Right about now, you are probably surrounded by piles of discarded gift wrap, serenaded by an astonishingly noisy array of new toys and overcome by the bleary feeling that results from temporarily substituting rum balls for green vegetables.
But there's nothing like a spot of self-guided neighborhood touring to restore those feelings of peace and goodwill. We won't bog you down in long lists of boring facts and figures. Nope, we simply propose that you trot around in the fresh air and soak in a few sights that you may have overlooked in the mad rush from here to there.
We're proposing two entirely different, roughly hourlong rambles: one, on the tranquil, park-like campus of UC Irvine, where even the "old" buildings are just past college-age themselves; the other, in downtown Tustin, where the gracious aura of yesteryear lives on in numerous private homes and a few downtown storefronts.
Our UCI walk begins in the Irvine Marketplace on Campus Road, where you park your car and perhaps indulge in a fortifying restaurant brunch or lunch. Then you cross the footbridge spanning Campus Road to begin a leisurely meander around the first of the "rings" surrounding 21-acre Aldrich Park, the green jewel at the center of campus.
Passing the new Irvine Barclay Theatre on your right, you cross Pereira Road, named for William Pereira, the architect who planned the campus in 1963, when all this was still part of Irvine Ranch. While confused campus visitors may want to curse Pereira's planning skills--as well as his ugly, hulking concrete buildings--he did have a symbolic idea in mind when he designed the two central rings of the campus: Students begin their undergraduate careers in the tight little world of the inner ring and go on to broaden their knowledge in the graduate and research buildings lining the outer ring.
Stop just long enough at the Administration Building (on your right) to pick up a campus map on the second floor, and browse the bin of flyers listing campus events. On weekdays, if you have a yen for greenery, you also might dart into Room 204 to pick up a copy of the UCI "Tree Tour," which guides you through the broad range of Aldrich Park plantings with the help of a giant map.
Then start making tracks on the outer ring, heading first for the playful-looking white stucco and concrete block Student Center, completed this year.
Its inviting courtyard area--with its plaza of cafe tables adjoining a flight of steps, and a banked grassy area that invites warm-weather sunbathing--clearly was built with the Southern California lifestyle in mind. The view from the steps takes in a soothing panorama of rolling hills and trees. You can walk through this space and scarcely be aware you are entering a building.
Inside the center are shops oriented to student needs (travel, bicycles), an auditorium, meeting rooms, four lounges (which include spots for playing pool, watching videos or listening to recordings) and a fast-food court.
Back to your rambles, you see on your left the cubistic Student Services II building, designed by Siegel-Sklarek-Diamond of Los Angeles. Project architect Kate Diamond has said that because the campus lacks identity, "it needs buildings that are very sculptural and strongly modeled to provide a real sense of place."
You can bypass the next three buildings on your left, but glance up at the fourth, Steinhaus Hall, which houses the biological sciences. Designed by Canadian Arthur Erickson, this late modernist building is enlivened by horizontal bands of light green glass.
Walking past Joe's on the Green (another eating spot) to the inner ring gives you an unobstructed view of Aldrich Park. Now's the moment to pull out that tree tour, which will clue you into the differences between, say, the Naked Coral Tree and the Natal Plum (actually an evergreen), to name just two of the 41 species.
Formerly grazing land, the entire campus is landscaped as an arboretum with both indigenous and exotic plantings. Many of the exotics were newcomers to Southern California when they were first planted here, and others had been ignored for years by landscapers.
The Physical Sciences II building, designed by MBT/Gayner, looks something like those cakes you can make with alternating layers of whipped cream and chocolate cookies. While the two decades-older Physical Sciences I structure next door is an ugly, fortress-like monolith, the newer building looks more human-scaled. The detailing of the windows, for example, helps to convince a passerby that there are offices for real people in there, not monstrous warehouses for wayward robots.
Passing the University Club on your right, you spy the ICS/Engineering Research Facility III, which is still under construction. It was designed by Rebecca Binder of Los Angeles, a leading female architect in a profession still overwhelmingly dominated by males.