The Thinking 

A Walk through Biotech Hell

February 10, 2013

HANNON writes:

An older post of yours came to mind recently on a tour of the campus of University of California at Santa Barbara. I have long thought of this installation of buildings as particularly hideous, especially when contrasted against its lovely setting on an isolated ocean bluff. The land is flat and the rather austere landscaping provides little visual relief. During this walk I happened to meet with one of the campus architects and shared with him my biased opinion of the products of his antecedents. He explained that the campus architecture of that time (1950s to 1960s) owes its style to the fashion of the day and nothing more. He seemed to respect my views but offered none of his own, even after I described it as “communistic” and an “East Berlin update.” Instead he impartially ascribed the ugliness to seemingly neutral causes. One of these was the premise that the architecture should reflect one of the main emphases of the curriculum: biotechnology. How a lifeless, sterile approach to campus buildings conveys cutting edge science I do not know but it seems to agree with the broader movement toward molecular research and away from organismal biology. Your earlier quote from William Torrey Harris comes to mind:

“The great purpose of school can be realized better in dark, airless, ugly places…. It is to master the physical self, to transcend the beauty of nature.”

As one would expect in such a liberal bastion, the majority of the student body of UCSB is female (about 52%) and very diverse. Some of these young people appeared to be studious and responsible but many looked clueless and out of place. Could it be the architecture?

P.S. Note the photo of the psychology building with no windows!


—- Comments —–

A reader writes:

You might enjoy “The Architect as Totalitarian” by Theodore Dalrymple at City Journal.

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