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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

Stefanos Polyzoides

Introduction by Donlyn Lyndon


DONLYN LYNDON: Stefanos is Architect and Principal of Moule & Polyzoides in Los Angeles. He's taught at the University of Southern California, is presently being a visiting Professor at the University of New Mexico, is born in Athens, has his education from Princeton University--all of this is in more detail in your programs here. He's been a founder of the Congress for New Urbanism, which is an enormously important group of people who are really thinking hard about how buildings and development and planning intersect, how it is that we really build worlds, rather than how it is that we build buildings. And I think that they've done a great value. He actually reminds me that it was in 1977 that he published the wonderful book called, Courtyard Housing in Los Angeles, which was an early effort to try to understand how housing and space come together to make differing environments than the conventional ones. And not surprisingly, at the University of New Mexico, he is studying some of the places there that have been established that have similar characteristics. Stefanos.

STEFANOS POLYZOIDES: Thank you, Donlyn. And thank you for inviting me. It is a great honor to be speaking to a group of people that fill a room of this size, and they're passionately interested in the subject of campus planning, and campus building.

In 1997/78, my good friend Peter Debreto and I spent a number of semesters teaching students at the undergraduate level at the University of Southern California, the subject of building buildings in campus settings. We were both around 30 years old, and about to begin a practice and/or teaching, and we were quite aware of the fact that the best places that one can seek urbanity is those places, at least in this country, where urbanity already exists. And it was campuses that drew us to study them and to work with them, in part, because of their physical structure, and, in part, because of the idealistic underpinning of notions about teaching and learning that somehow and despite the passage of time have prevailed in this country over a couple of hundred years or more.

Following the studio, we decided to start a practice. As I said, we were the whole of 30 years old, and we sat around and decided the best place we wanted to practice was in university campuses. So we're going to study eight university campuses, operate in some form or another, and then knock on the doors of the eight largest and greatest university campuses in California, and ask them to hire us. Amazingly enough, we got jobs in two campuses, at Scripps College and Pomona College, and we're still after 20 years or more, the campus architects of Scripps College, one of, I think, the most beautiful places in California.

Now, the only reason I'm explaining all of this to you is because the slides you're about to see are the true legacy of those two or three years of study. We, in fact, went to these eight colleges with our students, we found drawings and aerial photographs of existing conditions, and we studied in-depth the history of those campuses, all the way to their foundation, both to the urbanist foundation and architectural foundation, and traced the building of these campuses up building by building, and then drew them into three different drawings. The first drawing was a drawing of the generating geometry; the second was a drawing of the buildings in figure field, as ground buildings; and the third one was the opposite figure field of the landscape and the open space.

The amazing thing about all of this is that, of course, I don't have to tell you, but we stopped this research effort in 1940 because past the Second World War, the obsessive architect hero culture in which we have now lived for about two or three generations, has pretty much almost destroyed every single major campus in the United States. And the relationship, or the comparison with the drawings you're going to see in the current states of these campuses, perhaps with the exception of Scripps College, is depressing indeed. I don't wish to depress you with this presentation, I wish to talk primarily about one important issue. Assuming that we know the damage has been done, assuming that we are generally, as a society and as a culture, opposed to what has happened during this last 50 years, what is a unified theory of campus planning going to put to the table that we can begin to inform ourselves and our architects as to what they have to do during these commissions, other than building monuments to themselves, which has been an aspect of architecture for a long time and will not go away in any case in the near future?

So I'm going to first show you eight pairs of slides, dating from about 1980-82 now, in this particular form. They are very large boards, some of them as big as six or eight feet in one direction. This is a drawing of Occidental College in Los Angeles, the work of Myron Hunt. I will not talk about these in any great detail; I want to simply give you a few important pieces of information about these campuses, and to talk instead about some of the fundamental lessons that were derived from this effort. Myron Hunt did 24 buildings on this campus in three successive master plans. It is very important, I think, to begin to understand, particularly, beginning on the right, in the patterning of these buildings, that they sit in space in relationship to each other, and in relationship to space between them in a relationship, I think, that begs the question of what is more important, the buildings or the space. We have actually come to a pretty definitive conclusion in our practice, that, in fact, the actual purpose of urbanism and town planning, and campus planning by extension, is actually the figuration of the void, the forming of the void in a fashion that establishes a sense of place, with the buildings, of course, but as an entity in itself. It is interesting to see in these buildings, particularly on the right, the individual buildings adding up to larger patterns. Inflections between buildings that have to do with the locations of fronts and backs, courts and towers, ideas about individual form that is, if not subservient, a participant at least in the making of a larger place.

