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Dirk Sutro / Architecture

UCSD Symposium Offers Few Insights Into Future of Design

February 08, 1989|Dirk Sutro

"Architecture: Shaping the Future," last Saturday's all-day symposium at UCSD, provided a high profile for the university's future school of architecture.

But few profound insights were aired by the conference's four internationally famous architects. And those who came hoping to hear about how the new school might best function left unenlightened.

Instead of having their unquestionably powerful minds prodded, the four architects were left, for the most part, to show pretty pictures of their projects, only two of which are in Southern California.

The talent was top drawer, with Richards Rogers from England, Roger Meier from the United States, Ricardo Legorreta from Mexico and Fumihiko Maki from Japan. San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic Allan Temko introduced the architects and moderated the closing discussion.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday February 9, 1989 San Diego County Edition View Part 5 Page 14 Column 3 View Desk 1 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction
Because of an editing error, architect Richard Meier was incorrectly identified in Dirk Sutro's architecture column in Wednesday's View.

Undoubtedly, the symposium had an impact. Never has such a throng of San Diegans gathered for an architectural event--about 800 people filled Mandeville Auditorium, and an overflow of 300 watched the proceedings on television monitors.

Wide Range of Participants

The participants included more than the usual in-crowd of architects, designers and architecture groupies. There were people involved in real estate marketing, San Diego city officials, college educators and students.

The possibility of exposing such a mixed crowd to a higher form of architecture than is available locally comes but once a millennium.

But one hopes the missed opportunities for discussing issues relevant to the school and its region aren't signs that the university's new program will head in a predictable direction, favoring a Big-Time image over important solutions to uniquely regional problems.

Each architect spent about an hour discussing his work. Photos, drawings, models and videos of their work are on display in Mandeville Gallery at UCSD, through Feb. 26.

Because the architects spent most of their time describing the slides, there was little room for commentary. But Legorreta, more than the others, seemed to have a genuine social conscience.

"Good architecture is that building in which a queen or a beggar feels very much at home," Legorreta said.

Legorreta said he's afraid architects are selling out. With all the media attention, he noted, some architects are too interested in appearances.

Legorreta uses the fruit salad colors of Mexico's vernacular architecture on many of his buildings, and he explained why by quoting the inhabitant of one such tiny home. "I like it this way," the man told the architect.

Clearly, Legorreta would rather talk about people than abstract theories, and he's a wry social commentator.

Some Bright Moments

The tempo picked up through the day, and the closing discussion moderated by Temko provided, for about an hour, a few of the bright moments that the entire symposium could have had.

Legorreta thinks architects sometimes design more to impress other architects than to serve clients. Meier finds encouraging signs in the nation's architecture schools, where there seems to be a renewed focus on architectural problems, instead of peripheral or theoretical issues.

Meier put in word for low-income housing, which wasn't that convincing considering the large museums, expensive houses and assorted other big-budget buildings that have made his name.

Maki made one of the day's best suggestions: require an architecture course or two for every college student; maybe we'd get developers, bankers, lawyers and doctors with some sense of what's good and what's not, and why.

Panelists agreed that architectural history should be taught to architecture students, but felt that many teachers make the subject as stimulating as counting sheep.

Rogers suggested that architects and architecture students need to mingle more with non-design types. Maki said that architect Kenzo Tange worked in a campus studio at the University of Tokyo in the early '50s, giving students a first-hand look at the creative process.

Legorreta and Temko stressed that students need to travel to experience a full spectrum of architectural ideas and cultures.

Given four world-famous architects, how could UCSD have organized a more inspiring symposium? A few proposals:

- Assign each man a problem area in San Diego--the downtown waterfront, La Jolla, the Gaslamp Quarter--and send him there for an hour. Let him give 15 minutes of spontaneous suggestions.

- Provide a brief period during each architect's presentation for the other three to critique the work, while the architect defends it. This has been done in the past among local architects.

- Select a moderator more familiar with San Diego than Temko, whose major comments on the city were that it's been raped by development, saying downtown's high-rises are mediocre and Horton Plaza is far from great architecture. Nothing new there. An appropriate moderator could steer the discussion in more relevant directions.

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