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STYLE: Leaders of the Pack : Southern California Trendsetters: Portraits From the Creative Edge : Building for Tomorrow: Duke Oakley

March 13, 1994|AARON BETSKY

Change is afoot at UCLA, and a new era of construction has begun. Westwood Boulevard above Le Conte Avenue has been transformed into a medical avenue flanked by new offices, laboratories and clinics. The main undergraduate library is housed in an award-winning tent-like structure while Powell Library is renovated. New dormitories crown the northern hills, a massive business school is under way and a high-tech power plant nears completion. Still to come are more labs and a remodel of the student union.

"There is enough going on that you can see a new urban coherence rising up here," says UCLA Campus Architect Charles Warner (Duke) Oakley, the man overseeing this $800-million transformation. He ensures that the structures not only appear on time and on budget, but also that they "engage passersby and have a scale that reflects human experience."

The trick, Oakley says, is learning from the past: "Modern architecture, especially when combined with the constraints of state funding, gave us large, institutional buildings with long corridors inside and no relationship to what went on outside. For this round of building, we have chosen architects (such as Robert Venturi, Antoine Predock and Barton Myers) who have proved that they are responsive to the context in which they build."

When Oakley was hired in 1985 to bring order to the haphazard building process on the 420-acre campus, "people liked the grounds a lot more than the buildings." Since then, Oakley has added structures enjoyed for their amenities, such as the garden atop the new MacDonald Research Lab. He is also using seismic upgrading to enhance existing facilities, such as Royce Hall, whose towers were damaged in the January earthquake.

Oakley, 49, has a special perspective on the campus because he has been a paraplegic since he broke his neck in a diving accident at Dartmouth. "I used to say that I look at buildings more carefully because I move more slowly in a wheelchair, but now that I have a power chair, I actually go a lot faster than most people," he says. "Let's just say that times have caught up with me: I always worried about access, about how things looked from down here, and now more people care about these things."

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