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"Success and Failure in Campus Design in the Post-World War II Era: An Historical View and Focus on California"
February 10, 2000

Donlyn Lyndon

Introduction by John Douglass

JOHN DOUGLASS: We're about to go into our next session, 'Success and Failure in Campus Design in the Post-World War II Era: An Historical View and Focus on California.' I apologize for the length of that. The post-World War II period in California brought a frenzy of new campus development seen at no other time in American history, driven by both population growth and a concerted effort to expand access. And the vast majority of this growth was in the public sector. California's public higher education system grew from 160,000 students in 1945 to 491,000 students in 1960. And then it grew to just over one million in 1970, and today it's close to two million. On the road to these staggering numbers between 1945 and 1970, UC developed six new campuses, CSU created 11 new campuses, and 30 new community colleges were also created. These were supported and built by both state, and there was some federal funding, particularly for America's research universities through the 1965 Higher Education Act, provided subsidies in the 60's and brought us beautiful renditions like Evans Hall... And then, of course, beyond creating all these new campuses, places like Berkeley did get sometimes brutal face lifts.

Today's moderator for today's panel, we have Donlyn Lyndon. He is Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley. Lyndon is the Director of the Mayor's Institute on City Design West, Editor of Places, and a board member of the International Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Design. He is also a partner in the design firm of Lyndon-Buchanan Associates, and he is also co-author with Charles Moore of Chambers for a Memory Palace.

And before we go to Donlyn, I also want to note that we'll have a break after this session, and there are exhibits outside, showing both elements of the New Century Plan here for Berkeley, and the early planning efforts for UC Merced. Thank you very much, Donlyn.

DONLYN LYNDON: Thank you. This is a wonderful gathering and has gotten off to a very great start.

The long title encompasses an even longer body of stuff. And I was impressed to think about that for a minute, and I'm not going to try to cover all that that you described, at all. Fortunately, our panelists, who have extraordinary experience across the board, are going to give us a picture of much of that change since the Second World War.

It's interesting to note that the post-World War II era represents half of the time since the competition. We're talking about large amounts of change that took place. And it also is worth, I guess personally noting, that it's half of the time that I've been around out worrying about architecture--or all the time, rather, sorry--that I and my generation are products of that same period of time. During that time... it's also half the life of the Stanford campus, almost, and of the firm that created that campus, which still exists in transformed version, and it's a lot more than half the life of the UCLA campus. The three campuses that have been talked about and will continue to be primarily talked about today--Berkeley, Stanford, and UCLA--are characterized, I think, by somewhat... they've all gone through major expansion, and somewhat differently. Berkeley's territorial expansion took place through an interlocking with the city, a contentious interlocking at times, but one which has actually had, I think, great benefits, even as it continues to be contentious, in terms of the life patterns that can develop in this campus. Stanford's growth expansion has happened outside that original quad, but within a territory that is basically surrounded, is an area reserved for it, and has gone through, as we've heard, differing attitudes about the relationship of those two. And UCLA's expansion, if I understand, is actually all within territory that was originally reserved for UCLA. So that's really a different set of patterns. All have been characterized, however, by breaking out of the bounds of traditional campus imagery and accommodating new forms of organization and visual expression.

One of the interesting things that's happened in the last several years, or the last several decades, was at the University of Oregon, the development of a pattern language for thinking about how all the little pieces of buildings became part of a larger picture of the campus that was developed by Christopher Alexander, and then had been continued as a tradition there. But I've always... the tensions involved in any such enterprise, have always been nicely characterized by a story that Charles Moore told about working on the science complex there. And one of the really important, good, pattern notions was that you should not have any buildings thicker than 40 feet because that gave you access to light. And it turns out not to work so well for laboratories. And so Charles told the story of having to invent a new pattern called the 'Heart of Darkness' to supplement and to accommodate change in these places.

