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Sam Hall Kaplan

Remembrance for UCLA's Harvey

May 24, 1987|Sam Hall Kaplan

The renaming, a few weeks ago, with some fanfare, of a building at UCLA in Westwood for Harvey S. Perloff prompted some thoughts of the first and late dean of the university's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

No doubt, naming what previously had been labeled the Architecture Building for a planner would have pleased Harvey, who, for 15 years, presided over the uneasy peace there between the ego-involved architecture and planning faculties.

To most persons who knew him, it was Harvey, not Mr. Perloff, or Prof. Perloff, or Dr. Perloff, or The Dean. Unlike so many pretentious persons in the tenure-obsessed academic community, Harvey did not hide behind titles, the authorship of numerous studies and books or laurels, of which he had many to his credit.

Simply calling him Harvey, as he preferred, was more informal and made him more accessible. That and a ready smile were part of his charm, and a reason he was relatively successful in bridging the gap of the rhetoric of the school and university, and the reality of the city and nation.

Harvey was in a class by himself in his ability to "co-op " self-absorbed academics, autocratic administrators, vain donors, fatuous politicians and merciless journalists, and gain research grants or donations, participate in a prestigious planning effort or a major seminar, or flog a report or the school itself, and garner yet another award.

University buildings certainly have been named for persons who have done less.

But there was much more to Harvey than just being a genial power broker. For me, what distinguished Harvey was that he cared deeply about the human condition and cities, believed with the fervor of a zealot that planning and design could make a difference, and that the university should play a critical role in the effort.

And despite the reality of the politics of universities and cities, and the egos of master architects and planners, which battered him over the years, and his caring causes, Harvey somehow remained an optimist. For this you had to admire him.

From when I first met him in 1969 to the last time I saw him shortly before his death in 1983, Harvey had an agenda of good works for which he was trying to raise support.

In 1969, it was a "New Town Intown" concept, and in 1983, a vision of a better Los Angeles through better planning. His optimism was infectious, and whenever I left him I felt a surge of enthusiasm and a hope that perhaps the city could be saved from itself.

When Harvey died I did not write an obituary or a remembrance or attend the numerous memorials that were held for him. I just did not want to think of Harvey being dead and his optimism no longer around from which to draw upon.

I fantasized with envy that Harvey had gotten one of the marvelous travel and study grants, and that he and his loving wife, Mimi, had gone off for a well-earned sabbatical abroad, would return enthused as ever, and call me. Politic as ever, he would begin the conversation with a statement that he liked a particular column, adding "but had you thought of . . . " or better yet "I shouldn't be telling you this, but. . . . "

The call never came.

In addition to memories, Harvey did leave an impressive volume of work, including 17 books and numerous reports and articles. His last was an article reflecting on his 15 years at UCLA and what the next 15 years might bring.

His thoughts in the article about the future I found particularly revealing and provocative, especially as they specifically relate to UCLA, and generally other schools of architecture and planning, and to the design and planning professions at large.

"I am convinced that the pressures of rapidly changing technology and international competition will once again--and very soon--put education and research at the forefront of national concerns," he wrote, adding if so "a great deal will be expected of us in the professions dealing with the environment, with building and with social progress."

With this in mind, Harvey declared that the school's architecture and urban design program "has to go some distance further in learning how to combine technology with good design and how to better combine both technology and design with human needs and aspirations."

As for the planning program, he wrote that it had to strengthen its built and natural environment concentrations, and planning research, the latter "not only in the realm of theory, but also in action research and community-oriented research."

Continuing this theme of applied education, Harvey declared that the school was strong enough "to lead the way in actually creating a better architecture and a better urban planning.

"Southern California provides us with just the right context to demonstrate that architecture and urban planning should be and can be much better than they are now, for the area is still growing, not only in numbers but in internationalization and in sophistication."

He concluded:

"In the next few years, I would like to see the School undertake some truly courageous and even surprising plans for the future of the Los Angeles area (in design, building, planning and human relations) as a prototype for other cities--at the same time that we advance the theoretical and methodological bases of our profession.

"It would be an appropriate goal for the School to be known not only as a leading school of architecture and urban planning but also an important contributor to the actual creation of a better tomorrow."

To the end, Harvey was optimist, dreaming grand thoughts for his profession, his school and his city. May they be kept alive.

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