August in Review

Tod Williams and Billie Tsien on campus, August 2014
Tod Williams and Billie Tsien on campus, August 2014

In August we commenced the next phase of architectural planning when Tod Williams, Billie Tsien, and Brent Buck from TWBTA joined us on campus for three days of intense meetings conducted together with Alyosha Verzhbinsky and Laura Allen, their colleagues from TEF in San Francisco. We walked the site, considered issues central to green building strategies and other technical and logistical issues, and spent a day in conversation with faculty and our building and program committee.  

For me, it was a great three days, but one part in particular stood out. To elicit faculty ideas, we conducted three, two-hour conversations, focusing on the three essential components of the Institute's future program:  "Showing," "Making," and "Talking/Teaching/Performing." It was riveting to hear faculty across the curriculum talk about how they anticipate working with students at the IAS, ways it could further their own scholarship, and how they envision the Institute as a groundbreaking, unique, and uniquely Santa Cruz endeavor.

One of the things that came through clearly is the strong and recognized overlap between the Institute's three basic functions. For example, "showing"—presenting an exhibition—is also an instance of "making" and of "teaching." And the same synergy between functions will occur throughout the Institute's program. Every exhibition and every public event will be an opportunity for student learning and experience, and every academic activity should be examined for its public potential and relevance. That, to me, is the fundamental nature of this project. However, how do you design a building for a program this fluid and multivalent? That's the question. To help us define and refine the architectural concept, we segmented the discussions along those three lines, focusing on spaces whose job is to house exhibitions, other spaces for hands-on studio or workshop use, and still other spaces where public events, class meetings, and talking will take place.

Each kind of space has certain distinct needs, such as good climate control for showing spaces; good acoustics for teaching/talking/performing spaces; good ventilation and robust surfaces for making spaces. But it was evident that a traditional museum is not what faculty envision, even as they want the IAS to be capable of staging museum-quality exhibitions of art, science, and everything in between and beyond. Some faculty liked the idea of a set of highly flexible spaces that might function for any of the above on any given day, and that is worth considering. There's something immensely appealing about a simple but elegant and open structure, or set of structures, with the functional capacity to serve as a beautiful gallery one day, a hive of workshop activity another, and the venue for a seminar, concert, or conference on yet another. It's an intriguing concept, but would it really work for us?  Let me know what you think!   

Faculty also made it clear that there is a hunger for a better places to gather, to meet with colleagues and students, and to work with visual culture and visual materials in a range of new ways. The importance of food and drink as essential elements of academic and public sociability came up often, as did the need for a truly fitting place to welcome campus visitors. 

Walking the site with the architects and the committee, we considered how the Institute will be situated, blending into a topography that joins the redwood ravine, the oak ecotone, and the meadow. The principle is clear even as we reconsider the precise siting and massing of the IAS building cluster: work with the environment, not against it. Create a compelling destination that will bring people back again and again and make them want to linger, enjoy, work, and learn.