College of the Desert: Palm Springs Development Project

The Palm Springs Development Project (PSDP) will be a regional center of innovation distinguished by its strong community, multivalent program, and striking setting in the Coachella Valley. Student-centric and community-rich, the PSDP features a variety of teaching and learning opportunities rooted in discovery for a diverse group of learners, mostly students of Hispanic and Latino origin, including many part-time and first-generation students.

With a variety of choices for how to learn, work, relax, recreate, and socialize, the PSDP will be less ivory tower, more learning marketplace—and a marketplace it is. The multifaceted program includes general classrooms, an events center, a culinary institute, a lobby, a student health clinic, screening rooms, a flexible performance space, sound editing labs, dry labs, a maker space, a woodshop, and studios for architecture, recording, and film.

Like great marketplaces, one’s choices are clear and plentiful, with hints of adventure propelled by wandering and social life. Choice is baked into the DNA of the campus, suggesting that multiple career pathways can be taken. This strategy manifests in three main ways. 1) circulation largely happens outside, with multiple paths of discovery. The pathways are activated by different moments, or nodes, for learning and socializing; 2) highly active spaces, like events and food, were dispersed throughout the campus, compelling students to wander and discover, avoiding a single prescribed pathway; and 3) learning and opportunities are on display throughout the campus, from windows that show what’s happening inside labs to large-scale digital displays about campus events and building performance. In addition, many activities take place outside traditional classrooms, providing visual representation of the diverse learning opportunities.

Located on the southern edge of the campus and adjacent to a new transit stop, The Accelerator is the instructional heart of campus. The Accelerator welcomes all—students, industry partners, and the broader community—to collaborate on projects that spur the local economy. Evoking great public forums that attract both locals and visitors alike, the Accelerator is flexible and open; chance meetings occur and offerings unfold as one moves through the space. The Culinary Institute is situated just north of the Accelerator, connecting it with the Events Center. A variety of classrooms, labs, and informal social spaces—all tech-enabled, multi-use and highly flexible—connect the dots.

Design of the PSDP advances Palm Spring’s legacy of Mid-Century Modernism, taking cues from Coachella Valley’s dramatic desert context. The building is organized and oriented to maximize views of the San Jacinto Mountains while optimizing indoor comfort and energy efficiency. Clear lines, organic forms, a low profile, and a long roof create a distinct architectural identity while providing much needed shade. The long roof is punctuated by the Events Center, which anchors a prominent street corner, creating a sense of arrival and welcome to the community. Highly identifiable architectural elements—such as a palm bark-inspired screen—define key entries and circulation moments. Structural tree-like columns support the long sweeping roof, also punctuating major moments and gathering of entry along the project. In true Palm Springs spirit, an outdoor lifestyle pervades. A series of formal and informal paths and gathering spaces knit the campus together while fostering a sense of community.

The PSDP campus is designed to cater to a population of learners—many who already carry part- or full-time jobs—who may enter professional programs without a predetermined career path. Multiple paths of discovery are encouraged, creating an environment where students can explore and pursue their interests freely. The campus will be an economic catalyst where students gain skills, advance their careers, and return as professionals to innovate anew —a boomerang effect, or virtuous cycle, of entrepreneurship and innovation.


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