Designing a campus is like designing a hermetic city, where individuals’ needs are completely fulfilled. Within the campus confines, students and faculty must be able to learn, teach, eat, study, rest, socialize, bank, shop, and indulge in leisure.
The earliest American campuses were rudimentary in their design and structure, although they fulfilled their multiple functions. They were sited in rural settings (to keep students free from distractions) and consisted of several humble buildings assembled around a quadrangle. Historian Henry Cleveland described Harvard's first buildings as “vast brick barns, destitute alike of symmetry, ornament, and taste; a sort of horrible regularity and squareness...which heightens their deformity.”
Eventually, as colleges grew in size and prestige, their planners became interested in making architectural statements about their institutions’ raison d'etre. In the early 19th Century, Eastern campuses suddenly became populated with Greek Revival edifices — two-story rectilinear buildings with Doric-columned porches, which supposedly demonstrated the American institutions' philosophical ties to Greco-Roman heritage, democracy, wisdom, and independence. Several decades later, Gothic Revival would become popular on campuses for its monumental scale and Medieval allegories, which denoted permanence, endurance, and respectability. By the mid- 19th Century, students could attend classes in buildings that looked like Greek temples and Gothic churches.
In the 1890s, a final "Edifice Complex” befell American campuses. “Beaux Arts fever” — an obsession with ponderous, large-scale, domed-and-portico’d buildings — had already stricken America’s landscape. Banks, churches, office buildings, libraries, even railroad stations resembled variations of the White House. University architects also seized upon the style to add formality, pomp, and circumstance to their campuses. Their Beaux Arts constructions attracted philanthropic benefactors who believed the Brobdingnagian Beaux Arts style was a perfect vehicle for ensuring their architectural immortality. These early-20th century captains of industry endowed schools with unprecedented financial gifts — some more than $1 million — with instructions to erect imposing Beaux Arts monuments in their name. Many, such as the generous gentleman who offered Harvard $1 million to create a “Turkish-style dormitory” in his honor (Harvard declined), intentionally sought to have buildings constructed that would clash with all others, both in size and style.
University administrators soon realized that, due to the meteoric increase in student populations and the dwindling acreage available to accommodate them, they would have to plan their spaces carefully. “Linear planning” — organizing campuses' mammoth buildings-as-sculptures (which often clashed in scale and design) into predictable grid patterns — came into vogue. Here in California, UCSD’s older sisters, UCLA and U.C. Berkeley, were designed in this way: their campuses were plotted on rigid grids; their buildings were systematically arranged around axial courtyards.
Modern architecture invaded American campuses in the 1930s, when many university designers chose to reject the vaunted traditional Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Beaux Arts styles for more “humanist” and functional designs. Inspired by French architect Le Corbusier, these architects first experimented with "International Style” creations — sleek metal-and-glass-skinned boxes with repetitious cell-like interior spaces — that sometimes caused great dismay to conservative administrators. In 1938, Frank Lloyd Wright further impacted campus architecture when he designed Florida Southern College, a collection of erratically shaped buildings grouped in casual, nonlinear, and irregular spaces. Wright's project was a harbinger of things to come at post-World War II-era campuses such as U.C. Irvine, U.C. Santa Cruz, and UCSD.
The three U.C. campuses were designed with “movement” in mind — thousands of baby-boomer students and hundreds of their cars moving through the campuses' environments. Access roads, parking structures, and walkways now influenced (and sometimes dictated) building siting. The increased size of the campuses, larger than anything envisioned by 17th-century college builders, caused great concern to U.C.’s then-president Clark Kerr, who worried that the three U.C. campuses’ sprawl would make college life “impersonal and overwhelming” for students.
In 1964, Kerr seized upon the idea of “cluster colleges" — mini-campuses-within-campuses separated from each other by parkland strips but linked by rows of academic buildings, which Kerr termed “educational shopping malls.” Kerr hoped that the “cluster college" design might restore intimacy to the large U.C. settings.
