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Poor Marks for UCSD : Design: The Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies ignores basic planning principles.

March 08, 1990|DIRK SUTRO

SAN DIEGO — While prominent architects have been stocking UC San Diego with a new generation of aggressive architecture, no one seems to be watching out for the welfare of the campus.

A new campus master plan was approved by the school's Community Planning Committee last July, but it came too late to have any impact on the newest campus complex, the $8.5-million Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies.

Even without the new plan, the architects for the new buildings showed surprising disregard for basic principles of good planning. The graduate school buildings, designed by San Francisco-based architects Kaplan McLaughlin Diaz (KMD), most certainly would not have been allowed under the new master plan.

Kaplan McLaughlin was hired almost five years ago, well before work on the master plan began in 1988. They were also handed the job of designing the campus' new Price Center, which opened last year. The three-building graduate school complex shows the same kind of insensitivity for campus atmosphere, history and planning as the Price Center.

Among the key elements of the new campus plan is a "ridge walk," a north-south pedestrian mall that sweeps along the western side of the campus.

"A pedestrian promenade had always been a part of campus plans," said architect John Kriken, a partner in the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who directed the drafting of the new master plan. "It was defined in the very first plan for the campus because it was part of the old highway right-of-way."

But the graduate school complex violates this zone of open space. While most buildings are set back 15 or 20 feet from the actual concrete promenade, with lawn and trees as buffers, a sharp corner of one of the new buildings juts prominently into view.

In a phone interview, McLaughlin defended this projection.

"We wanted a strong announcement of the building. We brought this prow form forward to the mall. What you see is a very strong prow form emerging." In reality, the prow analogy isn't apparent to pedestrians, who perceive an obstructive solid wall.

The graduate school complex is laid out in a triangle, with the base along the pedestrian mall. The project includes a circular lecture hall near the center of the triangle's base, an angled faculty-administration building along two sides of the triangle, and a classroom-library wing along the third side.

Apart from its affront to campus planning, the new project has other problems. While its central plaza is a great outdoor people place, it doesn't communicate with the three buildings around it. Entrances are ill-defined. Unnecessary walls on either side of the stairs leading down into the library portion of the library-classroom wing make this entry feel too boxed in. The austere concrete of the plaza doesn't live up to the richness of the building surfaces.

Working on a tight budget, the architects have given the complex a look of quality by covering it with affordable and great-looking Jerusalem stone in a variety of textures and tones. But this finesse is undercut with busy, overbearing hardware, especially the steel railings that hang like a hormone-fed Erector Set on the plaza side of the administration building.

Instead of relating to neighboring buildings and working with a palette of materials designated for this particular campus "neighborhood," the graduate school complex is a real chest-beater. While the architects didn't have the new plan in hand, Kriken suggested that more sensitive responses to contexts might have improved both the Price Center and the IRPS complex.

In some respects, the architects didn't have much nearby architectural heritage to work with. The closest campus buildings are the Supercomputer Center, a glaring mega-box of white walls and reflective glass, and the Spanish Colonial Institute of the Americas, which would have been more at home in Old Town.

But the nearby student housing to the south--simple buildings buffered by trees--shows how less aggressive architecture can be a more harmonious alternative. And there is the longtime image of the campus as a grove of eucalyptus trees.

Both the Price Center and the graduate school complex fail to make strong links with important, nearby pedestrian circulation paths.

There are numerous sidewalks and paths through the IRPS complex, but these don't relate strongly enough to the pedestrian mall. You'd expect the plaza to be open to the pedestrian walk, but the large, round lecture hall closes off what could have been enticing views of people and landscaping with the new project's plaza.

Some students seem to like the contemporary energy of the graduate school complex, but those involved with campus architecture don't approve.

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