Well, we're asked to talk about success and failure in campus design in the post-World War II era, and I suppose that requires asking what constitutes success. Success, as I would suggest, and this is obviously a partial definition, but success means that they are places that have been developed in such a way that they sustain attention, harbor and nurture appropriate activities; that they embed educational and social goals that are related to the university and their sponsorship; and that they use resources wisely. And using resources wisely, obviously, involves this business of change that's already been talked about.

What constitutes failure? Inability to create a convincing structure. And there are a number of campuses which did that, which weren't able to do that. The fracturing of ideals and the absence of relationships. And I want to come back to that because I think that's been a major force in the development of campuses during this period. The inability to inspire and to instruct, and obviously just normal dysfunctional relationships in how things are set up.

It seems to me there are at least four criteria that we would need to look at about buildings and campus design. One is that we need to look at them in terms of the social and counter-structure that they set up, how people are able to engage with each other and who they come across and how quickly they can make connections between various ideas. Secondly, is that they need to be able to sustain attention and to nurture ideas in the way we talked about. I come down with others on the important differentiation between a campus and a city. A campus has the capacity to be discussed in terms of some fundamental set of ideals. However, those of us who are on campuses know how contentious that could be and how complicated. But nonetheless, we always can come back to arguing educational benefits. And that's not really a kind of common thread that the city normally has. We then need to look at how it is that that pattern that's been developed can serve to take advantage of resources and to change them in a good way, and to do that in a pattern that like other large institutions has something to do with how people interact with each other.

One of the things that intervened in all this just as it was a major part of the great competition, what was the major part of the great competition was a set of architectural vocabularies that prompted a kind of vision. And during this period that we're talking about, there have also been a series of ideas about architecture that have intervened in our planning as well. And I want to show very quickly some of those. One of the first out of the box, actually, the plan on the left is 1940, is Mies van der Rohe, a plan for the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the buildings that he designed right after the war that began to implement that plan. And that as you can see was both in its plan and in its execution, a clear notion of rectangularized field entities that were disposed in a grid; a grid with some modification, certainly, and some echoes of the Beaux Arts even, but nonetheless, very much of a system of organization for a series of sealed volumes.

Another early venture into new notions of vocabulary was the Gropius Harvard Graduate School. This is interesting because it was a vocabulary of modernism and yet was still maintaining an idea of enclosure of making a larger space, of making sub-categories of space within a larger field, in a way that was not just things sealed by themselves, but something which was creating another kind of space beyond it.

The other major architectural force, of course, was Le Courbosier and all those visions that were in some ways comparable to the grid with buildings unrelated to the ground. Then in the Carpenter Center, bringing still another vision into modern architecture, two visions: one which had to do with the fact that you were not really looking at objects you were experiencing and walking through them, actually, maybe even riding through them on a motorcycle on a little mini-freeway with exposure all around, but that what you did had nothing to do, nothing to do with trying to reinforce what was already there. In fact, as is clear in the model, it was to be a statement, in and of itself a very interesting one, but one that owed nothing to the surroundings. And unfortunately, many of the other interesting ideas from the Carpenter Center didn't take hold, but it confirmed a latent tendency for a number of buildings and a whole attitude about campus planning to suppose that it was simply to make individual objects that mattered.

Now, I want to show one example in the Berkeley campus, which is referred to earlier of something which actually took the idea that you needed a new vocabulary, but did that in a way that I think was extremely successful, and is one of my candidates for success, at making a connection to what was around it. It makes the connection to the city streets, obviously, with Telegraph Avenue coming in, this is the student center, coming in; it makes a connection to the natural land form of the Strawberry Creek, which Bénard had to be pushed into taking account of; and then develops a vocabulary form that is both attentive to ideas of these are the very complex plans that are involved on several levels, with a whole variety of different kinds of activities, but always making the building in relationship to the open spaces around it, always thinking the building and the open space together as a complex, even though it was built over time. It's a remarkable building complex that saw its parts altogether.

