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UCSD Muir College Modernism

Definition of San Diego Modernism

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UC San Diego’s John Muir College and Modernist Architecture


Robert E. Alexander "Tower Form" (1963)
Image courtesy of UCSD

Long before Stanley Gould’s (Risley and Gould) 1961 master plan for the Graduate School of Science and Engineering and UC San Diego hiring Robert E. Alexander (in 1963) as Consulting Architect, an earlier modernist, Irving Gill, designed the Director's Office (in 1910), a crisp, unadorned, clean structure for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Originally recognized as Second College (First became Revelle College and Third was later changed to Thurgood Marshall), UC San Diego’s John Muir College was designed under the supervision of Consulting Architects Robert E. Alexander and A. Quincy Jones. Starting his role as team leader, or Executive Architect for the campus in 1965, Robert Mosher worked with a team of San Diego based firms Frank L. Hope Associates, Liebhardt Weston and Richard George Wheeler Associates. Later Dale Naegle would join the effort in designing the college’s residential and dining buildings.

The earliest designs provided to Alexander by Mosher were met with resistance and thus began a rollercoaster of designs, politics, and relationships that would give birth to one of the strongest, most cohesive architectural programs within the University of California system. Alexander’s plan was in peril from the beginning as the campus worried about its impact on the student population – then witnessing campus uprisings across the US and Canada.

According to Robert Mosher: The principal feature of this Plan was what Alexander referred to as the “Champs Elysées”, a monumental pedestrian mall stretching from the northern edge of the campus to a point at the southern edge, very near the present intersection of Torrey Pines road and La Jolla Village Drive, a distance of nearly 1-1/3 miles. The mall would have followed the ridge that old Highway 101 formerly occupied.


Robert E. Alexander "Communications Center" (1963)
Image courtesy of UCSD

At the mid-point of this mall, approximately where Thurgood Marshall College is now sited, the Plan called for an immense central plaza, measuring 500’ by 700’, rivaling the Piazza San Marco, in scale and around which were to be clustered buildings, called the Communications Center…

 

In the center of the grand plaza, there was to be an amphitheatre seating 6000; and from the center of the amphitheatre, a 360-foot-high communications/navigation bell tower was to rise. This tower would have been more than one third the height of the Eiffel tower.

The twelve colleges, as programmed in the Academic Master Plan, were to be located as individual separated clusters of buildings, evenly placed along each side of the Champs Elysées. The Plan required, in Alexander’s words, “that each of the twelve colleges would by physically distinct,” and different in character. Each, as delineated on the Master Plan, showed a different pattern of buildings, some large and formal, some smaller and informal. No consistency of scale, design or character was implied; in fact, these characteristics were discouraged.

On the positive side, one of the most compelling elements of the proposed Master Plan was the landscaping component, which called for informal treatment at the campus edges and more refined landscapng on the campus interior. The San Diego firm of Wimmer Yamada ASLA was retained to be the permanent Consulting Landscape Architects, to insure continuity and harmony in both the landscape and paving elements, such as roads, walks, terraces and courtyards.

Had this landscape policy been followed throughout the entire development of the campus, the resulting landscape design would have created a unifying character that would have helped to produce a greater sense of place…

…Alexander recognized that the selection of individual architects for each building within a college could very well result, to a degree, in undesirable visual chaos. Therefore, he proposed that, after each college had been master-planned by the Consulting Architect, in this case himself, all of the executive architect assignments be made simultaneously for all of the buildings in the college.

Robert Alexander resigned his position as Consulting Architect during the summer of 1965 after William Pereira’s request to move his library design from where the Campus Master Plan placed it. Additionally, Robert Mosher, meeting with the campus architect, members of Alexander’s staff and UCSD faculty had agreed to move in a more “humanist planning” direction and away from the 1963 plan.