This is the remarkable plan by Gordon Kaufman of Scripps College. Kaufman built three-quarters of these buildings between 1927 and 1942. And you can now see in the reverse figure field, the major principle green, some of the spaces, the bowling green to the south of it, the bowling green in this location, Philosopher's Walk, the space in front of the president's house, and the secondary alley, some of them ill-formed--this is an incomplete drawing of this campus. But in the spirit of the original idea and the subsequent buildings introduced by others, we drew in these buildings a kind of imaginary view of these campuses as they would have been or should have been if all the master plans in all the buildings between their foundation in 1940, were carried out. So in places where there's not enough specificity, I think it's because nothing was put in place by the original group of architects. Eventually, we got very tempted and started adding buildings, of course, architects.

What is truly spectacular about this series of illustrations is also the notion that the great campuses of this country are all different, not different only from the perspective of what buildings they possess and how the buildings are working with each other, but also from the point of view of the diagram of organization and the emplacement of these buildings in the city as a whole. This is a magnificent campus, partly by Kaufman and mostly by Goodhue at Cal Tech, mostly done from about 1918 to about 1940, with some early work by Myron Hunt and Elmer Gray. You can see that the idea here is the making of a very continuous and magnificent figure of public open spaces. It begins with this Persian Garden, the rotunda of the gallery never built, to the San Juan Capistrano Square, and through the administration building, now torn down, all the way to the Olive Alley, and all the way through the magnificent dormitories by Kaufman and a building we added ourselves in the 80's, down to the Athenian. But it is very clear here to see that in the mind of the architect, the symmetrical central axis of this campus is actually the organizer, and buildings are subservient to this movement of space east to west. Amazingly enough, both sides of this, as you can see in this drawing, are bounded by single family houses. So this loose edge is in fact Goodhue's attempt to identify the place in the world where those buildings would be placed.

Now, this is UCLA, and UCLA is a particularly abused campus. In the early project of Kelham, this campus sits very lightly on an extraordinary row here, what you see here, parallel to Hilgard. This is the great central axis, with Royce Hall in this location, location jammed steps, and Westwood Boulevard leading down to the Village. This is really, clearly, a 'town and gown' project, which is another subject that we didn't address here, but is one of the really critical subjects of American urbanism. But you can see in this drawing, I think, all of a sudden a relationship of a campus to nature, that, in fact, this kind of figure field begins to describe the way in which these buildings sit on the land, the way in which they sit relative to the critical directions--this is facing all south--the way they occupy this very flat mesa of West Los Angeles--if that's a southwestern word that is applicable to Los Angeles anymore. And through this engagement with nature, the ability then to use the landscape in its civilized form as a form maker and form giver as well.

The ability to make space through landscape between buildings, I think, is the other second large and important formal issue that needs to be rediscovered, I think, in our times. Now, there are probably more experts on the Berkeley campus in this room than have ever been gathered, so I will not say very much about this drawing, other than to say that this is probably the one campus of the eight that we studied that is the most mangled in the last couple of generations. The degree to which the departure from the original plan has hurt this campus is absolutely incalculable. The very life of this campus idea has been torn from it--some of it never built and some of it early dismissed after the 50's. Notice the magnitude and the scale of this magnificent open space. Notice the way in which the particularly large buildings in the university are terminated. Notice the way in which buildings sit relative to their responsibilities to the city and face the city, and similarly towards their responsibility to the creek and the possibility of a campus here of a much more rural or playful nature. Again, please excuse this drawing, it is nothing more than a summary of ideas dreamed up by the makers of buildings and campus plans here until 1940, not a real plan, and therefore, probably, not a terribly defensible final version of it either. But it is very much presented in the spirit of understanding that in order to go forward with campus planning, with the building of individual buildings, one has to pose an interim end state. And I think these drawings speak extraordinarily about this interim end space in which buildings are in talking terms to each other, and they know what they're leveraging in the making in the larger world.

