At a ceremony final week to mark the opening of the $700-million USC Village, C.L. Max Nikias, the college’s president, spoke at some size in regards to the structure of the brand new advanced and what he known as “USC’s extraordinary bodily metamorphosis” lately.
He identified the similarities between the purple-brick Village and USC’s 1930 Bodily Schooling constructing, designed by John and Donald Parkinson. He praised the design of the three-12 months-outdated Annenberg College for Communication and Journalism, which just like the Village was designed by the Los Angeles agency Harley Ellis Devereaux within the neo-conventional Collegiate Gothic model.
Then got here his ringing conclusion: “And let’s at all times bear in mind, the seems to be of the College Village give us ,000 years of historical past we don’t have. Thanks, and struggle on!”
Even delivered in a vacuum it could have been a outstanding assertion: the president of the main personal college in Los Angeles taking on, as a rhetorical cudgel, one of many laziest clichés in regards to the metropolis, that it has no historical past to name its personal.
At an occasion marking the opening of that president’s signature architectural initiative, although, it took on extra shades of irony than Nikias most likely realized. It’s exactly the Village’s misreading of the architectural historical past of the USC campus — and the cultural historical past of Los Angeles — that leaves it wanting so undernourished and misplaced.
Regardless of its nostalgic trappings, this isn’t an structure that remembers. It’s one which forgets.
The Village is essentially the most formidable of the constructing tasks Nikias has overseen since taking on the USC presidency in 2010. The college describes it as “the largest improvement within the historical past of South Los Angeles,” although the Coliseum may need a greater declare on that title; Nikias known as it “essentially the most prized jewel within the crown of our campus.”
Masking .25-million sq. toes on a 15-acre web site bounded by Jefferson Boulevard, McClintock Avenue and Hoover Avenue, it represents a serious enlargement of USC’s architectural footprint north of Jefferson and into the town at giant. Together with residential suites for greater than 2,500 college students — an almost 25% enlargement of campus housing for undergraduates — its six 5-story buildings maintain a health middle, school rooms, a eating corridor and floor-flooring retail areas, open to the general public, that embrace a Goal and Dealer Joe’s.
The finished Village means that nevertheless efficient the thousand-years slogan may be as a fundraising pitch, it’s a shaky basis for brand new structure. With its Gothic decoration, peaked arches and 150-foot clock tower, the advanced is a fantasia of simply-add-water heritage, equal components Disneyland and Hogwarts.
Much more putting, the Village barely pretends to have the braveness of its neo-trad convictions. When you stroll inside any of the buildings it turns into clear that the Gothic exterior is a stage set, a false entrance behind which lies adrearily typical collection of areas.
The primary courtyard of the Kathleen L. McCarthy Honors School, which homes 550 first-12 months college students within the coronary heart of the Village, is lined in plain stucco. The suites are equally utilitarian. The advanced was constructed on an aggressive timetable, utilizing a system of two,500 precast panels, and it reveals. Even the inside areas that should look totally aged — such because the eight,000-square-foot eating corridor, with seating for 400 — barely conceal the truth that the traditionalism of the Village is basically painted on.
The significance of the Collegiate Gothic model for USC, in different phrases, will not be the message it sends to present college students as a lot as potential ones and their dad and mom, together with trustees and donors: that USC is gearing as much as compete with the Ivy League. Not like the equally outdated-common however much better appointed new residential faculties at Yale, which I noticed the day earlier than the Village and will likely be writing about quickly, the USC undertaking abandons the Oxbridge touches in every single place the general public gained’t go. That is structure as veneer, as drone fodder, as brochure materials.
Contemplating Nikias’ masterful success as a fundraiser, it could be arduous to seek out fault with that message in purely pragmatic phrases. On the similar time, by insisting on a type of structure that advertises its religion in continuity and context, USC will not be stitching itself into however setting itself aside from Los Angeles.
The best approach to outline the town’s tradition is to say that it’s the other of doctrinaire; the best approach to clarify the town’s historical past is to say it’s made up of a collection of productive flights from historical past — from the historical past of different locations, to be particular. The best L.A. structure has at all times embraced that freedom from customized and expectation.
And to the extent that the Village is supposed to supply a historical past lesson of its personal, it’s a spotty one.
For many who would defend the architectural tastes of the present USC administration, the urtexts, the foundational designs, are the Bodily Schooling constructing Nikias talked about final week and Ralph Flewelling’s 1929 Mudd Memorial Corridor of Philosophy.
Every is a crucial work of structure. And every is Romanesque Revival (arched openings and horizontal bands of brick and stone, typically warmly communitarian in spirit) fairly than Gothic (peaked openings, vertical emphasis, a normal severity). There’s actually a purple-brick custom in USC structure. The concept there’s a particularly Gothic one is a fiction.
Extra to the purpose, USC’s architectural historical past hardly ended there. Thanks largely to a grasp plan commissioned in 1961 by USC President Norman Topping from William Pereira, the varsity has a wealthy inventory of mid-century and late fashionable buildings by proficient architects together with (along with Pereira himself) Edward Durell Stone, Edward Killingsworth and A. Quincy Jones.
Only a few of those might be pretty grouped with the aggressively acontextual buildings that did a lot injury to the material of different American faculty campuses within the postwar many years. Many, resembling Killingsworth’s 1965 College Non secular Heart, counsel a much more considerate, even delicate modernism.
The Killingsworth constructing is subsequent door to a different sizable Nikias undertaking, the Glorya Kaufman Worldwide Dance Heart. Designed by the structure agency Pfeiffer, it opened final fall. To see these two buildings facet by facet is to grasp at a look how gracelessly USC is remaking its campus.
It’s sufficient to make you marvel what the USC college makes of the latest constructing spree and what it says in regards to the college’s priorities. Maybe some professors see the outdated-common structure as faintly embarrassing however a small value to pay for the very actual advantages that include relentless fundraising and rising budgets.
That fundraising has boosted the mental lifetime of the campus in unmistakable methods. There was cash to rent good students away from different faculties, which in flip has helped lure prime college students from excessive faculties across the nation.
The sluggish creep of Collegiate Gothic throughout the campus (and now past it, into the neighborhood straight north) has despatched a unique message in regards to the type of place USC goals to be. The Village is the product of an architectural technique expansionist and insular at the identical time. It suggests the pure end result of a requirement that each one important new campus buildings faux that they’re outdated, which is to say a requirement that guidelines out any connection between structure and the cultural evolution of Los Angeles.
And in contrast to the Grove out of doors shopping center and locations prefer it, which purpose for the same unreality, the Village is a part of an specific effort by USC to achieve out to and have interaction with the town itself, not construct an oasis from it. The contradiction between that effort and the structure of the advanced is fundamental and putting.
Because it seems, although, the Village is a surprisingly helpful measuring stick for a metropolis that's each altering rapidly — particularly within the downtown core, just a few blocks north of USC — and coming to worth by itself phrases its singular and simply caricatured urbanism.
What most cheers me most in regards to the Village is that it stands out like a sore thumb within the surrounding city panorama, that acquainted, important L.A. cloth of excessive-low electicism. Discover how the close by neo-Moorish Shrine Auditorium (John C. Austin and Abram Edelman, 1926) doesn’t simply rise from however appears fully comfy in a patchwork of strip malls, faculties, palm timber, alleys and parking constructions? I’ll take that cacophony over the inner consistency of the Village — its oddly superior sense of rectitude, its sense that its middling structure must put it at the highest of the category — any day.