UCSD actually had its beginnings much earlier than its 1960 founding. It began in a boathouse on Coronado's Glorietta Bay, nearly 60 years prior. In the early 1900s, William Ritter, a Wisconsin farmer who dabbled in marine biology, established a crude “summer research laboratory” to house his budding marine-life collection. Ritter had become enamored of San Diego and its Pacific Ocean vistas during his many marine-specimen-collecting excursions in the area. On his honeymoon, the dogged marine biologist-to-be took time away from his bride to collect samples from Glorietta Bay. Although his boat swamped and sank, Ritter vowed to establish a thriving marine institute at San Diego's shore —“the biggest thing of its kind in the world.” With San Diego physician Fred Baker, a veteran seashell collector, Ritter petitioned the University of California's then-president Benjamin Wheeler to launch an accredited marine biology program. Wheeler did not turn the two men away; rather, he suggested they try to raise $500 and secure a laboratory and requisite equipment for such a program. Ritter was able to convince newspaper magnate E.W. Scripps to donate the money (and a yacht) to the nascent marine biology program. And the owner of the Hotel Coronado granted Ritter temporary use of his Glorietta Bay boathouse.
Soon the boathouse became inadequate for Ritter's needs. Ritter again visited Scripps for another donation. This time. Scripps gave him $1000 to build new marine biological digs but warned that “any shack would do." Obligingly, Ritter erected a green wooden shanty at La Jolla Cove, a tram line destination popular with San Diego residents and tourists. Already the scenic location was luring visitors to its shores with numerous attractions: boathouse dances, glass-bottom boat rides, and even a “diving professor” who set himself afire before plunging into the water. Ritter's laboratory soon became popular with beachgoers, who examined his extensive collection of marine specimens.
In 1909, Scripps's sister, Ellen Browning Scripps, donated nearly $9700 for a larger, more permanent facility to be named the George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory, in honor of the Scrippses’ deceased older brother. Prominent local architect Irving Gill was chosen to supervise construction. The laboratory, completed the following year, was an unornamented utilitarian building of reinforced concrete that foreshadowed much of the architecture that would grace UCSD’s acres some 50 years later.
Finally, in 1912, the University of California’s regents accepted Ritter’s marine biology program into the University's curricula. Ritter's research facilities were again renamed “Scripps Institution for Biological Research” and consisted of a laboratory, public aquarium, library/museum, pier, and 24 cottages, which Ritter’s wife described as “truly masculine in their planning and lack of conveniences.” Groceries had to be delivered to the facilities once a week from town.
During the next decade, thousands of trees and shrubs were planted at the site at the order of the institute’s new director, T. Wayland Vaughan, who had labeled the grounds “in lamentable condition." The Santa Fe Railway had previously planted a eucalyptus grove on the land for potential use as railroad ties. E.W. Scripps ordered more of the trees moved to the area, where today they still flourish, guarded by environmentally conscious UCSD faculty and students.
In 1925, the institute’s name was changed yet another time to Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Although Ritter's dream institute was indeed growing in size and reputation, its physical campus remained crude and unimpressive. Six years later, architect Irving Gill’s nephew, Louis, completed the $120,000 Ritter Hall, which one former UCSD campus architect described as “largely derivative of his uncle’s prior work." The hall would be used as a research facility, office, and residence. Harald Sverdrup, one of the world’s top oceanographers at the time, was recruited to be the institute’s new director. But when Sverdrup and his wife arrived at the campus in 1936, Mrs. Sverdrup surveyed her new surroundings, which apparently compared unfavorably to her Nordic home, and burst into tears.
UCSD formally emerged as a college campus in 1960, when its first director, Roger Revelle, announced intentions to erect an “academic city on a hill” in La Jolla, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The San Diego City Council had offered to donate to the university “certain city-owned lands” for the development of an “Institute for Pure and Applied Physics” and an “Institute for Mechanics.” The largesse included two World War II Marine bases, whose barracks were eventually converted into classrooms and offices.
In keeping with UC president Clark Kerr’s vision of “academic neighborhoods,” UCSD’s 1200 acres are divided into five separate colleges, each with its own academic buildings and residence halls. Revelle College has an open plaza plan. Its buildings are predominantly exposed-concrete forms. Muir College, which was built as a single project in 1970, boasts a series of high-rise dorms grouped about an intimate outdoor space. It is considered by some to be UCSD’s most successful architectural undertaking. Thurgood Marshall College, begun in 1979, is an amalgamation of stucco and concrete buildings, designed to appease students who had requested African mud huts and Spanish-style buildings to celebrate UCSD’s diverse ethnicity. Warren College, at the north end of campus, includes several innovative engineering buildings and Mediterranean-influenced walkways. And Eleanor Roosevelt College, the newest of UCSD’s mini-colleges, flanks the University Center, with a grouping of halls named after continents.