USC is an urban campus, completely engaged in the grid of the city, but yet very much involved in the definition of formal spaces, quads, a variety of building types, and we'll talk about those things in a second.

This is Stanford.

And finally, the masterpiece of Myron Hunt's, which is the campus at Pomona College, with a new building in this location, a very wonderful building by Robert Stern, just finished. And many other buildings, unfortunately, destroyed or never built. And it is really a play on the ideas of the University of Virginia, the notion of a head building, a green, and then the arcades, instead of being on the edge displaced to connect academic buildings with housing above in the context of a Southern California suburban community in Claremont. The balance in this scheme between the ideas of open space and building, the inventiveness of the building types, the building types such as this, for instance, which is settled by an arcade and looks forward to the green and backward to the street. The way in which over time, buildings have been built here that sustain the notion of a campus is something, I think, that you need to visit and understand as a kind of ideal. There is no future to campuses without adequate interpretation of existing conditions and without preservation of the buildings and places that matter in them.

About three years go, my very good friend, Buzz Udell, came to me and asked me to write an introduction to a volume of the work of Rubel Udell that concerned itself with campus planning. And I attempted to write an article which was both admiring of them and what they had done, but also a kind of first salvo in the direction of a unified theory of campus planning. Don't be scared, just open-ended and five or six points, just to begin the discussion. And summarizing those six points, I guess this is my defense or my antidote to much of the destruction that has happened around us in the last 50 years. The first point is that the ultimate purpose of campus planning--I'm talking about the architectural terms now--is an interconnected fluid figure of open space. The word 'campus' comes from the word 'campo.' It is an Italian-Venetian word that means basically square. And it indicates that in the mind's eye, the educational process and the expression of this educational process as a symbol, as a memory, actually takes place in the void. And this void, I think, is what differentiates Berkeley from Pomona, Pomona from Scripps and both from Harvard and Columbia. Now, it is terribly important to think of this void as (a) interconnected, and (b) multi-formed. In other words, I don't think there's only one kind of place that makes up these kinds of campuses. We are in our practice, in our thinking absolutely passionate about the notion of typology. We believe that if history matters, and it does matter direly for most people other than architects, if history matters, the patterning of history in typological terms is the point of departure for almost everything that we need to do either in support of an idea or in opposition. So that if you look at the history of American campuses, patios, courtyards, greens, fields, all these kinds of places are available to us in a language by which we can organize our thoughts and refer to the structuring of a campus, and by extension to the way of life that it promotes.

Second element is that the purpose of campus planning and building is not the making of individual buildings, however brilliant they may be and for however long they might be brilliant, but really a fabric of continuous building over time. Not only buildings of diverse typologies--monuments, lofts, more highly tech lofts, residence halls, and other ancillary buildings--but also buildings that possess an exterior stability that can, in fact, dominate and control over time the form of the void. You have to keep in mind that one of the greatest myths that has not been fully yet debunked of modernism, is the myth of the determinism of use. What we're finding out, of course, is that use is an important first cause in the making of buildings, but it is formed over time, and the ability of reusing form over time is the glory of most great buildings and most great cities. So, in fact, to be able to think of campus planning not as departments, not as fiefdoms, not as monuments, individuals, or departments, or ideas, but to think of it as a continuous place and a continuous set of buildings that can be occupied over centuries to serve the purpose of the university, I think, is a very powerful way of abandoning the excesses of the last 50 years.

The third point is a cultivated landscape. There are two aspects of a cultivated landscape. As you know, most of my colleague friends don't believe that nature exists. I think not only do we need to engage the natural world at the aesthetic level by understanding how to design with it at the proximate level, as architecture, but I think the time has come, indeed the time is here, to begin to think ourselves in the landscape from a point of view of a more precise level of performance. I think the way in which we spend and use energy, the way in which we spend and use water in California, in the west, in the United States at this point, is an item that universities are uniquely positioned to address in the next period of time. So the ecological and environmental direction of working with nature needs to be absolutely at the heart of understanding how one makes a campus in the future.

