UCSD Show a Coup for San Diego

In an attempt to step forward as a major center of architecture, UC San Diego opened an exhibit Friday featuring four world-class architects.

“Architecture/Shaping the Future” showcases Richard Meier (United States), Fumihiko Maki (Japan), Richard Rogers (Britain) and Ricardo Legorreta (Mexico) at Mandeville Gallery. The show, and an all-day symposium Feb. 4 that will bring the architects--and San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic Allan Temko--to San Diego, is intended by school officials to stoke the fires for UCSD’s new School of Architecture, scheduled to open in 1991.

Stylistically Balanced

Stylistically, the show is extremely well-balanced, ranging from the “high-tech” Rogers to the latter-day modernist Meier, from the colorful Legorreta, who also has roots in modernism, to the inventive Maki, a pioneer in the use of materials.


A different space is dedicated to each architect’s work. Mandeville Gallery director Gerry MacAllister set out to focus on future projects, but was subject to the whims of the architects--in some cases, she had to take whatever they would send.

While Legorreta’s pieces give a mini-history of his career, ranging from his Camino Real hotels in Mexico to a proposed government center in Phoenix to a recent house in San Diego’s Rancho Santa Fe, only two projects each by Meier and Maki are documented. Three of Rogers’ works--"London as It Could Be,” a bridge in Paris and the Alcazar in Marseilles--take up most of his wall space, along with a few token photographs of his Lloyd’s Building in London.

There is some inconsistency in the visual materials. Sometimes they are inadequate to do a project justice. Most of the panels on Rogers deal with his “London” proposal. As such, they primarily illustrate urban planning, not building design. There are, however, wonderful drawings and photos of a model of a pedestrian bridge he would like to see built across the Thames.

While Rogers gets a handful of photos and many drawings, and Legorreta’s room is mostly photos plus some models, Meier’s space is chiefly filled with large drawings. For the public, which is unfamiliar with architectural drawings, photos of completed works would have helped tell his story. By contrast, Legorreta’s Southside project in Texas, represented only by photographs, cries out for a site plan to make some overall sense of the many pictures.

Despite the shortcomings, the show is still a coup for San Diego. Those who have seen little architecture beyond what’s produced locally, or even nationally, will be stunned by the work of these four geniuses.

Although they take quite different approaches, all have ideas in common and are searching for something to supersede stark modernism. Except for Meier, who remains a modernist at heart, they are searching for a warmth and humanity lacking in buildings by second-rate modernist clones, who filled American cities with anonymous glass-box high-rises in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

None of the four could be remotely associated with the ‘80s movement known as poster-modernism, led by architects like Michael Graves, which emphasizes a return to elaborate decoration and historic references.

Perhaps most encouraging is the concern each expresses for making projects respond to human needs, for making pedestrians a high priority.

Rogers, best known for his design of Paris’ Pompidou Center, which wears its skeleton and mechanical guts on the outside, is primarily represented here by his daring proposal for remaking London.

He proposes a light and open pedestrian bridge across the Thames to replace a railway bridge, to give pedestrians unobstructed views of the river’s dramatic curve. A new, arcaded river walkway would replace a four-lane road. The removal of the old Charing Cross station and a viaduct in front of Waterloo Station would open up dramatic views of great historical buildings.

Alcazar, another Rogers project, is a new center for the textile and clothing industry in the French city of Marseilles. Like his London makeover, this design emphasizes pedestrian use of a glazed central arcade and a glazed facade that lets passers-by watch the activity within.

Delicate Touch

Maki’s vision has all the newness of Rogers, but with a delicate beauty the British architect lacks. The light tables used to show his work, and two long scrolls of his sketches, add a special elegance. His aluminum and steel roofs, on projects like the Fujisawa Gymnasium (not shown), have a soft, curving grace.

Featured at UCSD are the Tokyo Science Museum and the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, both in progress.

The architect draws on diverse sources for inspiration. He is fascinated with the possibilities of layering, using solid and transparent materials to manipulate light.

The wing-like roof of the giant sports facility is reminiscent of delicate forms produced in the ‘50s and ‘60s by Eero Saarinen. To Maki, a building’s exterior is a symbol and need not always be a reflection of the functions contained within. Also, he understands the importance of the long and short view of a building, paying great attention to details.

Legorreta’s work hits closest to home. Some of his best work is in the American Southwest.

As such, it deals with issues pertinent to San Diegans, especially the linking of indoor and outdoor spaces in a climate suited to such interplay.

Several of Legorreta’s house designs are shown, but the projects receiving the most attention are a proposal for a new government center in Phoenix (ultimately not the one selected), and his Solana-Westlake/Southlake project in Texas, including a large new office building for IBM.

In the Phoenix project, Legorreta’s fascinations with color landscape design are in full force. The colors on the minimal, hard-edged structures are rust, sand, mustard, pink and purple, the palette of the Southwest desert and sky. Water flows from a spout in one wall and a reflecting pool wraps around a building. The circulation plan features bold diagonals. Several skylights and rooftop openings let in natural light.

Meier’s new Getty Center in Los Angeles had not been included by the opening last Friday, but a large model of the project was due to arrive this week. His redevelopment scheme for Madison Square Garden and his city hall and library for The Hague, Netherlands, were also sent. Both are designed for dense urban areas and respond to nearby buildings and existing pedestrian and traffic patterns.

Meier intends for carefully placed new towers to reinforce the grid of streets around Madison Square Garden. A large glass screen outside the Dutch city hall provides a link and transition between outdoor and indoor spaces.

Meier’s stark style has spawned a new generation of followers, among them Del Mar’s Janice Kay Batter and Michael Batter, a husband-wife team. Through the early seventies, Meier’s commissions were primarily for houses, but in recent years he has done larger urban projects.

Besides drawings, photos and models, the exhibit includes videos on the work of Meier and Legorreta, available on request.

The show runs through Feb. 26. Hours are noon-5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. The Feb. 4 symposium is free, but might be booked by the time you read this. For information, call 534-3400.