Author: Betsey Olenick Dougherty, FAIA, LEED AP
The Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies, a sustainable research community located at the Cal Poly Pomona campus, grew from a graduate student endeavor led by Landscape Architecture Professor John Lyle, FASLA. Professor Lyle had established the Land Lab on campus, a small hands-on museum and research facility humbly housed in a relocatable building with an adjacent solar array atop an adjacent hillside. The Land Lab program included a group of visionary professors and consultants, including Gregg Ander of Southern California Edison, and Barry Wasserman, FAIA, later to serve as California State Architect, bringing an agenda of energy efficient design to Sacramento. Then Dean of the College of Environmental Design, Professor Marvin Malecha, FAIA, was an active participant in the evolution of this program. The Land Lab curriculum, catering to graduate students, developed a programmatic outline for the design of a residential research community focused upon regenerative studies. Regeneration was envisioned to surpass sustainability and to study contemporary solutions to environmental survival and regeneration. The goals of this program, with results published in 1987, pre-dated methods of measurement that we use today. They also pre-dated the evolution of sustainable methods of design and construction, and challenged the thinking of the time. Following the publication of the graduate student studio collaboration, Professor Lyle pursued funding opportunities to bring his vision to reality. That funding resulted in a number of grants that led to the State University approval of the concept to move forward. A qualification based selection process would lead to the release of a Request for Qualifications for an architect to join the team to translate Professor Lyle’s graduate student studio into a new home for environmental research.
Dougherty + Dougherty Architects was founded by partners Betsey Olenick Dougherty, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, and Brian P. Dougherty, FAIA, LEED AP BD+C, in 1979. As graduate students in Architecture at U.C. Berkeley in 1973-75, Betsey and Brian focused upon the design of passive and active design strategies to address the environmental performance of educational and institutional buildings. Their first project was a passive solar home in Southern California that implemented many of the concepts that they had explored, and that informed their portfolio of work. The firm was nearing their ten year anniversary when the California State University Pomona released the Request for Qualifications for the Institute for Regenerative Studies. It was the first time that the firm recognized that an owner was proactively looking for the principals that the firm was promoting and implementing. It was too good to be true, and Partner Betsey Olenick Dougherty pursued the opportunity with passion. The scenario was to include a collaborative team from the University and from Southern California Edison to design a community that would represent a new direction in education and regenerative research. It was a ground-breaking concept that captured the imagination of everyone involved. Based upon the firm’s emphasis in energy efficient design, Dougherty + Dougherty was selected to join the team in 1989.
An actively engaged and collaborative group of professors and consultants came together to literally explore new ground. This group was ably led by Landscape Architecture Professor John Lyle, and Dean Marvin Malecha. The concept of a sustainable, regenerative, residential research community was a new model, and certainly new to the California State University. The rolling undeveloped site adjacent to the University was identified, in the small valley between the Land Lab and the Los Angeles County Spandra Landfill. The land, dotted with California Walnut trees, fell within the methane creep zone of the landfill, and was bisected by a subterranean main line Metropolitan Water District easement. The regulatory issues related to the discovery of these conditions was just the tip of the iceberg, and Dougherty + Dougherty quickly found their role to be “vision meets reality.”
The program developed by Professor Lyle and his Graduate Studio included phased development to come along as funding became available, with the goal of an eventual residential population of 100 students and faculty. Programmed buildings included the dining/multi-purpose hall and kitchen, the first student housing building, a faculty housing building, and an administration/ laboratory/classroom building. Future phases were envisioned to include additional classrooms, a lecture hall, additional faculty offices, additional student housing, and a library. All buildings in Phase One were to have a subterranean methane detection system linked to the fire and life safety system. Initial site development included the fundamental implementation of agricultural lands that would benefit from the new chain of reclaimed-water based aquaculture ponds that would enrich the source of irrigation and close the water loop. Reality struck with the necessity for a fire truck path of travel and turn around between buildings, including a significant underground “bridge” over the LADWP water easement. Traditional utilities were extended onto this undeveloped site with the intent that one day the entire facility would be “off grid.”
At the California State University Board of Trustees meeting, the approval of the project was riddled with conversations about creating mosquito ponds, with a genuine concern for student safety and supervision. In a leap of faith, primarily due to the level of private funding successfully pursued to make this project real, the motion was approved and the team moved forward to construction document preparation, bid, and construction award. Writing the technical specification pushed the envelope of the time. Most construction materials did not address environmental issues, and research resulted in making the best of what was available. Engineered building systems explored new passive and innovatively active systems to provide tempered air and light. Construction practices in the field were closely monitored, and a willing contractor, subcontractors and suppliers did their best to meet the expectations of this rather non-traditional client and architect, and their crazy but always interesting project. As Phase I was being completed, additional funding was procured for Phase II, and the next phase of construction closely followed the first to add lecture room, larger classrooms and faculty offices to the permanent buildings. Concurrently, students were diving in to add features to the site, including a straw bale building, experimental solar ovens, added solar panels, patterned paving from concrete rubble, and a compost pile over the water easement (a political statement).
Upon the completion of Phases I and II, the program opened to a high level of interest and commitment from students, faculty, and the University. The potential for a multi-disciplinary and innovative graduate program was compelling, and the University elevated the “Institute for Regenerative Studies” to the “Center for Regenerative Studies”, initiating an interdisciplinary Master’s Degree on the subject, and catapulting the campus into the spotlight. The off-campus-campus soon was named for it’s founder, and became the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies. It then became one of the first “Top 10 Green Buildings” by the U.S. Department of Energy, the initiator of the SCE Savings by Design program, and winner of the AIACC Nathaniel Owens Award.
Every architect has to “let go” of their favorite projects once complete. But this project was snatched from the hands of its architects, and rapidly spun into the arms of a creative and growing group of faculty and students that pushed every envelope and literally turned over every stone. Often Betsey Olenick Dougherty was invited to visit, and sometimes initiated site visits of her own. It has been a wonderful opportunity to watch John Lyle’s vision take shape. It has also been a rare opportunity to, twenty years later, collaborate with Director and Professor Kyle Brown, original faculty members Hofu Wu and Pablo La Roche, and former Cal Poly Pomona Dean Marvin Malecha to look back at our journey, and to look forward to the future. Southern California Edison Savings by Design leader Diane McLean, AIA, began her sustainability career as the Dougherty + Dougherty Project Manager for the Lyle Center. Years later, she remains an advocate of the SCE incentive program, and has returned to join in the 20th Anniversary celebration.
So the questions remain: Are we still relevant? What does our future hold? What is our unrealized potential and how do we get there? How and what do we teach? How do we reach out to the greater community?
Other very compelling questions include: How to we fund and support our 20-year-old infrastructure? How do we address our long term maintenance issues within the framework of a public university? How does it differ from conventional construction? What are the lessons learned for survival issues and for the future of a regenerative society?
Together, we will pursue the answers to these questions, and continue to take the path less traveled.