The fourth point I've named 'a compact infrastructure.' And here, I think, the parallel with suburban sprawl is absolutely in place, absolutely there. Basically, we have been witnessing for 50 years what we may call 'campus sprawl.' We've witnessed a state of assembling land and promoting campuses that are ever larger, which after a certain point, that point doesn't come very far from the beginning of the development of the campus, one cannot walk anymore from place to place, and then one has to drive, and then one has to use parking... you know the parking wars at Cal. At Cal Tech, the first act of the university after somebody gets a Nobel prize, is to give them a free parking pass; I think here too, if I'm not mistaken. So how to keep a campus compact. You don't need 14,000 acres to build a new university. UCLA is 400 acres and has 60,000 to 70,000 students and visitors a day; Scripps, which is a glorious campus, is on 25 acres; Pomona College is actually on 125 acres. A real district in a newer neighborhood in the urbanist terms is between 80 and 125 acres. That is a five-minute walking distance in a campus with bicycles, and with young feet it can be maybe extended a bit. But the fact is that it is essential to think of the campus as a compact place, as a compact walkable place.

The fifth point is typological continuity and stylistic variety. Most campuses that are great in this country possess a root cause of architecture, a kind of foundation style. That foundation style, in most cases, because architects at the turn of the century in this country and before, were particularly wise, is connected not only to some abstract personally derived formal idea, but they're connected very often to the weather, to materials, to climate, to social conditions--they're really very wisely chosen ways of thinking about the making of buildings. I think it is terribly important to operate on these notions, the original notions, but to not necessarily build buildings that are in themselves of one kind. What matters the most is that building after building after building possesses the typological structure that in combination with each other allows a campus or a city in another case to emerge as a coherent place.

In complete buildings, complete precincts, is an antidote again to making complete objects and dropping them into campuses. It is terribly important to think about the object of design not being a building, but to think about buildings being necessarily incomplete in their form in the interest of achieving coherence at the larger level. Let me tell you, I think the principal problem here is the master plan, and the master plan is the means by which people have been empowered to draw up single buildings into campuses; I think, another alternative such as regulating plans and codes is a more open-ended way, is an important issue to pursue.

And, lastly, an integrated process of development. Now that I have you all here for another minute, I have to tell you that the level of bureaucracy involved in working in universities either as planner or designer is absolutely, thoroughly unacceptable. Much of the mess that has happened in the last 50 years has happened under a regime that is more bureaucratic and ostensibly is put in place to generate value and quality, and hasn't. It is terribly important for the process of design and planning to be reformed. It is terribly important for the departments of planning and design to be talking to each other and to be together. It is terribly important for administrators at the highest level, and donors at the highest level to be participating in the process of working out the specific decisions relative to the making of places such as this.

Lastly, I will say that it is absolutely important to continue to think about university precincts as special places, in pursuit of the ideals, the educational ideals we've set up for ourselves. If we try to pursue the educational ideals without the place that has made them possible in the past I think we are going to betray them, and I think we are going to have a society in some years from now that we will not be able to recognize. Thank you.

PROFESSOR LYNDON: Thank you very much, Stefanos, for a survey, a very brilliant laying out of a set of propositions, and a wonderful, wonderful talk.



Stefanos Polyzoides is a registered architect and principal of Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists, based in Los Angeles; he is also an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Southern California (USC). He was born in Athens, Greece, received his Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude and Masters in Architecture from Princeton University, where he has also been a Visiting Professor, and has lived in Los Angeles since 1973. His career covers the areas of architectural and urban design education, design and theory. His professional experience spans institutional and civic buildings, historic rehabilitation, commercial projects, housing, campus planning, and urban design. He is a co-founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a national association of over 1,600 architects, planners, engineers, developers, government officials and environmentalists who are working toward the restoration of existing urban centers, the reconfiguration of suburbs, and the protection of nature within an integrated regional structure, and is co-author of the Ahwanhee Principles.

 

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