UCLA has undergone a metamorphosis in the last decade. All over campus, new spaces have opened and old spaces have been reimagined, reflecting the changing ways we live and learn at a world-class research university.
Three themes characterize this transformation: collaboration, rejuvenation and sustainability. And there’s a hefty dose of spatial magic as well. With the smallest land area and largest student population of any UC campus, UCLA has mastered the art of infill, using spaces between buildings and adapting awkwardly shaped plots of land.
Take a stroll through campus to look at nine sites that illustrate these changes, and talk to the people on the scene and behind the scenes who make it all happen.
We begin our tour on Le Conte Avenue, outside Geffen Hall, the new home of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Looking at this gleaming new glass-and-brick building, it’s hard to imagine what this site was just a few years ago: a small traffic circle. Geffen Hall is an inspired example of the creative infill construction on campus over the past 10 years. What was once a small, sloped, forgotten corner of campus is now the heart of the medical school, a warm and inviting new connection between campus and city. Medical students stream in from the clinics from the north, filling the new café and sunlit courtyard, and the community at large has a new pedestrian walkway into campus alongside the Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden.
Geffen Hall carries forward UCLA’s rich history of innovation and collaboration. The previous job of the university’s first medical director, Stafford Warren, had been medical director of the Manhattan Project during World War II. Warren brought a radical, interdisciplinary approach to UCLA, bringing schools, hospitals and cutting-edge research from across the health sciences together in one place. This collaborative approach has been key to UCLA’s success over the past half-century. And as the Geffen School of Medicine looks to the future, the collaborative spirit still resonates today.
Inside, we’re greeted by Vice Dean of Education Clarence Braddock, who is currently leading an overhaul of the curriculum with the new facilities permitting innovative ways to structure teaching and learning. He opens the door into a large space with seats clustered into small groups.
“We want to create more opportunities for different kinds of learning — more collaborative learning, more active learning,” he says. “Instead of more lecture halls, we built a room which we refer to as the learning studio. It’s configured with screens at various angles, and it can be used for collaborative, team-based learning. It’s flexible, for dozens of different configurations. We also created a teaching lab, which has flat-screen panels for students to do microscopy or review X-rays in small groups. The building is designed as sort of a palette on which teaching innovation can take place.”
Braddock explains how these new classrooms reflect the evolution in medical teaching philosophy: “There’s this old adage that the role of the teacher has moved from being this ‘sage on the stage’ to the ‘guide on the side.’ The sage on the stage is where I’m the expert — I get up and give a performance. It may be a great performance, it may be a terrible performance — but largely, it’s me sharing my expertise with a group of either attentive listeners or dozing listeners, as the case may be. It’s almost more like performance art than it is engaging with the learner. The ‘guide on the side’ is a completely different thing. I still may give a lecture, but my role is to put out ideas and create activities in which the learner engages.”
This 21st-century approach is evident in the many different types of rooms in Geffen Hall. But the most striking space is outdoors. Classrooms, studios and problem-based learning rooms line several floors that circle and overlook the open courtyard, which is designed to be a kind of town square for the medical school — its social heart. It’s a major shift from the old building, the Center for the Health Sciences (CHS).
Asked how she would compare the buildings, second-year med student Orly Bell says, “Night and day. CHS is a very old building. It’s dark. There aren’t a lot of windows. We’re going from walking long, dark hallways surrounded by offices to now being outdoors. A lot of students take advantage of that and just sit in the sun overlooking the courtyard. Between classes or on breaks from lectures, people will just be hanging out outside together, which is phenomenal.”
Let’s continue our walk into campus, up Tiverton Drive and through the Court of Sciences. Arriving at UCLA’s iconic Inverted Fountain, we stand in front of our next destination, a striking example of the evolution taking place on North Campus.
Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center
On first glance, the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center looks like it’s made of the traditional UCLA red brick. But look closer and you’ll see that the exterior is made of terracotta tile, arranged at varying angles. When the sun hits the exterior, multiple tones appear, echoing the look of Royce Hall and Powell Library. In this way, the architecture of the Ostin Music Center honors UCLA’s past while offering a view into the future of music education.
With state-of-the-art technology and new collaboration space, the center’s two pavilions are designed to elevate every step of the musical process. Walking through the first pavilion, we can hear the sounds of violin, piano and vocal warm-ups drifting from the faculty studios and ensemble rooms, as well as the chatter of students discussing music projects in the ground-floor café.
The second pavilion, a new, 4,300-square-foot recording studio, creates the sensation of being inside a musical instrument. The walls incorporate a custom-designed wooden “baffle” of Douglas fir and spruce, absorbing and reflecting sound back into the space.
In the studio, we’re greeted by Stephen Spies ’17, a composition major. “We’re doing a mixing session for one of the bands I’m in, with Eric Swanson, an amazing audio engineer and composer,” he explains, pointing into the control room, where Swanson and another student talk over a mixing board. This mixing session is one of many forms of collaboration that happen in the studio every day. “I also record soundtracks in here,” Spies says. “I score a lot of films that are made in the [UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television]. We have recording sessions in here with an orchestra of UCLA students for the soundtracks to those films.”
