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"Rethinking the First UC Campus and Designing the Tenth at Merced"
February 10, 2000

Harrison Fraker

I wondered in listening both this morning and this afternoon about whether there were a set of ideas that might help inform the process of both rethinking the Berkeley campus and thinking about the tenth campus. And I guess the thing that I would like to start off with and then speak a little bit about the Berkeley campus and a little bit about the Merced campus, is the idea that comes from talking to my nephew about going to college. And this is a very bright kid, who basically had starred in high school and could go just about anywhere that he wanted to go--he starred academically, athletically. And he couldn't figure out the value of a university education at that moment, which was astonishing to his uncle who is the Dean of the College of Architecture at Berkeley. And it was because he had access to knowledge and processes and to experiences that were flooding his imagination. And, yes, he knew that it was important probably economically and for the network, but it was really for the first time ever I had ever heard a kid like this actually question the value of that kind of education, at least immediately.

So I think one of the most important things that both Berkeley and Merced need to address is capturing the imagination of the future students, really have in, what I would describe as creating at Berkeley and Merced, a compelling special inspiring place that will capture the imagination of these young people. And I think that is at the root of what we need to do. Higher education on a campus is not automatically valued the way it was in the past.

Okay. So how do you do that? And I really think the campus and the University has to embody a set of ideals, it really has to stand for a set of ideas. And, you know, if you were talking in the business world, which I know is not an appropriate thing to do here, they would talk about you really have to have a brand. Now, Merced's got to invent that brand, and Berkeley already has a very complicated one, which we found out from the recent survey that was done about opinions about Berkeley is an incredibly powerful and compelling brand. Berkeley, for those people who know about Berkeley, it's a very, very positive impression about its excellence and the educational opportunities that are afforded here. I hope that the strategic Master Plan will really get at what makes those special and compelling responses by the people who were part of this survey.

So let's talk a little bit about the Berkeley campus for a second, and then a little bit about the Merced campus, and I'll be quiet. Berkeley, like UCLA and like Stanford is, you know, primarily built-out, and so the challenge now is renewal. And it's the renewal of the foundation of excellence, as our Chancellor said. But how are we going to do this? Seems to me to be the question. And I think this is going to entail a process of reinterpreting what we have and what the really, really critical important elements are. What are the valuable pieces that at all cost we want to sustain? Because they represent the ideas and ideals that this place is known for. So that means in some cases we aren't going to throw away buildings that don't pencil-out financially because they are critical and represent ideals about this campus. And that's what happened with the Hearst Mining Building, thank goodness, as a perfect example of that.

It's also…reinterpretation gives us the chance to do some editing. And that means in light of the wonderful talks given about the campus history up until the second World War, we have a tremendous opportunity to recapture some of the ideas of the space between buildings, the figural identity that was put forward originally by editing some of the buildings that have more or less destroyed that, that represent a very counter-productive interpretation in my view of the campus. In some cases, we're going to have to do that when they don't pencil-out because it's the right thing to do for the next hundred years, rather than taking a narrow view of the cost-effectiveness or the financing flow.

As the Chair of the Design Review Committee, the idea of having a real physical Master Plan that restates the ideas, the physical planning ideas that we want to pursue, is extremely important because they seem to have been lost. You know, projects would come forward in an ad hoc basis--and it's critical that we do this. And the biggest problem that we've had is the fact that we do projects. And projects end three feet outside the building line, and all the stuff that went on at UCLA, the little things that were talked about, usually get edited out of the process for budget reasons. Somebody has to take responsibility for the campus as a whole. That, you know, very rich, complicated space of the campus, the public space of the campus, the figural space of the campus, and maintain it and upgrade it way beyond what we currently do on the Berkeley campus. And that means not just... there are phases of landscape history on the campus. They have been kind of eroded and bled together. It would be nice to know what a classical landscape looked like for our students. It's part of their cultural heritage. It's part of the ideals and ideas of this place. It would be nice to know what a good modernist landscape looks like. It would be nice to know what restoring a riparian habitat really meant on the campus. We need to do these things not to some standard of landscape elements, but to bring out the differences, to really honor those ideas that make the campus special.

