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ALISO VIEJO, CA-Designed as a hilltop village in Tuscany, Soka University of America is scheduled to complete construction of the first phase of its campus here by the end of the year. The university’s signature structure has a 58-foot copper dome and a granite and travertine map of the world on the floor.

“The challenge we gave to the architects was we wanted the campus to complement the community in which we were situated, primarily Mediterranean architecture,” says Wendy Harder, director of community relations for SUA. “Everything was done with the thought of how it was going to affect future students. All buildings are within close proximity so that no student has to sprint across campus on a bicycle to get to class on time.” Built on 103 acres, the 18 concrete block and steel buildings in the campus’ first phase will total 750,000 sf when completed. The second phase of construction will add another 500,000 sf, including more residences, a music hall, a 2,000-seat performing arts center, masters and doctorate program buildings and a student center. In all, the campus is expected to accommodate 1,200 students when all construction is completed.

Surrounded 80% by a wilderness park, the buildings, which are located on a sloped parcel, are cut into the hillside so that the entrances are on one level and the exits on another. The buildings are built to 100-year standards and in conformity with the strongest earthquake standards in the country. There is an Ethernet system in place and 4,000 computer ports on campus, with raised floors in every building to adapt to advances in technology.

In addition to housing the one-stop admissions center, as well as the community relations and finance departments, Founders Hall will be the home to an 8,000-sf art gallery with an atrium, featuring a glance-up 98 feet to the copper dome roof. Under that dome is a series of windows that are computer controlled and powered by a wind vane on top of the building. The system operates as an air evacuation and emergency smoke evacuation system that is the first of its type in the nation. A similar system is already in use in Europe.

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