Designing a campus is like designing a hermetic city, where individuals’ needs are completely fulfilled. Within the campus confines, students and faculty must be able to learn, teach, eat, study, rest, socialize, bank, shop, and indulge in leisure.
The earliest American campuses were rudimentary in their design and structure, although they fulfilled their multiple functions. They were sited in rural settings (to keep students free from distractions) and consisted of several humble buildings assembled around a quadrangle. Historian Henry Cleveland described Harvard's first buildings as “vast brick barns, destitute alike of symmetry, ornament, and taste; a sort of horrible regularity and squareness...which heightens their deformity.”
Eventually, as colleges grew in size and prestige, their planners became interested in making architectural statements about their institutions’ raison d'etre. In the early 19th Century, Eastern campuses suddenly became populated with Greek Revival edifices — two-story rectilinear buildings with Doric-columned porches, which supposedly demonstrated the American institutions' philosophical ties to Greco-Roman heritage, democracy, wisdom, and independence. Several decades later, Gothic Revival would become popular on campuses for its monumental scale and Medieval allegories, which denoted permanence, endurance, and respectability. By the mid- 19th Century, students could attend classes in buildings that looked like Greek temples and Gothic churches.
In the 1890s, a final "Edifice Complex” befell American campuses. “Beaux Arts fever” — an obsession with ponderous, large-scale, domed-and-portico’d buildings — had already stricken America’s landscape. Banks, churches, office buildings, libraries, even railroad stations resembled variations of the White House. University architects also seized upon the style to add formality, pomp, and circumstance to their campuses. Their Beaux Arts constructions attracted philanthropic benefactors who believed the Brobdingnagian Beaux Arts style was a perfect vehicle for ensuring their architectural immortality. These early-20th century captains of industry endowed schools with unprecedented financial gifts — some more than $1 million — with instructions to erect imposing Beaux Arts monuments in their name. Many, such as the generous gentleman who offered Harvard $1 million to create a “Turkish-style dormitory” in his honor (Harvard declined), intentionally sought to have buildings constructed that would clash with all others, both in size and style.
University administrators soon realized that, due to the meteoric increase in student populations and the dwindling acreage available to accommodate them, they would have to plan their spaces carefully. “Linear planning” — organizing campuses' mammoth buildings-as-sculptures (which often clashed in scale and design) into predictable grid patterns — came into vogue. Here in California, UCSD’s older sisters, UCLA and U.C. Berkeley, were designed in this way: their campuses were plotted on rigid grids; their buildings were systematically arranged around axial courtyards.
Modern architecture invaded American campuses in the 1930s, when many university designers chose to reject the vaunted traditional Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, and Beaux Arts styles for more “humanist” and functional designs. Inspired by French architect Le Corbusier, these architects first experimented with "International Style” creations — sleek metal-and-glass-skinned boxes with repetitious cell-like interior spaces — that sometimes caused great dismay to conservative administrators. In 1938, Frank Lloyd Wright further impacted campus architecture when he designed Florida Southern College, a collection of erratically shaped buildings grouped in casual, nonlinear, and irregular spaces. Wright's project was a harbinger of things to come at post-World War II-era campuses such as U.C. Irvine, U.C. Santa Cruz, and UCSD.
The three U.C. campuses were designed with “movement” in mind — thousands of baby-boomer students and hundreds of their cars moving through the campuses' environments. Access roads, parking structures, and walkways now influenced (and sometimes dictated) building siting. The increased size of the campuses, larger than anything envisioned by 17th-century college builders, caused great concern to U.C.’s then-president Clark Kerr, who worried that the three U.C. campuses’ sprawl would make college life “impersonal and overwhelming” for students.
In 1964, Kerr seized upon the idea of “cluster colleges" — mini-campuses-within-campuses separated from each other by parkland strips but linked by rows of academic buildings, which Kerr termed “educational shopping malls.” Kerr hoped that the “cluster college" design might restore intimacy to the large U.C. settings.
UCSD actually had its beginnings much earlier than its 1960 founding. It began in a boathouse on Coronado's Glorietta Bay, nearly 60 years prior. In the early 1900s, William Ritter, a Wisconsin farmer who dabbled in marine biology, established a crude “summer research laboratory” to house his budding marine-life collection. Ritter had become enamored of San Diego and its Pacific Ocean vistas during his many marine-specimen-collecting excursions in the area. On his honeymoon, the dogged marine biologist-to-be took time away from his bride to collect samples from Glorietta Bay. Although his boat swamped and sank, Ritter vowed to establish a thriving marine institute at San Diego's shore —“the biggest thing of its kind in the world.” With San Diego physician Fred Baker, a veteran seashell collector, Ritter petitioned the University of California's then-president Benjamin Wheeler to launch an accredited marine biology program. Wheeler did not turn the two men away; rather, he suggested they try to raise $500 and secure a laboratory and requisite equipment for such a program. Ritter was able to convince newspaper magnate E.W. Scripps to donate the money (and a yacht) to the nascent marine biology program. And the owner of the Hotel Coronado granted Ritter temporary use of his Glorietta Bay boathouse.
Soon the boathouse became inadequate for Ritter's needs. Ritter again visited Scripps for another donation. This time. Scripps gave him $1000 to build new marine biological digs but warned that “any shack would do." Obligingly, Ritter erected a green wooden shanty at La Jolla Cove, a tram line destination popular with San Diego residents and tourists. Already the scenic location was luring visitors to its shores with numerous attractions: boathouse dances, glass-bottom boat rides, and even a “diving professor” who set himself afire before plunging into the water. Ritter's laboratory soon became popular with beachgoers, who examined his extensive collection of marine specimens.
In 1909, Scripps's sister, Ellen Browning Scripps, donated nearly $9700 for a larger, more permanent facility to be named the George H. Scripps Memorial Marine Biological Laboratory, in honor of the Scrippses’ deceased older brother. Prominent local architect Irving Gill was chosen to supervise construction. The laboratory, completed the following year, was an unornamented utilitarian building of reinforced concrete that foreshadowed much of the architecture that would grace UCSD’s acres some 50 years later.