The “gestalt” of UCSD’s colleges is a juxtaposition of academic tradition and architectural invention. “The goal is to avoid the two extremes— total anarchy from building designs that are all different and oppressive homogeneity from buildings that all look the same," says UCSD Materials Science Professor Lea Rudee, who served as head of the college’s building advisory committee and architectural review board.
A series of “master plans” has been implemented by UCSD’s administrators to guide the site's long-term development “in order to create a campus, as opposed to just a collection of buildings,” explains Patricia Aguilar, a former director of UCSD's campus planning. Aguilar contends that the most important aspect of campus architecture is not building design but “the spaces in between”— courtyards, quadrangles, lawns, and even parking lots — which have the power to unite campus buildings of disparate sizes, forms, and styles.
Over the past 11 years, UCSD has commissioned over $850 million worth of buildings. Some have been designed by prominent architects and have generated both critical acclaim and pointed criticism. The Mandell Weiss Forum and the newly opened Dance Studio Facility are two such buildings designed by architect Antoine Predock, who has also created buildings for UCSB, U.C. Davis, UCLA, Stanford, and Cal Poly Pomona. Some critics — such as Davis businessman Norman Rogers, who has erected a Web site (www.uc-taj-mahal.org) protesting what he deems “wasteful building practices” of the University of California — claim that many prominent designers’ cutting-edge architectural works are expensive “trophy buildings.” Campus administrators counter that such architects not only produce quality, innovative work but in most cases keep within UCSD’s budgetary guidelines.
Eight-story Geisel Library is UCSD’s “signature building." It's a glass-and-concrete structure resembling an Independence Day mothership that has descended on the La Jolla terrain. Originally designed by William Pereira in 1970, the building received a 220,000-square-foot underground addition from the architecture firm of Gunner Birkerts & Associates in 1993. The addition more than doubled the library’s space. In 1995, Audrey Geisel, widow of Dr. Seuss author Theodor Geisel, donated what was said to be the largest individual gift in UCSD’s history to the library (news reports estimated the gift at $20 million). She claimed that her husband had once gazed at the large building and remarked. “If I had turned my thoughts toward designing a building, it might have looked strangely similar...”
That year, mimicking a Dr. Seussian plot, a water main ruptured near the library during construction work, sending 1.5 million gallons of water rushing toward the structure. The library’s electronic motion detectors opened the doors, welcoming the deluge into the library's interior and down to its lower floors, causing $941,000 worth of damage.
Leading to the library is architect Peter Walker’s “Library Walk," a quarter-mile, 30-foot-wide, chocolate-and-pewter path lined by 94 concrete benches. The walk, which was modeled after a Japanese temple passageway, according to Walker, links the Geisel Library to UCSD's School of Medicine.
The 164,000-square-foot Price Center is the hub of UCSD student life. The particolored center consists of two L-shaped buildings, which, where connected, form an expansive piazza, along which flows a zigzagging manmade stream. The Center has a transparent facade that enables passersby to glimpse its interior goings-on; it also permits natural light to stream into the center's interior spaces. Within the center is a 500-seat theater, food court, 12,000-square-foot ballroom, bookstore, retail shops, restaurants, library, pub, post office, and game rooms; together they form a 20th-century academic “village square."
Engineering Unit Two Building, at the end of Warren Mall, was designed by Zimmer-Gunsul-Frasca in 1994 to provide architectural counterbalance to the Geisel Library across campus and to serve as a gateway to Warren College. Like the Price Center, Engineering Unit Two is made up of two L-shaped segments that bracket a courtyard. However, Engineering Unit Two’s allegorical references are not space-aged, but Biblical. Its entrance consists of three monumental interlocking Moorish arches of Chilean marble, articulated with granite stripes, which lead to a Mediterranean-style central courtyard, designed by landscape architect Ignacio Buster-Ossa, who was also responsible for transforming a 700-foot fire lane into Warren Mall, which saved the college from experiencing “pedestrian gridlock."
