Perforated metal panels on all sides of the 13,700-square-foot structure produce dappled light, like that scattered in a date palm forest, within the interior classrooms and breezeway. Constructed from aluminum, the panels protect the walls from sun exposure, thereby reducing heat absorption and cooling costs.

“This translates into savings for the district,” Adkisson adds. The more affordable earth-tone stucco Adkisson employed on the exterior resembles the concrete used in Warnecke’s midcentury structures.

The interior — featuring raw concrete flooring, stark-white walls, and ample natural light in every space — is intended to be functional for art students.

“We designed the building to expose the art-making process,” says Adkisson, who made the main lobby — utilized as an art gallery — and courtyard visible to student passers-by. This allows students in other fields of study to come upon art students creating their pieces and perhaps become intrigued by the process.

Leave a Reply