Sunday, March 22, 2015

University of California, Riverside: Understated Modernism

The classic view of UCR's Carillon Bell Tower (by Jones & Emmons, 1966) and the brutalist arcades of the Tomás Rivera Main Library (by Latta & Denny, 1954). Photo ©Darren Bradley
Despite pre-dating the larger and more glamorous UC campuses of San Diego and Irvine by 5 to 10 years, UC Riverside feels smaller, quieter, and perhaps even a bit more humble. But that's not to say that it's not worth a visit. In fact, its collection of modernist architecture is quite remarkable. 

Those covered arcades along the quad in front of the library are the signature feature of the UCR campus. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Here's the rear (south and east) elevation of the Tomás Rivera main library. This brutalist building has narrow slits to let in light without too much solar gain from the harsh sun. It's was built before the campus plan in 1955, which may explain why it doesn't follow the guidelines.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

The university's humble roots spring from its origins as a citrus research station for the University of California system in 1907, with little more than a barn and a small citrus grove, in the heart of southern California's Inland Empire. Like UC Davis, the school has always had a strong focus on agriculture, befitting of its location. It became a general university in the late 1950s, and grew quickly through the 1960s. Most of the buildings from its central core are from that time period. 
Sproul Hall. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Another view of Sproul Hall. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Sproul Hall Interior Courtyard. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Pierce Hall by A. Quincy Jones & Frederick Emmons (1966). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Pierce Hall by Jones & Emmons (1966). Photo ©Darren Bradley
Lothian Hall, by G.V. Russell (1953) are among the first dorms built on campus. There's a really mediocre post-modernist addition that was built on the front side, and which is not at all in keeping with this design, but I didn't photograph that. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Detail of Lothian Hall showing how effective those vertical fins can be to keep windows in the shade. Why don't architects use them anymore? At best, you usually just see some token horizontal shade over the top of windows these days. Photo ©Darren Bradley

I've often read that there's no discernible or cohesive theme or plan to the building style on the Riverside campus. But there was an original campus plan (the LA firm of Allison & Rible prepared a master plan in 1955), and it actually feels as if it has been more widely followed than most plans that I've seen from other campuses that I've visited (UC schools or otherwise). 

Spieth Hall. Photo ©Darren Bradley
The most obvious unifying element is of course those arches that you see above in front of the Rivera Library. They are not limited to the library. You find them again on various other buildings around campus in the central core. 

Now I feel almost like I'm in Miami Beach. This is in front of University Theater. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Here are those arches again, supporting the arts buildings of Olmsted Hall. Photo ©Darren Bradley 
Used to dramatic effect here at the drama department, Olmsted Hall. Photo ©Darren Bradley

As near as I can tell, they appear to be a modernist, brutalist take on the 1928 Mission Revival-style Municipal Auditorium, which is a local landmark in Riverside and includes concrete reinforced arches in a similar style. 

It's hard to see from this vintage postcard, but there are free-standing concrete arches in the garden on the left side of the building which are very similar to those used throughout the UCR campus.

In fact, much of the original campus feels like a modernist/brutalist take on Mission Revival style, and evokes almost walking through a Spanish or Mexican village, with clusters of buildings, narrow alleys and covered passageways leading to small, shaded courtyards and gardens. 

A hidden garden courtyard with the signature archways supporting the buildings and creating shaded passageways. It seems to be a modernist/brutalist take on traditional Spanish or Mexican towns, and it works well. Just wish they had fountains in the courtyards.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Those concrete sunshades visible on the clerestory windows on the right are very reminiscent of Pereira's designs, but were done here by Maynard Lyndon (1965). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Another view of those great sunshades on the clerestories of the Physics Building by Maynard Lyndon (1965). Photo ©Darren Bradley
Even the rear loading docks of the Physics Building are worth photographing. Photo ©Darren Bradley

This is mostly a low-slung, modest campus (newer, flashier buildings not withstanding). A lot of architectural superstars of the post-war, mid-century modernist period designed buildings for the Riverside campus, including Albert Frey, A. Quincy Jones, and William Pereira. But it seems as if they toned down their styles for UCR. 