Robert Mosher, as Muir College’s Executive Architect and his team of architects began meeting soon thereafter. According to Mosher, Alexander’s plan “was shelved and I was instructed to make a fresh start…” Mosher continued, “The executive architects began the work of designing their separate buildings, for which I established the relationship of each to the others within the complex, the material and color palette, and the design of the fenestration to be used on each of the academic buildings. The fenestration for the residence halls required a different treatment because of the differing nature of their internal needs.”

The purpose of this coordination was to achieve as much continuity of design as possible, given the requirements of the five building programs. The buildings were to be comfortably related to one another, be visually compatible, and create informal garden spaces, courtyards and walkways, which would invite people to linger there and enjoy their passage through the campus.

Wimmer and Yamada produced a landscape plan that supported and enhanced the informal environment we were seeking. The… Architects were cooperative. Each made a conscientious effort to contribute to the sense of place that I hoped to achieve – an informal, humanistic environment…

According to The UCSD Master Plan Study and its Antecedents, “carob trees in formal rows were to be planted along all major pedestrian malls and roads... the eucalyptus trees were described as being ‘of inferior material.” In addition to landscape design, uniformity throughout the campus would be expressed through building materials (concrete), color, paving, outdoor furniture and graphics.

Unity within each college would be achieved by an executive architect master planning each. Alexander approved of each college having a distinct program as long as each followed one of four “forms”: and Open form would have the maximum variety in building forms (see Revelle College); the Cube form would be characterized by square building forms of varying height; the Tower form would utilize north-south oriented buildings mimicking an “Italian hill town”; and lastly the Cloister type was “recommended for east of the ridge, where the interior court would be similar to Christ Church, Oxford in scale.”

During that summer of 1965, the Regents of the University of California appointed A. Quincy Jones (Jones and Emmons) as Consulting Architect. At that same time William Pereira offered “A Master Plan for University Center” to the Regents, which justified his library siting and the new campus center, or University Center, just south of his Central Library plan.

While there is some debate over whether or not Mosher’s plan followed Alexander’s “tower” form, he did follow Alexander’s proposed method for achieving unity with the college by leading a team of (San Diego based) architects to design the buildings: Electrophysics Research (later Applied Physics and Mathematics by Robert Mosher), Biology Building (Liebhardt & Weston), Humanities and Social Sciences (Richard George Wheeler and Associates headed by designer Gayne Wimer), McGill Hall (Frank L. Hope & Associates led by designer Fred R. Livingstone), as well as Muir Commons, Muir College Apartments, Tioga Hall, and Tenaya Hall all by architect Dale Naegle.


Muir College Model circa 1966
Photo courtesy of Robert Mosher


Early Muir College Model
Photo courtesy of Robert Mosher

While not under supervision of Mosher, the construction of neighboring Second College (later John Muir College) buildings Mandeville Arts Center (A. Quincy Jones) and the campus Gymnasium and Natatorium (Liebhardt & Weston) complete Muir College.

While the design of Mandeville Center for the Arts began as early as 1968, the project was not completed until 1975. Siting of the structure within Jones’ 1966 Campus Master Plan revision interrupted Robert Alexander’s north-south axis as well as altering the focus of the campus from the sciences to a more balanced curriculum.

According to Cory Buckner (in the text A. Quincy Jones), “the structure is of reinforced concrete, except for the second-floor studio space, which is heavy timber with a plaster-and-wood siding on the exterior. The roof of the auditorium is a steel truss with metal decking that can adapt to a variety of stage and audience configurations."