Not many recording studios are as large as this one, which can accommodate a full orchestra. The size is also acoustically important for musicians like Spies: “It’s big. When you record in here, you get a really ‘reverb-y’ sound. When you’re recording with a big group, you get a lot of natural ambience from the space. It can be nice to have that big-room sound, as opposed to trying to simulate that sound through a computer,” he says.
Musicians are very particular about their recording spaces. But the Ostin Music Center is a hit with students and faculty — as well as critics. The buildings were honored for design at the Los Angeles Architecture Awards, and they were described by Architectural Digest as “a tour de force of acoustical engineering married to bravura architectural form.” It’s music and architecture in perfect harmony.
Continuing the tour, walk along Portola Plaza and take stock of the rejuvenated athletics zone. UCLA has come a long way since the pre-Pauley days when the men’s basketball team played in a place known as the “B.O. Barn.” To attract new talent and house the most decorated university athletics programs in the country, UCLA Athletics has renovated the old and found creative ways to build the new.
Mo Ostin Basketball Center
A common misconception is that Pauley Pavilion is operated by UCLA Athletics. In fact, it is run by UCLA Recreation; it’s a common space for all students to use. While this is a boon to the greater UCLA community, it has been a challenge for the varsity basketball teams to schedule practice time around intramural sports and other events. UCLA Basketball has long coveted a separate practice and training facility, and now it has one: the Mo Ostin Basketball Center.
The Ostin Basketball Center is another example of infill construction: It fits snugly into a small, triangular site, the former home of two practice tennis courts. The distinctive, undulating design of the building was recognized earlier this year with a design award at the Westside Urban Forum.
Walking onto the men’s practice court, one is immediately struck by the bright and open space. The ceilings soar 30 feet above the courts, with waves of wooden beams extending to large skylights that fill the court with natural light. Natural ventilation intakes pull fresh air into the courts, and the skylights are made of ETFE, a compound that diffuses light to prevent excess heat and glare.
“Russell Westbrook Court” is emblazoned on the men’s practice floor: a gift from the alum (the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player) who helped make the center a reality. A gift from another heralded former Bruin, Kevin Love, funded the Kevin Love Strength and Conditioning Center.
Bruins past and present, as well as other professional hoops stars, often drop by campus for practice and pickup games. Once the Mo Ostin Basketball Center opens its doors this fall, we may see them more often.
Wasserman Football Center
Right next door is the new Wasserman Football Center, which opened in August. As with many other projects on campus — and especially in the increasingly crowded athletics zone — the architects and UCLA administration turned a lack of space into an asset. What was once a walkway has been transformed into the new home of UCLA football.
Tracy Huth, special assistant to the athletic director, leads our tour. The first thing we see is the weight training and conditioning area, an array of equipment looking out onto Spaulding Field. When the enormous, garage-door-like windows lift up, players are literally a step away from their practice field.
Downstairs, players find their brilliant white lockers, with their numbers attached in blue. A barber’s chair sits in the corner, where a barber is on stand-by for the players. Walk through the locker area and you’ll find three pools of varying shapes and sizes: a pool with an underwater treadmill, a hot tub and a large pool designed for ice baths following intense practices and workouts. The cold pool is quite a step up from the team’s old ice bath routine, when an ice truck would dump ice into plastic tubs on the field.
On the top floor are nine separate film rooms for the different team units, as well as one massive, all-team auditorium with 158 seats and a large screen that glides down from the ceiling. Also on the third floor: An outdoor patio and players’ lounge, complete with game room.
“The hardest thing to figure out,” Huth says, “will be when to close the doors at night, because the players are going to love it here so much.”
Pauley Pavilion Renovation
There was perhaps no more iconic — or sensitive — building project for UCLA than Pauley Pavilion. Designed by architect Welton Becket and opened in 1965, Pauley has hosted countless NCAA champion teams, award shows, concerts and a presidential debate. However, due to the building’s narrow concourses and lack of amenities, calls for an upgrade intensified over time. They culminated in January of 2007, when UCLA announced plans to renovate the facility.
Ken Weiner ’78, former senior associate athletic director, played a key role in the process. “We looked at all the options for Pauley, including demolition and building a new arena,” he says. Where do you start the process of renovating or replacing Pauley Pavilion? With John Wooden, of course. “The first person we talked to was Coach,” Weiner says. “He was open to all of the options, but as was his style, he expressed his preference. He wanted to renovate instead of building a new arena. He loved the place.”
In addition to consulting Coach Wooden, Weiner and the rest of the project team did extensive focus-group testing, asking students, alumni and others what they wanted. The renovation managed to strike a perfect balance, retaining the aura of Pauley while modernizing nearly everything about the building. In addition to a new glass exterior and entrances, the new Pauley features widened concourses, over 1,000 more seats, new locker rooms, more restrooms, greatly increased food options and many more upgrades. After two-and-a-half years of renovation, the beloved arena reopened in October 2012.
UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center
Our next stop is a new jewel at the center of campus: the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center. The beautifully designed center opened in October 2016 and features 254 guest rooms for overnight accommodations, a restaurant and many other world-class amenities.
The Luskin Conference Center is designed to be environmentally sustainable in nearly every conceivable way. Half of the wood used for construction came from sustainable forests. All guest rooms feature high-efficiency sinks, showers and toilets, and landscaping irrigation saves an estimated 1.5 million gallons of water per year. Energy conservation features include LED lighting, occupancy sensors, natural ventilation and insulated windows that minimize heat and maximize light. The list goes on.
The Luskin Conference Center isn’t designed to minimize just its own impact on the environment, but also be a model for the notoriously wasteful hospitality industry. According to Emma Sorrell, sustainability manager for Housing and Hospitality Services, the building “serves as a living laboratory supporting innovation and research breakthroughs, and demonstrates that sustainability fulfills the triple bottom line of benefiting people, planet and profit.”
For the last stops of the tour, head up Bruin Walk to take stock of the transformation of the residential community over the past 10 years. Walking around the Hill, it’s hard to imagine that as recently as the 1950s, UCLA was a commuter campus, with acres of surface parking lots and zero residence halls.
UCLA’s transformation to a residential community was swift, but not without challenges. In the ’60s and ’70s, funding for residence halls was difficult to come by. But housing got a boost when the 1984 Olympics came to Los Angeles. Hitch and Saxon suites were both erected so that the Hill could house athletes in the Olympic Village, expanding UCLA’s housing stock. Both Hitch and Saxon were renovated, in 2014 and 2015, respectively. They’ve been so thoroughly overhauled that they look totally different from the buildings erected more than 30 years ago.
Hitch Suites, a complex of four three-story residential buildings, was once covered in wooden shingles — not exactly a model of design or fire safety. Now the buildings have been completely renovated inside and out, with a sharp new design as well as fire and seismic safety upgrades.
The commons area has been replaced with a striking new two-story building that includes a kitchen, laundry and plenty of shared space for students to study or hang out. The new building achieved LEED Platinum Certification and won a Community Impact Award for Housing at the 2015 Los Angeles Architectural Awards.
A year later, Saxon was also stripped to its studs and rebuilt with new finishes, windows and sun-shading devices, along with mechanical and electrical upgrades.
Saxon’s commons building was also demolished and replaced. Saxon presented a unique challenge: Part of the site was a canyon at one point. It has been filled in with soil, but the area remains unsuitable for construction. The architects cantilevered part of the building 30 feet out over the former canyon area, with a shaded outdoor common area underneath. The opposite end of the building now doubles as an outdoor movie screen.
Down De Neve Drive is one of the Hill’s most transformative projects of the last decade. The 2008 Northwest Housing Infill Project turned available campus land into Sproul Cove, Sproul Landing, Carnesale Commons, Holly Ridge and Gardenia Way.
Peter Angelis, assistant vice chancellor of housing and hospitality services, says UCLA’s goal is to create a dynamic urban community based on what matters most to students: dining, study space, fitness, safety, affordability and sustainability.
To that end, Angelis and his team have opened more cuisine- and culture-oriented restaurants. “We now have Feast, a dining hall that does eight different Asian cuisines,” he notes. “We have one that does the cuisines of the Americas, one that does the cuisines around the Mediterranean. And our newest, Bruin Plate, is kind of California-healthy, sustainable cuisine.”
Bruin Plate is one of only three university facilities in the country to be designated a 4-star certified green restaurant. The designation is based on its sustainable energy, recycling and locally sourced food — including 50 aeroponic towers on Sproul Landing, where 2,200 plants are growing. With 14,000+ students living on campus or in university-owned housing, food sourcing, energy conservation and composting play a major role in UCLA’s sustainability goals.
Angelis recalls meeting Olympics representatives touring campus as part of L.A.’s bid for the games in 2020. “They said, ‘We’ll put the athletes’ village elsewhere.’ I said, ‘Why not here? We had them in ’84.’ They said it’s not possible for universities to have sufficient quality for the athletes. I asked them to reserve judgment until we walked through the Hill. After showing them the Luskin Conference Center and taking them up to the Hill, I could see it in their eyes. They said, ‘You’re absolutely right. This could be an outstanding Olympic Village.’”
We end our stroll at Carnesale Commons, where we’ll find one of the best views at UCLA. Looking east over Drake Stadium, it’s easy to see why Condé Nast Traveler named UCLA the 10th most beautiful campus in the country last year. The transformational decade just passed encompassed 224 major projects, 35 LEED certifications and countless hours put in by UCLA students, staff, faculty and donors. The result is a campus that will set the standard for higher education well into the future.