Working At The Cutting Edge of Architecture


UCLA Architecture and Urban Design is widely recognized for its progressive approach to design and architectural discourse.

In 1958, UCLA President Robert Sproul appointed a committee to consider the need for an architecture program at the university. In 1964, the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning (GSAUP) was established, comprised of two departments: Urban Planning and Architecture and Urban Design. George Dudley was appointed the first dean and invited three founding faculty members—Denise Scott Brown, Henry Liu and Peter Kamnitzer—to join the school and outline the programs’ pedagogies. The school’s initial enrollment was 20 students when classes began in 1966.

In 1968, Harvey S. Perloff succeed Dudley as dean. Perloff had been a United States representative to a Committee of Nine established by the Alliance for Progress under President Kennedy. Considered “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. Perloff developed a vision to relate physical planning and urban planning in the design of cities. To implement these ideas, he formed the Urban Innovations Group (UIG). This practice arm of the department operated for 23 years as a clinical training where faculty and student interns worked together with clients on commissioned designs.

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 worked with students at the UIG on such notable projects as the Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans and the Beverly Hills Civic Center.

The M.Arch.I program was launched in 1970, led by Tim Vreeland, the first chair of Architecture and Urban Design. In 1974, Vreeland organized a conference called “The Whites and the Grays.” This event has come to symbolize the beginning of the postmodern 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, Jaquelin Robertson, Robert Venturi, and Richard Weinstein—with an interest in history, aligned themselves against the international style. The Silvers were formed by two other UCLA architecture faculty, Cesar Pelli and Craig Hodgetts, whose work focused on high technology.

William Mitchell, who became chair of the architecture program in 1980, worked to develop technological expertise within the school. Under his leadership, interest developed in a number of areas: optimization techniques, energy modeling, building descriptions, and spatial synthesis procedures. Lionel March then became the chair of architecture in 1986 and continued research into computer-aided design. That same year, Baruch Givoni established the Lab for Study of Passive Solar Energy Models. Students in the lab constructed a raised platform on the roof of Perloff Hall, on which to test solar panels. Computers in an adjoining room analyzed the effectiveness of various models.

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 several long-standing programs: 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 also recruited Thom Mayne, Sylvia Lavin, Craig Hodgetts, Mark Mack, and Dana Cuff to the faculty. Edward Soja, who was on a committee tasked with running the Lewis Center, launched the Critical Studies in Architecture and Planning program in 1992, as a way to bring theory and criticism into the core curriculum, becoming one the school’s distinctive specializations.

In 1994, the UCLA Professional Schools Restructuring Initiative resulted in the administrative separation 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, to become the School of the Arts and Architecture (UCLA Arts).

Daniel Neuman was appointed dean 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 changed the way students and faculty work on architecture through technology and cultural discourse. As part of this effort to integrate emerging digital technologies into the curriculum, Greg Lynn, a leading architect and thinker in using the computer for architectural design, and later Neil Denari, joined the faculty. Technologically sophisticated machinery were introduced including a computer controlled milling machine in 1998, an emphasis on fabrication that presaged many other programs’ use of this technology.

In the early 2000s, new faculty Jason Payne, Heather Roberge, and David Erdman, initiated research and inventive teaching programs in technology seminars, some of which integrated advanced digital technologies and multi-dimensional media with the building construction and design process. Lavin and the faculty also created a research studio requirement, which stretches over the final year of study and trains students to find and express their own voices within the context of a project bound by 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 2004–05 and 2006–07 research studios, was published and sold in bookstores worldwide.

Thom Mayne’s research studio earned the 2005 Progressive Architecture Award from Architecture magazine for L.A. NOW: Volume 3 and 4, a massive research and urban design project that critically examines the future of Los Angeles. This was the first time a university was been awarded the honor. L.A. NOW was also featured as an educational seminar and exhibition at the 2006 American Institute of Architecture National Convention in Los Angeles.  

In 2003, AUD students represented the United States in the first International Architecture Biennale in Rotterdam (IABR) and in the Venice International Architecture Biennale in 2000. The latter was the first time the U.S. Pavilion was organized as a summer academy to exhibit student work and new methodologies in teaching. In 2004, the Charles Moore Traveling Studio was inaugurated to exemplify Moore’s commitment to teaching and the practice of architecture during his years at UCLA. The Studio has taken students — under the leadership of Georgina Huljich, Andrew Kovacs, Thom Mayne, Jason Payne, Ben Refuerzo, and Heather Roberge — to Mexico City, Istanbul, Kauai, Tokyo, Basel, Madrid, Panama, the U.K. and Germany. 

In 2007, Hitoshi Abe was appointed chair. Abe reinvigorated the department’s emphasis on technology and design research, and launched the M.Arch.II post-professional degree program in 2008. Through one-year research topics (referred to as SUPRASTUDIOS), students and faculty work with partners across entertainment, media, technology and urban strategy applying the analytical and design processes of architecture and urban design to emerging developments in these industries. The first M.Arch.II research studio was led by Neil Denari in collaboration with Toyota. 

That same year in June, RUMBLE was established to engage students, faculty professional architects, designers and the Los Angeles community with the production of an all-school exhibition. Now in its 11th year, critics and designers from around the world participate in RUMBLE to view the program installations and review the students’ year end projects. 

Under Abe’s leadership the IDEAS campus was opened in 2013. Envisioned as an incubator for collaborative, cross-disciplinary research, the IDEAS campus is the exclusive location for the M.Arch.II degree program. Equipped with the latest robotic technology, the original facility was a hangar at the Hercules campus in Playa Vista, where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose in the late 1940s. The campus has since been relocated to its current home in Culver City. The IDEAS campus was launched with concurrent research studios led by Greg Lynn, Thom Mayne/The NOW Institute, and Frank Gehry. 

In July 2016, Neil Denari was named interim chair, and in July 2017, Heather Roberge was appointed chair. Through public programs and events — both the lecture series at Perloff Hall and the symposia at the IDEAS campus — UCLA Architecture and Urban Design welcomes some of the world’s leading thinkers in the creative practice. Recent speakers have included Sou Fujimoto, Sarah Whiting of WW Architecture, Mark Foster Gage, Seleta Reynolds from LADOT, Andrés Jaque from the Office of Political Innovation, Patricia Ruel from Cirque du Soleil and award-winning designer and storyteller Alex McDowell. AUD’s exhibition program has featured work by Atelier Bow Wow, Bollinger+Grohmann, Jean Prouvé, Thom Mayne/Morphosis, MVRDV, Taira Nishizawa, Mutsuro Sasaki, Kivi Sotamaa, and Jean-Philippe Vassal. Student works are exhibited in the quarterly Currents series. 

It has been more than fifty years since the first students attended classes at AUD. In that time, architecture and urban design at UCLA has become a program in which experimental thought, theory, and innovative design reformulates the way in which design, theoretical discourse and technology interact to influence contemporary culture.