Buckner’s research uncovered Jones’ own thoughts on the building as well. The building would “include ‘People Spaces’ that could relate indoor and outdoor areas for student and faculty work and that could also serve for exhibits, music recitals, meditation and outdoor functions.” Jones, in Mandeville Center Festival Program, stated his design approach by “creating a facility that would encourage an open community, provide opportunity for fortuitous encounter, be person-scaled and considerate of the user; one that would welcome all, be subservient to human activity, meet the needs we could perceive, be open to surprise…”


Electrophysics Research under construction (circa 1969)
Photo courtesy of Robert Mosher

Resources Used:
1. The UCSD Master Plan Study and It¹s Antecedents
2. Physical and Academic Master Planning at UCSD by Robert Mosher (speech delivered on 1/19/2005)

A Walking Tour of UCSD Modernist architecture would not be complete without stopping by the following structures:


Electrophysics Research (1969) by Robert Mosher
Photo courtesy of Robert Mosher

1. Applied Physics and Mathematics, (1969) Architect: Robert Mosher
Originally built as the Electrophysics Research Building by Muir College consulting architect Robert Mosher (Mosher & Drew) in 1964, this fine example of local modernism anchors visitors’ east entrance. Concrete brutalism yields to Joseph Yamada’s (Wimmer and Yamada) landscape design that weaves through the campus.


Biology (1969) by Liebhardt Weston
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia

2. Biology Building, (1969) Architect: Liebhardt Weston
Though Frederick Liebhardt (Liebhardt & Weston) struggled initially with Mosher's architectural program for Muir College, the design challenge yielded this stunning concrete structure in 1969. Frederick Liebhardt and Eugene Weston III would continue their relationship with UC San Diego by building a total of eight structures for the campus.


Humanities and Social Sciences (1969) by Richard George Wheeler Associates
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia

3. Humanities and Social Sciences, (1969) Architect: RGW and Associates
Richard George Wheeler¹s partner, designer Gayne Wimer, represented one of San Diego’s largest architectural firms with this imaginative design. Also fitting within Mosher’s architectural program, the concrete structure extends into the landscape and connecting it to the campus’s neighboring structures.


McGill Hall (1969) by Frank L. Hope Associates.
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia.

4. McGill Hall, (1969) Architect: Frank L. Hope & Associates
Robert Mosher hired another local architectural firm, Frank L. Hope and Associates to design McGill Hall for the John Muir College campus. Hope’s long-time staff designer Fred R. Livingstone collaborated with Mosher, UCSD and the team of architects to design this beautiful, yet restrained, structure.


Muir (later Stewart) Commons (1969) by Dale Naegle

5. Muir Commons (1969) Architect: Dale Naegle
In the heart of the college, Muir Commons, acts as a hub at center of Muir’s residential architecture (Tioga Hall, Tenaya Halls, Muir College Apartments). Reflecting a more informal spirit than neighboring concrete towers, this may be the warmest structure to the visitor and student alike.


Muir College Apartments (1969) by Dale Naegle
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia

6. Muir College Apartments (1969) Architect: Dale Naegle
While the neighboring Tioga and Tenaya Halls stand tall, Dale Naegle¹s apartment designs for the campus melds with the southwest portion of the campus just across the landscaped plaza from the Commons.


Tioga Hall (1969) by Dale Naegle
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia

7. Tioga Hall  (1969) Architect: Dale Naegle
One of two bold, almost brutalist, designs for multi-story student housing that worked well with Mosher¹s architectural program for the Muir campus. After driving south past the Salk Institute on Torrey Pines Road, passersby can’t help but reflect on the amount of exposed concrete in the surrounding area.


Tenaya Hall (1969) by Dale Naegle
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia

8. Tenaya Hall  (1969) Architect: Dale Naegle
Standing tall next to its sister building, Tioga Hall, Tenaya initially offered stunning views over the Muir College campus (and west to the ocean) and ease of access for students to a number of services and their classrooms.


Mandeville Center for the Arts (1968-75) by A. Quincy Jones
Photo by Mike D'Ambrosia

9. Mandeville Arts Center (1975) Architect: A. Quincy Jones
Following Robert E. Alexander¹s exit as the campus’ consulting architect, widely recognized Los Angeles based modernist A. Quincy Jones (Jones & Emmons) was hired. Among the many byproducts of Jones’ work UC San Diego is this delightful center for the arts.