Albert Frey, along with partner William Porter Clark, working his magic on Watkins Hall. This is one of the original buildings from 1953.
Photo ©Darren Bradley
Watkins Hall by Frey & Clark (1953). Photo ©Darren Bradley

The one area on Watkins Hall where Frey let loose a bit was on this little breezeway connecting two sections of the building.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

Webber Hall by Clark & Frey (1954) was another of the original buildings on campus. Note again the use of sun screens and covered walkways. Photo ©Darren Bradley

But that's not to say these more subdued buildings are not beautiful or functional. On the contrary, they are very elegant and they work well - both in their own right and as part of an ensemble. Those covered arcades and protected courtyards create lots of shade while channeling cool breezes through the campus. Overall, they impart a sense of calm, and there are lots of quiet, peaceful spots to rest and keep cool from the searing heat and sun. 

Another view of Olmsted Hall from under the arches. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Alas, like just about every other college campus I've visited, UC Riverside follows a pattern. The original modernist buildings, grouped around the central core, follow a common, cohesive set of architectural cues and design principles - regardless of who designed them. Then, somewhere around the mid-seventies or early 80s, that broke down and the newer buildings more closely resemble office buildings in a corporate business park. 
This 2000 addition to Pierce Hall (see above) by RBB Architects is not unattractive. In fact, I rather like it. But it has little to do with the original Jones & Emmons building next door. Photograph © 2003 by Alan Nyiri, courtesy of the Atkinson Photographic Archive, UCHDA. 

But at least for UCR, there appears to have been a set of design guidelines that were more or less respected (including the use of brick, concrete, and sun shades). 

Bourns Hall dates from 1995, and is by the firm of Anshen & Allen, who are perhaps best known for their role designing the first Eichler Homes in the 1950s. Their style has changed a bit.
Photograph © 2003 by Alan Nyiri, courtesy of the Atkinson Photographic Archive, UCHDA.

Since UCR's student population actually declined in the 70s and there was little new construction until the 90s, that may have saved some of their original buildings and given them a chance to avoid some of the post-modernist silliness the other campuses have experienced. 

Post-modernism strikes again. This is the New Entomology Building at UCR, by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership (2002). Photograph © 2003 by Alan Nyiri, courtesy of the Atkinson Photographic Archive, UCHDA.

Besides the Entomology Building, the main exception to everything I wrote above is the Fine Arts Building. This post-Modernist behemoth was designed by Frank Israel in the early 90s and nearly wasn't built due to funding shortfalls. 

New York Times Architecture critic Herbert Muschamp praised Israel's design at the time (1994), calling it "an interpretive formal synthesis of desert terrain and the disjointed urbanism that has grown up there," and "a ziggurat for the year 2000." One has to wonder how much time Mr. Muschamp spent on the campus before coming to that conclusion.
UCR's ziggurat for the year 2000. Photograph © 2003 by Alan Nyiri, courtesy of the Atkinson Photographic Archive, UCHDA.

It's a mishmash of stucco and jagged blocks at odd angles that has nothing to do with the rest of the campus, and appears to dwarf all else around it. 
Welcome to the Fine Arts Building. Photograph © 2003 by Alan Nyiri, courtesy of the Atkinson Photographic Archive, UCHDA.

Overall, my impression of the architecture of UC Riverside is a campus that is thoughtfully designed and perfectly well suited to the climate and character of the surrounding community. 
Tomás Rivera Main Library. Photo ©Darren Bradley

From what I heard while walking around there, and reading reviews online, many students and faculty consider these classic older buildings to be dated and obsolete. But hopefully, they will be preserved long enough to reach a point where the general population will start to recognize and appreciate the merits of their designs. One can only hope. 
Until next time, Highlanders... Photo ©Darren Bradley

For my blog post on UC Irvine, read here. For UC San Diego, read here. 


Anonymous said...

Good site.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this blog.
I took an impromptu tour of UCR today when I met up with a fellow who graduated close to thirty years ago.
I was walking my dog deeper onto campus than I've eve been (I live close by)...he was wanting his picture taken by the bell tower. From there, the conversation turned to the amazing architecture all around.
I delight in 1950's and 60's California architecture...and he knew all the spots...and the next thing I knew, off I set on a guided tour.
I refused to take pictures...the angle of the sun was wrong, I only had my phone camera...and am thus so happy to find your shots here.
Your photography captured my day nicely.
With gratitude,

Mike said...

Wow. Without question, this is some of the best architectural photography I've ever seen of the UC Riverside campus! Thanks for your efforts...

Unknown said...

Hi, Darrell. Would love to talk to you about possibly using this images for UCR's magazine! You can reach me at

Thank you!

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