NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center

A world‑class scientific research facility inspired by the dramatic topography of La Jolla's coast.

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s La Jolla Laboratory represents a site-specific approach to sustainable design, with architectural features that set a local benchmark for energy efficiency and connect scientists to the environment they are so dedicated to preserving. Challenged to relocate an existing facility threatened by coastal erosion, the new laboratory appears to grow from the surrounding bluffs.

Site‑driven design

The laboratory nestles into a site that is situated on a prominent hairpin curve and includes about 100 feet of grade change. The design draws inspiration from the topography of the site and La Jolla Canyon, a submarine canyon that is half a mile out into the Pacific Ocean and is critical for the researchers’ work.

The programs were stacked to fit within the site, with the more daylight-intensive programs strategically positioned on the upper levels. The floor levels were then offset to allow more daylight and natural ventilation into the interior. The angle of the offsets were determined by orienting towards the best views of the California coastline. Open courtyards were cut into the middle of the offices, creating a strong connection to nature and providing researchers with the health and wellness benefits of biophilic design.

Image of woman sitting in a green courtyard and two women walking on the pathways of NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center

From the beginning of the process, it became clear that what mattered to the researchers as much as labs and offices were the spaces of serendipity—pathways and courtyards where scientists could connect and collaborate.

Through its siting, materiality and use of green space, the five-story building never appears larger than three stories from the exterior or to the scientists who work there, helping to foster a feeling of scientific community.

The building forges a symbiotic relationship to the local ecosystem by honoring coastal landscape and local building materials. A minimal palette of terra cotta, stucco, and concrete is enhanced with green roofs to encourage outdoor activity on all levels. Sunshades manage sunlight in office spaces and rooftop photovoltaic panels drive down energy costs by upwards of 70%.

Image showing how the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science center fits into the coastal bluff with green rooftops and photovoltaic panels
Image of a scientist in laboratory looking out the large windows letting in an abundance of natural daylight

Conservation, documentation & research

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center employs marine biologists, ecologists, economists, engineers, geneticists, librarians, oceanographers, and researchers, all working in tandem. Conservation, documentation, and research are at the core of their mission. Our design process engaged with all of these entities to provide a building that is grounded in its location and driven in its purpose.

Outreach & education

The Southwest Fisheries Science Center’s La Jolla Laboratory is located on the campus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Although the laboratory is a professional research facility, it supports educational opportunities for all—from early learners to postgraduates to educators and industry professionals.

The new facility really complements our work, and I think that the architects have done a marvelous job at capturing the way we work and have provided the functionality that we need in the technical aspects of the building. Roger Hewitt Assistant Director, Southwest Fisheries Science Center
La Jolla, CA
124,000 sq.ft.
Sustainable Design
The Chicago Athenaeum
American Architecture Award
AIA Kansas
Citation Award ‑ Excellence in Architecture
AIA Louisiana
Merit Award
AIA Kansas City
Merit Award ‑ Design Excellence
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Assassi Productions
Multistudio asterisk