Main Gym (1965) by Liebhardt Weston
Photo courtesy of Eugene Weston III


Natatorium (1965) by Liebhardt Weston
Photo courtesy of Eugene Weston III

10. Gymnasium and Natatorium (1965) Architect: Liebhardt & Weston
Winning local designs awards from the San Diego chapter of the AIA, Eugene Weston III¹s (Liebhardt& Weston) design for a cluster of playing fields, indoor swimming and a full-size gymnasium punctuate a visitor¹s journey between Muir College and Revelle College.

Architect bios

Frederick Ralph Livingstone
After working for a number of firms including five years with Paderewski, Mitchell and Dean (1957 1961), Frederick Livingstone went into private practice designing homes from his Pacific Beach studio. In 1962, he established the firm Livingstone-Brown with Hyder Joseph Brown. From their La Jolla Shores office, the firm produced a number of progressive residential and commercial designs between 1962-1966. Between 1966-1986 Livingstone worked for the largest architecture practice in San Diego, Frank L. Hope and Associates, Architects and Engineers. During the early years of his tenure with the firm, he would manage the firm’s design for Muir College’s McGill Hall (1969).

Robert Mosher
At the beginning of his architectural career, Robert Mosher worked for Myron Hunt & H.C. Chambers, Harwell Hamilton Harris and William Templeton Johnson. Robert would design his first office on his father’s property, the Green Dragon Colony on Prospect in La Jolla. Mosher invited Roy Drew (whom he had met in Hunt and Chambers’ office in 1946) to stay in a Green Dragon apartment for a 6-month trial period as they began work as a team. Mosher and Drew, Architects would flourish over the coming decades by engaging San Diegans in their brand of humanist/modernist architecture. Early designs for Gordon Gray, Herbert Kunzel, and James Copley drew attention from several publications including House Beautiful where Robert Mosher worked while on sabbatical from his firm in New York City (1955-57). The firm grew in size and scope, to Mosher Drew Watson Ferguson, while always maintaining their original design philosophies.

Dale Naegle
Dale Naegle graduated from USC’s architecture program in 1954 in the height of Southern California’s modernist movement. With mentors William Pereira and A. Quincy Jones helping form his approach to design, Mr. Naegle was one of several Los Angeles ex-patriots to bring a design ideology steeped in the tenets of Arts & Architecture to San Diego. Dale’s early career would include work with Ed Malone, Herb Turner and his early firm of Naegle, Coffey and Associates. The latter garnered a fair amount of attention for their early residential and commercial designs by widely published photographs by Julius Shulman. Dale Naegle was hired by executive architect Robert Mosher to design all of Muir College’s residential projects.

A Brief History

Originally conceived in 1963 by Los Angeles architect Robert Alexander (formerly of Neutra and Alexander), the campus plan intended to grouptwelve academic colleges around a “Champs Elysées” on the path along the ridge occupied by Highway 101. The twelve colleges would be organized into three self-contained clusters of four each. Each college would be physically distinct from the others.
Buildings within colleges would respect the same orientation, include housing and playfields and be organized around a central court. The San Diego firm Wimmer and Yamada proposed to bring unity to the plan through the landscape design. Their proposal called for informal treatments around campus edges with a clean more formal landscape on the interior.1

In July 1965, Robert Alexander resigned his post as Consulting Architect. With William Pereira proposing to move the campus’ center to the east around his library design and newly appointed Consulting Architect A. Quincy Jones placing his design for Mandeville Center blocking the north-south promenade, much of Alexander¹s plan was changed in the 1966 revision.1

By 1966 it had been determined that John Muir College would take the “tower” form outlined in Alexander’s campus master plan; San Diegan Robert Mosher, of Mosher and Drew was named executive architect for the first Muir building and, following Alexander¹s proposed method for achieving unity within colleges, was also commissioned to head a team of architects to design the remainder of the college buildings. Thus, Muir College, planned and designed under the eyes of both the founding fathers and the architect of the master plan, would serve as the model for the “unity” concept in campus development. 1 

1. The UCSD Master Plan Study and It¹s Antecedents