Dome Takes Art to New Heights

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Drivers along Verdugo Road find their gaze attracted to Glendale College’s most prominent new landmark: the colorful tile-capped dome of the Cimmarusti Science Center Planetarium.

The multicolored and eye-catching tiles can be seen
from various vantage points on campus, which was the intention of dome designer Robert Kibler, a professor of art and ceramics and chair of Visual and Performing Arts on campus.

As the new science building was under construction,the architectural firm Spencer and Hoskins, asked if someone in the art department would be interested in submitting ideas for the dome design. The Campus Development Committee recommended Kibler and the project took off from there. The invitation to design the dome was a natural progression for this experienced artist.

Studying art for more than 30 years, Kibler possessed the experience and knowledge to design the planetarium. The artist prepared about 100 designs before finally selecting the one that was used.

“My inspiration for the designs I created was the beautiful architectural tile and mosaics I studied during a lengthy visit to southern Spain several years ago,” said Kibler. He related this experience to the history of this campus.

“Glendale Community College’s original campus architecture was inspired by the Spanish Revival movement, including the use of terra cotta tile roofs and the many archways,” Kibler said. “This influence was found in the first buildings on campus, the Administration and Auditorium buildings.”

Based on what he saw in Spain, and his familiarity with buildings on campus, Kibler wanted the dome to reflect the architecture of the school. He began laying out various ideas and came to a final design that complimented the campus.

The design layout began at the pinnacle of the dome.

As a functional classroom and for the science department to take advantage of, the planetarium is equipped with the SkySkan Digital Sky System, which will project the universe onto the interior of the dome. The exterior of the dome takes the beauty of the universe and transposes it to ceramic.

The dome is made of individual ceramic tiles that are 4-by-4 inches and tie in with the Malibu tile in the auditorium building. “The hallways of these earliest buildings are lined with period Malibu tile from the late ’20s and re-paved with deep terra cotta tile floors,” Kibler said. “These patterns and colors of these tile designs became the basis of my concept for the dome.”

Kibler’s inspiration for the design of the dome also derives from the eight-pointed star motif that runs as a lateral band through the campus hallways. “The use of this star as the primary design element for the dome seemed a perfect symbol to use for the planetarium since it will be used for the study of the heavens,” Kibler said.

At the base of the dome, the terra cotta and turquoise triangles replicate the colors of the earth and also to “repeat the characteristic color scheme used in all campus buildings: the terra cotta tile roofs and turquoise railings and window trims that unify the campus.”

The colors have all been chosen accordingly and give the dome a very earthy feel. Also, the azure blue of the dome along with the deep blue star are distinguished to give the effect of daytime and nighttime skies. The color yellow represents the bright light of the stars.

Translating the design from a tile, which is flat, to a dome, which is curved, was a complicated process. Kibler used Adobe Illustrator, a computer program that allows one to create shapes and draw designs.

The program was used to simulate the look of the dome. The design was worked on a flat setting most of the time, so in order to see the outcome, Kibler worked with the architects to create some simulations by projecting the design onto the curved surface. This was done in order to study it from a different angle.

Kibler wanted to make sure the design looked good from above, from eye level, from the street, and from the perspective of viewers on campus. The project was taken on as a “labor of love,” and the design took several months to perfect.

“It is my desire that the Star Dome, illuminated at night, will be seen as a beacon of light and symbolize the enlightenment that comes with education and a love of learning,” said Kibler.

The project came to fruition as the construction workers of Bow Tile Corp., Samuel Flores, Hermilo Gonzalez, Pablo Oris and Francisco Valdes, finished gluing the last pieces of tile onto the bottom portion of the dome.

The workers used a choke line, which is a rope sitting inside a powder box, to transfer the layout onto the actual dome. The choke line leaves chalk marks in the exact form of the design.

There are various other technicalities that are involved in the process, but the main step involves setting the tiles onto the dome. The product used is a multi-purpose thin-set mortar.

“We had to take the picture and digest it into a real-life deal,” Eytan Marom, the owner of the company and project manager, said.