The workshop is over, and now I’ve had a couple hours to digest what I’ve been hearing, and generally decompress. There are few things I like better than being around very smart people, but it does take energy to pay attention to them, and to keep up.
So after the workshop was over, I walked over to the UC Irvine campus, to get some exercise and think on my feet. There’s an extremely cool new science library that’s a combination of a giant circle and rectangle.
I have mixed feelings about the UC Irvine campus. It has a central park that is pretty nice, and now after 40 years has some pretty impressive trees and eycalyptus groves. And in some ways, the mid-1960s architecture is impressive, at least as an expression of an optimistic moment in the history of American higher education and faith in technology.
Steinhaus Hall, via flickr
To me, there’s a certain family resemblance between buildings like Langson Library (below) and Disneyland’s Tomorrowland: both have a gigantic, Space Age look and scale. It’s a visual language of confidence and technocratic certainty.
At the same time, I’m glad that that architectural era is over, and college building designers now try harder to create spaces that are warm and inviting. 1960s college buildings embody a vision of education as a service to be efficiently delivered, as a transfer of information from experts to students, rather than as a cultural and social process. This is an era that would put social scientists in a big tower, and think it was a good thing.
Social Science Tower, via flickr
Even the Death Star at UC-Davis tries to create some courtyards and human scale, even if it manages to combine the worst elements of a giant academic building and an Easy-Bake oven (the aluminum siding is kind of tough to take during the summer).
Engineering Tower, via flickr
I’m sure there are students who have a great time here: you develop a totally different and more precise sense of a place when you live there, and lots of kids have grown up with food courts and other places that my generation still regards as an impoverished form of public space. For them, perhaps this is what they’re used to. Maybe the campus really is a harbinger of the future after all.
[To the tune of Sound Tribe Sector 9, “Tap In,” from the album “2004-12-31 – Tabernacle“.]