Thursday, August 23, 2012

Oration On UCSD Architecture

"UCSD’s continued expansion into a science-fiction nightmare: It’s been a growing monstrosity for decades. Where there once stood mighty eucalyptus groves and quaint ’70s wooden ranch architecture, there are now mostly big gray concrete boxes. Nothing’s human scale. One of the last campus sweet spots, the charming University Center, with its 1950s Camp Matthews bungalows and grass field, was leveled a few years ago to make way for the giant, hideous Jacobs School of Engineering building. Wanna feel like a cyborg sent for reprogramming in a dystopian future? Borrow $80,000 and get a degree from the University of California. "

Well that's nitpicking isn't it.

I might not join the writer of this erstwhile San Diego preservationist in UCSD-bashing, but in all seriousness, I'm not a big fan of the nearby Salk Institute. Like many people I'm not a big fan of mid-to-late twentieth century institutional modern architecture in general. Anything that attempts to create its own style looks dated very quickly (ever see the quaintly 60s international terminal at JFK? Eero Saarinen, same guy who did the St. Louis Arch. Only the Arch remains in good taste since it's too simple to identify with any one era.) And the worst thing about modern architecture, since it's clearly meant to impress one-time visitors rather than the people that work there? The bathrooms always suck. This is the most important room in the building as far as I'm concerned, and in the Salk they're a disaster, just like in many of Frank Lloyd Wright's buildings. Beth Shalom Synagogue in Philadelphia, one of his last structures, is a perfect example.

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