Exterior shot of the new Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studio

Climate control is an expensive component in relation to the infrastructure of classrooms, art studios, and exhibition halls. Most of these institutions spend a pretty penny maintaining the temperature within their confines as a way to protect the pieces and provide comfort for the artists. But one vintage warehouse in Los Angeles has implemented a sustainable way to protect the art and lower the carbon footprint, all while aiming for a prestigious LEED certification.

Once a 21,200-square-foot industrial wallpaper factory, the building now houses the Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studio, a UCLA-based gallery and art center where students study art, architecture, and design. In September, the now 48,000-square-foot campus held a grand opening to reveal all the renovations that had been made to the space.

Inside the new Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studio

Designed by Los Angeles-based architecture firm Johnston Marklee and led by architect Sharon Johnston, the updated campus is now open for classes beginning with fall term 2019. It boasts 42 different studios and labs where students can focus on computer-aided graphics, ceramics, photography, and more. The upstairs houses a studio apartment loft for the live-in artist’s residence. The designers planned the area to allow for both personal work space and public spaces where art can be shared and evaluated by others.

With sustainability in mind, the architects also designed the campus to be LEED Gold certified — a certification that recognizes materials and projects aimed at energy savings, water efficiency, carbon emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources, and sensitivity to their impacts.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally-recognized independent green building verification organization. A gold certification means that the building’s design has earned high marks for efficient use of resources and a healthier environment for residents.

Students mingle in one of the Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studio's public areas.

In the case of UCLA’s Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studios, that meant using passive means instead of energy-consumptive technology. To achieve this goal, “innovative building systems and elemental materials [were] distilled towards a holistic and efficient structure rather than adding layers of sustainable technology.”

Starting with the exterior walls, the architects replaced the original materials with concrete, finishing them with a special technique that eliminates the need for waterproofing and insulation, and leaves a very small construction footprint, to boot. On the inside, workshops are basically open-air courtyards that allow for natural airflow under the protection of the structure. Relying on the temperate weather of southern California minimizes the need for expensive and consumptive heating and cooling systems.

Exterior shot of the new Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studio

The campus project was funded by alumni Margo Leavin in 2016. Her $20 million gift provided the means to not only develop a program in her vision, but also to place it on a campus that encompasses a view of both sustainable schooling and art production.

Margo Leavin at the opening of UCLA's Margo Leavin Graduate Art Studio

Leavin said in a recent statement: “I’m grateful that my career in the Los Angeles art world has afforded me the opportunity to support those at the very heart of this community: artists. The students, alumni, and faculty from the art department at UCLA shape the future of the arts in Los Angeles and beyond. It would be my wish that others who are passionate about the future of the arts — especially other women who have enjoyed professional success — will join me in harnessing their resources to benefit those who are still developing their creative practices. We need to remember that without artists, there would be no art world.”