Working At The Cutting Edge of Architecture


The Department of Architecture and Urban Design (AUD) at UCLA is now widely recognized as among the most progressive in the nation — one could even say the most progressive — combining a preeminent faculty with an interest in the computer as a creative tool and its critical impact on contemporary culture. Each year, applicants from around the world compete to earn a slot in UCLA’s Master of Architecture I program. The Department vies with Columbia, Harvard, Yale and Princeton for top students. Upon graduation, alumni work for the world’s most innovative architects, among them Frank Gehry, faculty member Thom Mayne, and Zaha Hadid — all of whom are Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureates, the highest honor in the field.

The Department has a rich history. In 1964, the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning (GSAUP) was established at UCLA, comprising two programs: architecture and urban design; and urban planning.

In 1968, Harvey S. Perloff was appointed dean of GSAUP. Perloff had been a United States representative to a Committee of Nine established by the Alliance for Progress under President Kennedy in the 1960s. Later known as “the dean of American urban planners,” Perloff wrote 17 books on the subject and in 1983, he was awarded the first distinguished service citation for planning education from the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning.

At UCLA, Perloff developed a vision of a new relationship between physical planning and urban planning and the role that this hybrid discipline could play in the future of cities. To implement these ideas, he formed the Urban Innovations Group. This practice served for years as a clinical training arm primarily for architectural students.

During the 1970s and 1980s architect Charles Moore was a professor and, at one time, chair of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design. A founding partner of the Los Angeles firm Moore, Ruble, Yudell Architects & Planners, he received the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1991. Along with Perloff, Moore was key to the success of the Urban Innovations Group. This practice wing in the school created new opportunities for students and faculty to become actively engaged in real projects.

The M.Arch. I program was begun in 1970, led by Tim Vreeland, the first chair of architecture and urban design. In 1974, Vreeland organized an historic conference, “The Whites and the Grays,” which has come to symbolize the beginning of the post-modern movement in architecture. The Whites were five New York architects — Richard Meier, Peter Eisenman, Michael Graves, Charles Gwathmey and John Hejduk — who shared an interest in the work of Le Corbusier. The Grays — Charles Moore, Richard Weinstein and Jaquelin Robertson — with an interest in history, aligned themselves against the international style. In a desire to be also recognized, the Silvers were formed from the UCLA architecture faculty by Cesar Pelli and Craig Hodgetts, whose work focused on high technology.

In 1985, Richard Weinstein became dean of GSAUP. As director of Mayor John Lindsay’s Office of Lower Manhattan Planning and Development in New York City, Weinstein played a major role in the creation of incentive zoning, urban design guidelines and historic preservation. During his tenure as dean, he established the Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies with a $5 million gift; the S. Charles Lee Chair, the Charles Moore Endowment for the Study of Place; and the Harvey S. Perloff Chair. Weinstein initiated the transformation of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design by recruiting Thom Mayne, Sylvia Lavin, Craig Hodgetts, Mark Mack and Dana Cuff to the faculty.

In 1994, the UCLA Professional Schools Restructuring Initiative resulted in the administrative relocation of GSAUP’s programs. Urban planning became a Department within the new School of Public Policy and Social Research (now the School of Public Affairs). The architecture and urban design program merged with the School of the Arts, which became the School of the Arts and Architecture (UCLA Arts).

Daniel Neuman was appointed dean of the School in 1994 and named Sylvia Lavin as chair of AUD in 1996. In her new capacity, Lavin viewed the restructuring as an opportunity to refocus the program on advanced design, with special focus on technology and critical studies. Within this context, she created an award-winning Department by attracting world-renowned faculty and initiating programs that change the way students and faculty think about architecture, technology and culture.

As part of this effort to integrate emerging digital technologies into the curriculum, Greg Lynn, a leading architect and thinker in the field of computer-aided design, and later Neil Denari, joined the faculty and have had a significant impact on the Department. Technologically sophisticated machinery and methods were introduced including a computer controlled milling machine in 1998. The mill revolutionized production of work in the studios, enabling students to output three-dimensional work. 

Promising younger faculty, including Jason Payne and David Erdman, spurred research and inventive teaching programs, some of which integrated advanced digital technologies and multi-dimensional media with the building construction and design process. Faculty and students currently employ 3-D design and manufacturing technologies to explore key conceptual problems relevant for construction of the future. The Department was among the first in equipping a digital studio for student use.