Nearby is the Charles Powell Structures laboratory, an unusual architectural work due to its function. Built to house seismic-stress experiments, the building is a 50' x 120'x 65' thick-walled empty “shell" with a clean, simple exterior, three-foot-thick floor, and windows encircling the uppermost regions of its façade. “Basically, it’s a big barn for smashing buildings," says its designer, Leonard Veitzer, FAIA. “It had to be strong in character — like a big, brawny guy swinging a hammer — to reflect what was going on inside."
A building that has garnered criticism from some UCSD faculty for its reputed “stark, cold design" is the Visual Arts Facility by architects Neptune-Thomas- Davis and Rebecca Binder. According to faculty members, the building has been nicknamed “San Quentin” by some who work within it. Located near University Center, the Visual Arts Facility sports bars along a clean, stern facade. “Campus buildings are supposed to be active at ground level and be 'pedestrian friendly,’” said one former member of the university’s architectural review board. “But that building is very chilling and unfriendly to passersby.” Added a science faculty member, “It’s got big gates, it’s stark and sterile.... I just hope that it offers more inspiration to the artists who have to work in it."
Although UCSD is known for its science and medicine programs, it has gained repute for its hosting of the Stuart Collection, a series of public works of art sited throughout the campus, much of which provides commentary—some critical, some questioning, some comical — about university and community issues.
Across the top of the Charles Powell Structures laboratory race seven-foot-tall neon words, as part of Bruce Nauman’s Virtues and Vices. Virtues — FAITH, HOPE, CHARITY, PRUDENCE, JUSTICE, TEMPERANCE, and FORTITUDE — flash clockwise as their antithetical vices — LUST, ENVY, SLOTH, PRIDE, AVARICE, GLUTTONY, and ANGER — circulate counterclockwise, resulting in a continual melding and clashing of human traits.
Leading to the library is Alexis Smith's Snake Path, a 560-foot tiled pathway, shaped like a coiled reptile. Its sinewy body curves around a seven-foot-tall granite rendering of Milton’s Paradise Lost then encircles a miniature Garden of Eden. The snake’s tapered head and forked tongue point toward the library’s entrance. Nearby is another Stuart Collection project, Trees, by Terry Allen, which consists of three lead-encased eucalyptus trees. Two of the trees, set in a eucalyptus grove that students have dubbed “The Enchanted Forest," emit sound: one recites stories and poems; the second sings songs, including one composed for the project by David Byrne. The third lead-encased tree, “The Tree of Knowledge," situated at the library’s entrance, remains silent.
Other Stuart Collection notables include Nam June Paik's Something Pacific, William Wegman's La Jolla Vista View, and Niki de Saint Phalle's Sun God. Paik's Something Pacific is a series of stone-clad ruined television sets embedded in the lawn of the Media Center. Some of the sets are “watched" by armless Buddhas, who appear fixated by what they see...or don’t see. William Wegman, known for his “transvest-dog” photography, created a “nonscenic overlook” of La Jolla’s housing developments, construction sites, and shopping centers. The installation includes a long bronze map showing “points of interest," a telescope, drinking fountain, and picnic table. And French sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle designed what some now refer to as “the UCSD mascot” — a 29-foot-high Aztec-inspired monument consisting of a large, brightly colored bird astride an ivy-covered concrete arch.
Although many regard the Stuart Collection as one of Southern California’s most successful displays of public art, some UCSD faculty members are less than pleased with the collection's installations. “Frankly, I think it's an incredible waste,” says one high-ranking UCSD administrator. “But the people who donate funds for such things probably wouldn’t redirect their money to things the college needs, like a mass spectrometer.
“Many of the sculptures are too modern, too freaky. They don’t appeal to those of us here who are conservative. For example, take that big 12-foot-high red-and-yellow shoe they put up [Elizabeth Murray's Red Shoe]. Give me a break..."
Constructed during an era of “dueling architectural styles" and mounting admissions, UCSD is a distant descendant of yesteryear's simple rural campuses. Its administrators hope that, through continued adherence to architectural master plans, the campus can flourish not only as a setting of educational inspiration, but as an example of graceful gestalt —an academic neighborhood that manages to escape the twin temptations of "complete anarchy” and “oppressive homogeneity."