And it worked with a diverse vocabulary, not a single vocabulary. The vocabulary on the left that had to do with echoes of that classical world at the same times as ideas about construction had a clear relationship to Sproul Hall paying homage to a building which at the time not many of us, and probably still, would think we should pay homage to. But saying that that building mattered, saying that it was credible, saying that this was part of a structure that already existed and you ought to pay attention to it. And then saying on the left in these buildings which were originally a cafeteria, and a wonderful place for people to hang out, and now, of course, are Student Services, or something, which is not so heavily used. But nonetheless saying that that was a place that should be of great pleasure, facing south and overlooking the other complex. And then, of course, it also took account of great places of gathering. Bénard would have been happy to have that many people in one of those great section drawings that he did. And then both inside, and in making the people who use the place a major part of what the quality of the place could be.

Well, the public space were thought of at the same time, and then, of course, they sometimes went farther than people anticipated, and, in fact, life kind of overtook Sproul Plaza, including the great Free Speech Movement, which materialized in order to take advantage of all these wonderful spaces that had been made.

And then there was, I think, one misstep, which was the last building, which was Eshleman, which is on Bancroft Way, facing the Student Center. And this is the one that now, one, people are very skeptical about, which is problematic because it was meant to be a little office building for the student offices, student organizations. The notion that they should have a little office building is a curious notion in the first place, that this should emulate downtown buildings is a second curious notion, that it should be high on the south shading the plaza is a curious notion, and I think it may be short-lived. It is, however, also interesting that this is one of the many examples on the campus where making things high seemed like a good thing to do, as it did throughout the rest of the world, and we're now paying for that with the seismic renovation of a number of buildings of that sort. One of the interesting things that's happened more recently is something like the Haas Business School, which recognized, in fact, that you could dispose a lot of people around on the ground, close to the ground. And this remarkable building manages to have grade-level access to all four, or five is it, levels, four, certainly, by the way at which it takes advantage of the slope, works with the slope, works with the condition of the place, to make something that is an environment that people encounter each other, that has a scale that relates to the various parts around it, and that is, in fact, something which supports a number of people in their activities.

It's therefore a building that is now not thinking about an object, but thinking about its relationship to its surroundings and to what it's connected with. As is the other buildings from this period that's, I think, particularly successful, which is the Foothill Housing Project, which is up there surrounding on a very, very difficult seismically-laden site, but is taking a number of conditions on the left, making a square area of housing there, making housing that makes itself, goes on to make a series of spaces, else or is making the campus as much as it's making its own building, and seeing the need to have places of real dignity and excitement inside.

So those are some of my candidates for successes. I haven't showed you a great set of failures; I think you probably have them in mind. And, fortunately, Evans Hall has been mentioned often enough, so that I don't need to bring that to mind.

Professor of Architecture at UC Berkeley, Lyndon is Director of the Mayors Institute on City Design - West, Editor of Places, and Board Member of the International Laboratory of Architecture and Urban Design (ILAUD). He is a Partner in the design firm of Lyndon/Buchanan Associates, and Chair of several awards competition juries. His recent design and planning projects include Principal Architect for residential projects at the Sea Ranch, CA, and Austin, TX; Project Director of the Menlo Park Center City Design Plan; Design Consultant for Berkeley’s Center Street Public Improvements and Downtown Public Improvements Master Plan; Principal Design Consultant for Bayer Inc., Berkeley; and Project Director of the 25-year Master Plan and Design Guidelines for Bayer Inc. He is co-author with Charles Moore of Chambers for a Memory Palace. His academic and teaching work has been honored with the AIA-ACSA’s 1997 Topaz Award, and appointment as UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Professor. Recent design recognition includes the AIA/Sunset Citation, the AIA Urban Design Award, the AIA Twenty-Five Year Award, and election as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Lyndon teaches design studio and seminars in urban design and architectural theory. His current research activity includes the project “Managing a Sense of Place.” He received undergraduate and M.F.A. Architecture degrees from Princeton University.


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