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Newest UC San Diego Student Apartments: Green, Urban, Views, Amenities, Affordable

Stylish 'downtown loft' styled apartments for graduate students named after UC San Diego benefactor Rita Atkinson

Sept. 30, 2010

By Rex Graham

Rita Atkinson Housing
Watch a video about the Rita Atkinson Residences

Graduate students are the worker bees of every great research university, and 450 of them this week moved into a new, uber-stylish hive with architectural style, creature comforts and conveniences with an affordable monthly rent. The Rita Atkinson Residences project in a tree-lined nook of the UC San Diego campus features a “green roof,” dozens of luxury-apartment amenities and a pair of meditation labyrinths tucked into quiet outdoor alcoves.

Graduate students enrolled in everything from electrical engineering and theatre and dance to physics, neuroscience and biology in September moved into “The Rita,” named in honor of the wife of former UC San Diego Chancellor Richard Atkinson, also the former president of the 10-campus University of California system. The Atkinsons donated $5.7 million to support fellowships for graduate students at the university.

The residents of The Rita will study and perform research on the UC San Diego campus where 60 percent of its doctoral programs are among the top 20 programs in their fields nationwide, according to a comprehensive assessment by the National Research Council released Sept. 28.

Rita Atkinson Housing
Each two-bedroom apartment in the Rita Atkinson Residences includes furniture and Energy Star appliances and features such as granite counters and low-flow water fixtures.

"These graduate students will do more than soak up knowledge from faculty: they’re creating it, and in the process they are originating new academic disciplines, new ways to see and interact with the world, and even new ways to deal with the energy crisis,” said Kim Barrett, dean of Graduate Studies at UC San Diego. “I’m optimistic that the graduate student fellowships made possible by the generous gift of the Atkinsons, combined with convenient, affordable on-campus housing will enhance UC San Diego’s ability to compete for the best and brightest graduate students in the nation.”

The Rita is not your parent’s college dorm. Recycling and energy, resource and transportation efficiencies are built in:

  • All appliances are Energy Star rated and the modern light fixtures use low-wattage fluorescents.
  • Floors are polished concrete; there is no carpeting to eventually replace.
  • All water fixtures are low-flow and the landscaping requires little irrigation.
  • The building has pairs of refuse chutes – one for waste, the other for recyclables.
  • The fourth-floor laundry and gym are conveniently located adjacent to the outdoor green roof.
  • All 226 apartments are fully furnished and include amenities such as granite countertops, cable hookups, and modern-design furniture, including beds with underside storage.
  • There are conference, study and meeting rooms and a courtyard barbeque area where friends and colleagues can talk, relax and eat.
  • The development is within walking distance to dozens of research labs and classrooms as well as mass transit stops and a nearby mall, grocery store and restaurants.
  • The exterior includes eye-catching architectural flourishes and acrylic elastomeric stucco and glazing.
  • The project, like other new student housing projects recently completed or under construction, includes no parking lot. Instead, mass transit and a wide range of alternative transportation services will be provided to the tenants.

This project is all about our students: the design, location, price and conveniences will address students’ input in several customer-satisfaction surveys,” said Mark Cunningham, executive director of UC San Diego’s Department of Housing Dining and Hospitality. “In addition, this project took advantage of historically low interest rates for project financing and an extremely competitive construction environment to keep costs down.

The Chicago-based architect Valerio DeWalt Train Associates designed a single building of 164,454 assignable square feet composed of two L-shaped wings, one seven stories tall and the other nine stories. The project, which is financed by low-interest University of California bonds, will be paid off entirely by rental income.

Rita Atkinson Housing
The new Rita Atkinson Residences houses 452 graduate and professional students.

The construction team plans to apply for LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Gold certification thanks to 43 features that the U.S. Green Building Council rates as significant contributors to a sustainable design. The green features include reuse and recycling of construction-site materials, energy efficiency, daylight and outdoor views for 90 percent of interior building spaces, low-emitting paint, adhesives and other materials, low-flow water fixtures and water-efficient landscaping and even retention of rain water rather than letting it become storm runoff.

The Rita acts as a focal point with an implied symmetry on a larger geographical scale, forming the terminus of the future academic mall on the medical campus. The symmetry is deconstructed at the new project’s two “L” shaped residential wings. A green roof, designed to act as a gathering space, aligns with the mall elevation, further reinforcing the symmetrical connection.

The general contractor for the project was Webcor Builders, a San Mateo, Calif.-based company with a regional office in San Diego. Webcor, Valerio DeWalt Train architects and UC San Diego project managers used a so-called design-build process that enabled all parties to collaborate closely on scheduling, coordination and agree on the inevitable changes. The process allowed the team to kept construction costs down and accelerated construction to the degree that students were able to move into the apartments one year ahead of schedule.

“From the lead contractor and architect down to the concrete workers, electricians and other trade workers, everybody felt a deep sense of pride in the finished product,” said Boone Hellmann, campus architect and associate vice chancellor of design and construction for UC San Diego. “This building may be a mere student-housing project, but it’s a marvel of design, teamwork and craftsmanship that the university and greater San Diego also can be very proud of.”


Media Contacts:
Rex Graham, 858-534-5952, ragraham@ucsd.edu

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