Lavin and the faculty also created a research studio requirement, which stretches over a year and trains students to find and express their own voices within the context of a project with constraints — a model that parallels experience in the profession. Thought Matters I and II, a series of books and a DVD documenting AUD students’ work from the 2004-2005 and 2006-07 research studios, have been published and are sold in bookstores worldwide.

Thom Mayne’s research studio earned the Department the 2005 Progressive Architecture Award from Architecture magazine for L.A. Now: Volume 3, a massive research and urban design project that critically examines the future of Los Angeles. The award was unprecedented because this was the first time it was given exclusively to a university and to only one recipient rather than to several. L.A. Now: Volume Three and Four was published in May 2006. L.A. Now was featured as an educational seminar and exhibition at the 2006 American Institute of Architecture national convention in Los Angeles.  

In addition to the Progressive Architecture award, UCLA architecture students and alumni have been widely recognized for their achievements. AUD students represented the United States in the First International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam in 2003 and in the Venice International Architecture Biennale in 2000. The latter was the first time the United States Pavilion was organized as a summer academy to exhibit student work and new methodologies in teaching. In 2003, Ramiro Diaz Granados (M.Arch. II ’03) won the Skidmore, Owings & Merill (SOM) Prize, and Tom Wiscombe (M.Arch. II ’99) won the P.S. 1/Museum of Modern Art young architects competition. In 2005, the Department was awarded the P/A Award for “L.A. Now: Volume Three” under the direction of Thom Mayne and his UCLA students. This is the first time a university has been awarded this honor.

The Department continues to augment its curriculum with new programs. The Charles Moore Traveling Studio has taken students — under the leadership of faculty members David Erdman, Jason Payne, Thom Mayne, Ben Refuerzo, Dagmar Richter and Heather Roberge — to Mexico City, Istanbul, Kauai, Tokyo, Madrid, Great Britain and Germany. The program was inaugurated in 2004 to exemplify the educational leadership Moore established through his commitment to teaching and the practice of architecture during his years at UCLA.

The UCLA Experiential Technologies Center — established within the Department in 2005 by professor Diane Favro, an architectural historian — supports cross-disciplinary collaborative research and educational work by faculty and students; fosters partnerships between UCLA and other colleges and universities; develops educational products and new learning environments; and provides a robust K-12 outreach program.

CityLAB directed by professor Dana Cuff was initiated in 2006 with a generous gift to UCLA to support a series of projects concerned with contemporary urban issues, urban design, and the architecture of the city. CityLAB aims its investigations to comprise rigorous scholarship as well as practical implication, design and theory, and formal exploration of cultural and political consequence. While cityLAB begins at UCLA, it extends outside Los Angeles and beyond the university.

Building on the legacy established by Harvey Perloff and Richard Weinstein, the Department has a faculty of internationally-recognized architectural designers, historians and theorists, including Hitoshi Abe, Dana Cuff, Neil Denari, Diane Favro, Craig Hodgetts, Sylvia Lavin, Greg Lynn, Mark Mack, Thom Mayne, Barton Myers, Jason Payne, Michael Osman, Ben Refuerzo, Heather Roberge and Roger Sherman.

AUD invites architects and critics from around the world to participate in the Department’s long-standing lecture series, creating a dialogue between the students, alumni and the Los Angeles community. Tadao Ando, Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito, Rem Koolhaas and Jean Nouvel have been among recent speakers. The Department’s exhibition program has featured work by Atelier Bow Wow, Bollinger+Grohmann, Jean Prouvé, Thom Mayne’s Morphosis, MVRDV, Taira Nishizawa, Mutsuro Sasaki,  Kivi Sotamaa, Jean-Philippe Vassal . Student works are exhibited in the quarterly Currents series.

In June 2008 guests were invited to “Rumble” with UCLA’s architecture and urban design faculty and students and engage in the shifting edge of contemporary critical thinking and design innovation at UCLA. 6,500 square feet of year-end studio and program installations as part of final reviews redefined the provocative opportunities confronting the next generation of architects. Initiated by Department Chair Hitoshi Abe and organized by vice chair Richard Weinstein and visiting assistant professor Kivi Sotamaa, the Department's first all-student exhibition extravaganza of studio work was received by 600 guests on opening night.

Forty-four years after it began, the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA has become an internationally recognized program where experimental thought, theory and innovative design reformulates the way in which architecture and technology interact and influence contemporary culture.