Westwood, Ho!

Westwood, Ho!


Suspended walkways at Viñoly’s CNSI. BRAD FEINKNOPF

While the red brick Italian Romanesque core of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) is an ubiquitous presence on LA’s western skyline, the school is not often on the lips of those discussing great contemporary Southern California architecture. That may be about to change, as Westwood has been altered by three new campus structures by architectural heavyweights Richard Meier, Rafael Viñoly, and I.M. Pei.

The new buildings—still intended, say campus officials, to blend with the school’s overall aesthetic—include Meier’s recently-completed Broad Art Center, Viñoly’s just-finished California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI), and Pei and his son C.C.’s nearly-completed Ronald Reagan Medical Center. They are part of an ambitious expansion plan for the campus, which already has a population of nearly 40,000 and hundreds of acres of prime real estate. 

“The existing style of the campus is extremely important in making any decisions regarding architecture,” said campus architect Jeff Averill. “New buildings must have a contextual response to the campus. We have a framework, a palette of materials that we use. Of course, there are exceptions, and these three new buildings have more exceptions than other projects.”

Completed last fall, Richard Meier and Partners’ Broad Art Center is a welcome top-to-bottom renovation of the original Dickson Art Center by William Pereira. Completed in the early 1960s, the cast concrete building was ill-suited to making art from the get-go, due to its low-light, dense studios and poor ventilation. Then, damage from the Northridge earthquake of 1994 was so extensive that renovation or demolition was the only answer. 

Richard Meier and Partners’ Broad Art Center. TIM GRIFFITH

“This space is all about creating the best possible light and space for teaching and making art,” said principal architect Michael Palladino of Richard Meier and Partners. “Our goal was to pull all the weight off the face of the building and to reuse it at an appropriate scale. We took a lighter concrete system, created proper sun control on the south side, and made the building more transparent,” he said.

Perhaps most significantly, the circulation was moved from an inner corridor to cantilevered corridors located outside so that the expanded studio spaces receive both natural circulation and natural light throughout the day. “The building can be naturally ventilated nine months of the year,” said Palladino. Teak slats on the west-facing facade, brick paving in UCLA’s familiar, four-hued red palette at the east facade, and off-white cast concrete are all nods to the campus aesthetic.

The south campus is receiving its share of construction as well. Located in what was once a cramped bit of space over an existing parking structure, the spectacular CNSI, finished by Rafael Viñoly Architects in December, completes a group of contemporary-style science buildings known collectively as the Court of Sciences. Structures by Ralph Johnson and Cesar Pelli flank the CNSI and help to create a dense south campus network of buildings. 

Set on a relatively small footprint, the CNSI is meant to bring together several scientific disciplines. The seven-story building, of which three floors were constructed over an existing parking structure, centers on fostering collaboration among scientific teams. “The design reflects how this work is performed: Large undetermined technical spaces with unexpected modes of circulation that encourage random activity,” said Viñoly.

The exterior of the CNSI is deceptive; its clean brick and metal facade belies the hive-like interior courtyard. As if spun by an industrial arachnid, the chaotic web of pathways suspended above a portion of the parking structure connects various corners of the building. Though jarring at first, these suspended walkways are meant to illustrate the larger aim of this burgeoning technology. “It’s all about creating connections across disciplines,” said Averill. “The walkways and inner courtyard are indicative of that. The connections across this space are an expression of the idea of this building.” 

By far the most monumental and expensive building being completed on campus is the Ronald Reagan Medical Center. Designed by Pei Partnership Architects, this building will entirely replace the old UCLA Medical Center.

At a cost in excess of $850 million, the Medical Center will be among the most technologically advanced hospitals in the world. “The kind of things that are incorporated into the building in terms of function and technology take health care into a new era,” said Averill. Utilizing more than three million pounds of travertine—clearly evident on its facade—the one million-plus-square-foot, 10-story hospital is on a four-acre site at the southwest corner of the campus.

Patient rooms will all be equipped with technologies like wireless internet, robotics, and digital imaging capability that enable a level of medical care unavailable even ten years ago. “The Center makes any other project on campus pale in comparison,” said Averill. “It is so much bigger than anything else.”