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Sam Hall Kaplan

UC School to Honor Self, Not City

January 29, 1989

There is no question that San Diego needs a major, public-supported School of Architecture, as has been announced by the University of California Board of Regents.

However, the focus of a symposium scheduled for next Saturday marking the establishment of such a school on the UC San Diego campus raises other questions. These include whether the school, as intended by the regents, will address some of the pressing planning and architectural problems facing the San Diego region, or whether it will be a self-serving academic exercise.

First, some background: Growth initiatives not withstanding, San Diego continues to grow, and at last count, was the second largest city in the state and the seventh largest in the nation. The region is burgeoning, with its population expected to reach 3 million by the end of the decade.

In the process, San Diego, with a distinct topography, benign climate and a rich ecological and architectural heritage, not unlike Los Angeles' 30 and more years ago, has been stumbling over itself. What once had been a most livable region is now less so, and struggling.

In many ways the relatively recent ungainly growth of San Diego's downtown and outer suburbs, the development pressures on its established neighborhoods, its jobs and housing imbalance, increased traffic congestion, strained infrastructure, incipient smog, abused park system and threatened beaches are, on a lesser scale, similar to the Los Angeles experience.

To aid the region's need to protect its frail environment and to better manage, shape and style growth, an architecture and planning school can be an invaluable resource. This includes producing needed personnel, serving as a research laboratory and, generally, raising the public's design consciousness.

Among the items prime for research noted in a report recommending that the regents approve the school were "planning in coastal communities, design issues related to new building materials and the integrity of structures subject to seismic stress, computer-aided design, providing for the homeless and the design of developing urban communities, including those that cross international boundaries, such as San Diego-Tijuana."

These items and, generally, the school's enormous potential for contributing to the region's quality of life were stressed when last fall the regents approved its establishment on the UC San Diego campus, and set 1991 for the first day of classes.

No sooner than this had been done, the university's administration scheduled a symposium to honor the event, featuring four world-renowned architects, Ricardo Legoretta of Mexico, Fumihiko Maki of Japan, Richard Meier of the United States, and Richard Rogers of England. They are to discuss their work, and later take part in a panel discussion exploring broad issues of architectural education.

Without question the four are among the more interesting architects practicing at present. I have no quarrel with them, or the moderator of the event, colleague Alan Temko, the ever-engaging and insightful architecture critic of the San Francisco Chronicle.

However, I do not feel they should have been selected to, in effect, set the tone or agenda for a new school in a region of which they have little knowledge. They probably don't want to either, despite vague comments about the future of architecture education in the flood of press releases that have been sent out announcing the event.

The thrust of the symposium obviously is to make some sort of splash; that by luring four of the profession's superstars onto the campus their renown in some way will rub off on the school; that UC San Diego intends to be "big league," and challenge the two other architecture schools in the UC system, UC Berkeley and UCLA. So much for addressing the architecture issues of the day, and academic empire-building.

As the school's first public gesture, I feel the symposium should have focused on some of the regional and gut architectural issues it supposedly was established in large part to address.

The four architects and moderator of note could have been saved for another day, or have lent perspective to an expanded dialogue involving prominent planners, landscape architects and environmentalist conversant with San Diego's problems. Even a simple critique of the school's own stark campus design and ivory-tower attitudes would have been pertinent.

Instead, we most likely will get the usual self-congratulations and self-promotions such events generate, and will have to wait another time for UC San Diego to mend some local fences and begin exploring the critical role of architecture and planning in the future of the region.

One of the wonderful things about architecture is that beyond all the talks, seminars and books, and the models, drawings and exhibitions, is the project itself.

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