I would also say that about the architectural styles--and I'll talk to you about the Berkeley campus. You know, we have good classical buildings, and we have lousy ones. We have good modern buildings, and we have lousy ones. And what's interesting about this phase in planning, landscape design and architecture in sort of its cultural evolution is people, I think, are beginning to find ways to have these various architectural voices work together and to not throw away and dismiss whole periods and a whole set of ideas, but to actually make them work together better. And you see that in some of the emerging practices that are happening. We ought to encourage more of that on our campus.

So I'm just going to end there. Of all the ones that I've seen up there, I'll also give you my two bits, I like the one about the campus in the city. I think we have a responsibility to mend some of the damage that we've done in the town of Berkeley and there are tremendous opportunities there. I also think there are regional opportunities. Berkeley, at its soul is the idea you have many ways to come to an experience and have Berkeley. And if it means living in Richmond or living in Oakland, and coming and participating at levels that you want to, that option is okay as far as I'm concerned, as well as the one of living within a fraternity or in one of the larger dormitory complexes. Berkeley is an incredibly wonderful and diverse place that ought to seek to make the best of all of those things.

Let me go quickly to Merced; I'll just say this. I really want to build on…the Merced campus is an incredibly exciting challenge, and at the same time I have a very complicated relationship with it as an idea. And I just want to share those with you. First of all, I don't agree that, you know, automatically going to the foothills was the right thing to do. And I might as well say that so I have full disclosure here. And I think there were models way back ten years ago that I'm sorry they were not pursued more greatly. Because I just came back from the Savannah College of Art and Design, where a city and a college decided to work together and they made the city and the college one thing. And it is a spectacular ongoing experiment. And it is such a win-win for both the city and the institution. And I've thought all along that there might be some opportunities to do that in the Central Valley. Politically there aren't anymore.

So now the question becomes what to do with the Merced campus because we got to have it, we're not going to go back on the decision as far as I can tell. So what are some hints of some compelling ideas? The only thing that from my kind of academic background that makes sense is to really think of this as a model new town. And that means not having it be the campus on the hill where you saw those incredible acts of will in the early stages of UCLA and Berkeley, for that matter, that it has got to be a new talent on the hill, where you have the same commitment and will for the town-gown thing to work out. And it seems to me it needs to be a new paradigm of town-gown relationship, and it needs to be probably the most aggressive example of the best environmental design and planning that you could possibly ever put forward because it's one of the things that could be the brand that comes out of this--you know, I hate to use that term. But, you know, it's identity, it's core idea.

And the thing that worries me about this is that we also have a huge process challenge. How the hell are they going to build this and have all those students there by 2004? They're going to have to hire a developer because they can't build a staff and get it done in four years. Now, incredibly exciting but also worrying because developers generally build what was built before. And I think if that happens on the Merced campus, if we have another suburban commuter campus put on that beautiful site, we won't have created the core ideal, the core ideas that will capture the imagination of the kids whose lives and minds we're trying to open up to a whole new set of ideas.

So I think, I agree with Brian that the environmental issues are really critical, but I think there are lots of dangers lurking in the wings in getting this done. And I think that you really need to pay tremendous attention to that environmental opportunity and the idea that you're really making a new special place, a model new town because the Valley needs that. You can't do everything in the existing towns, although we can handle a lot of the growth. But you have an institution and a community going together, and enough investment in the institution that you have the reason for the community. Now, it seems to me you really have to make the design idea that embodies those ideals to come out. Thank you.


Harrison Fraker is currently Dean of the College of Environmental Design (CED) at Berkeley and William Wurster Professor in the Department of Architecture. As Dean he has worked successfully to increase funding support, expand the number of endowed chairs in the College, increase graduate fellowships and program support and involve more alumni in the College. He initiated a strategic planning effort, obtained additional grant funding, and has strengthened ties of the College with the professional design community. He serves on the campus Executive Campus Planning Committee, helped initiate the New Century Plan process at Berkeley, and chairs the campus Design Review Committee. In recent years he has presided over the complex planning for the nearly $30 million dollar seismic upgrade and facilities enhancement of CED's home, Wurster Hall, and the temporary relocation of much of the College to other parts of the campus including an innovative pre-engineered temporary building complex that he proposed. He serves on the Board of Trustees of the Berkeley Art Museum and has increased partnership efforts between BAM and CED.


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