September 18, 2019



The 12,000-square-foot Orange Coast College (OCC) Planetarium was designed to replace a 35-person, 1950’s-era planetarium. The new planetarium includes a 129-seat Dome Theater featuring a 50-foot projection screen; a Foucault Pendulum demonstrating the rotation of the Earth, an interactive science exhibit hall; National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) “Science on a Sphere” globe to assist students in understanding complex environmental processes; and general public and administrative staff spaces.

As Structural Engineer of Record on the $23 million Planetarium project, MHP’s design approach capitalized on the structural integrity of a concrete dome as the building’s anchor. By integrating this key architectural feature into the structural system, cost efficiency was enhanced by solving critical architectural and structural design needs with a single element. “Orange Coast College gave the project team creative license to think beyond our ‘planetary boundaries’ in creating an iconic building on campus and experiment with structural systems for design efficiency,” says MHP Principal, Ken O’Dell.

The structurally complex building features curved structural steel framed roofs radiating from the central concrete planetarium dome. A 40-foot tall steel framed pendulum tower is impressively supported on the roof without the aid of columns below. Skylights line the edge of the concrete dome which, while complicating the roof structure by eliminating the diaphragm connectivity, create interesting architectural lighting dynamics as shadows play across the exposed dome.


“The OCC Planetarium project showcases MHP’s ability to embrace opportunities through effective collaboration between designers, reviewers, and builders to create a STEM learning destination for students and the greater community,” says O’Dell. “Our team continually works to improve structural design efficiency in support of the unique needs of our clients and we are honored to be recognized as innovators in our field.”

The OCC Planetarium project team included HPI Architecture (architect), Kitchell CEM (construction manager) and M.S. Construction (general contractor). “While the EiSE Awards recognize structural engineers, we have the entire team to thank for this project’s success,” says O’Dell.