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UCLA Merges Architecture and Arts Into a New School : Education: It's a controversial move to save money, but increased faculty strengths are cited.

October 14, 1994|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | TIMES ART WRITER

UCLA has launched a School of the Arts and Architecture, merging the university's Department of Architecture and Urban Design with its former School of the Arts. Looking toward a community-involved future and boasting what Dean Robert Blocker calls "stellar new faculty appointments"--including Daniel Libeskind, architect of the Berlin Museum, a closely watched project currently under construction in Germany--UCLA's architecture program has joined the other arts under an expanded umbrella on the sprawling Westwood campus.

The move comes in response to massive cuts in funding that have shaken the entire University of California system and slashed UCLA's 1994-95 budget by $34 million. The new school is part of UCLA's effort to save $8 million a year through a controversial plan known as the Professional School Restructuring Initiative.

Among other provisions, the initiative has dismantled the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning but preserved its educational programs, saving more than $1 million a year in administrative costs. The Department of Urban Planning has shifted to a new School of Public Policy and Social Research, while Architecture and Urban Design has allied with five other artistic departments--Art, Design, Dance, Music and Ethnomusicology and Systematic Musicology.

Chancellor Charles E. Young's announcement of the plan, on June 3, 1993, was greeted by noisy protests. Under the surveillance of police in riot gear, about 50 architecture and planning students banged on doors of the alumni center where Young held a press conference to explain the initiative. Although architecture wasn't slated for extinction, some students, alumni and faculty feared the department would be eviscerated and eventually abolished.

Young's proposed change was essentially structural, "but structure confers status," Blocker said in an interview in his office. "It was essential that the status of architecture not be mitigated in any way. If anything, it would be strengthened."

Administrative jobs have been lost during the financial crunch, and less staff assistance is available to both students and faculty, he said. But now that the new school is a reality, Blocker contends that the Department of Architecture and Urban Design is among the best in the nation. He attributes the department's strength to faculty, past and present. Filling vacancies with Libeskind, Mark Mack and other architectural luminaries has renewed a tradition of leadership in a department that already claimed such well-known figures as Franklin Israel and Charles Jencks, he said.

Furthermore, Blocker said, unlike many universities that import big names for brief tours of duty, UCLA maintains a permanent full-time faculty of leading architects.

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Department Chair Jurg Lang concurred. Although seven faculty members left in an early retirement program, most have been retained on an emeritus basis so that students can work with them, he added.

Students and faculty are attracted to the department's relatively small size (with an enrollment of just over 200) and its well-established program, which is restricted to graduates, Lang said. But he thinks the biggest draw is UCLA's location. "As a city of the 20th and 21st centuries, Los Angeles is one of the best places to study architecture and design. It doesn't just extrapolate from the past; it pursues a vision of the future," he said.

Still, with all that going for it, UCLA's architecture program is fighting a public perception that it died in the restructuring process, Lang said. He hopes that outreach programs--including exhibitions, lectures and community projects--will correct that misconception and help people to see architecture as part of their lives. The first event is a show of Austrian architect Peter Noever's work, at the Wight Art Gallery through Nov. 18.

According to Blocker, the new school is poised to move into the future with more use of computers, more interdepartmental cooperation and fewer bureaucratic encumbrances. But major challenges remain: developing funding for student aid, building friendships with businesses and community groups and recruiting gifted students.

"I won't say we have turned the corner. Every time we do that, we see another corner," Blocker said. "But we have turned a corner."

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