CarrierJohnson + CULTURE, a global architecture and interior design firm, has earned a top design award and wide praise for its recently completed, 36,000-square-foot science center at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) in San Diego. The innovative design, marked by a curved stainless-steel environmental screen and its prominent coastal site, has become a memorable home for the university’s rapidly growing and acclaimed interdisciplinary science program, unifying modern Christian values with a broad curriculum and state-of-the-art technology, laboratories, and classrooms.
In recent days, the PLNU Science Center has garnered major honors and kudos including a grand award in the 53rd annual Gold Nugget Awards, handed out at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco. The jury commended the building’s laser-cut metal screen, which becomes a “textured beacon at night,” adding “that screen is more than just a showpiece. The perforations create a lovely, dappled indoor-outdoor space that begins to define a series of outdoor paths that give access to the 13 cleanly designed new classrooms and lab spaces. The glazed volumes show rigorous detailing and sit lightly in the landscape, making this a standout.”
For its part, university leaders have commended the new academic landmark for supporting “excellent teaching, careful mentoring, and hands-on learning, the hallmarks of the PLNU Science Program,” said University President, Dr. Bob Brower. “These inimitable characteristics, coupled with this new, innovative facility, enable our science program to reach new heights and support the continued success of PLNU science faculty and students.”
The building project is an important addition both architecturally and academically, according to Ray Varela, architect in charge for Carrier Johnson + CULTURE. “New majors and collaborative research opportunities are housed in the new two-story science complex,” Varela adds. “This is a significant expansion to the academic space at Point Loma Nazarene University, which is known for its excellent science department and successful student placements in medical schools.”
For a Christian university touting its leading scientific curriculum, the team at Carrier Johnson + CULTURE developed a memorable and powerful architectural gesture. Under the direction of founding principal Gordon R. Carrier, FAIA, the project team designed the new facility to connect to the existing Rohr Science building, which will be completed in the next phase. The resulting complex will have an elevated walkway leading to a patio, with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.
Yet the design concept is relatively simple: Two walls and a roof of concrete frame a cube of crystalline glass. To subtly consecrate its Christian foundations, a long arc of perforated stainless-steel panels spans the length the new building, says Varela, “filtering sun and shade into a common area in a subtle echo of the qualities one finds in a cathedral space,” he says. The metal panels also protect the floor-to-ceiling glass enclosing classrooms and labs, cutting the sun’s glare and heat. Illuminated from behind at night, radiating out “the light of scientific inquiry and discovery,” Carrier adds. 
In between the new and old science centers, Carrier Johnson + CULTURE designed an outdoor classroom, a useful space in reliably temperate San Diego. Below the four classrooms are 13 advanced labs for biology, chemistry and anatomy, all part of Point Loma Nazarene University’s mission to spark scientific discovery and the spirit of service. Initial feedback from students and faculty has been overwhelmingly positive.
Since the 1970s, Point Loma Nazarene University has been planning for a major science center, and in the intervening time they have done much with less, earning a strong national reputation for science education. Since 2004, over 90 percent of PLNU students who applied for admission to medical, dental, optometry, pharmacy, and veterinary schools have been admitted. This year the school earned a major six-figure grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support undergraduate scholarships for students in the STEM disciplines -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- who also minor in computational science while undergraduates at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU).
The new science center has been called one of the most significant capital campaigns for the campus in years and fittingly it is now seen as the new heart of the campus. Next year a chapel designed by CarrierJohnson + CULTURE is scheduled to open on campus as well.
In the meantime, the significance of the new science center has become a part of the campus discussion of science and religion. Kerry Fulcher, PLNU’s academic chief, recently said, “The solar feature conveys both the value and the limitations of science in the world where our graduates will live and work. The light and shadows in the space in between the screen and the building itself creates a dynamic liminal -- a transition space that symbolizes mystery and overlapping boundaries between what is known and what is unknown.”