You are here
Over forty years after its completion in 1973, Kresge College remains the most widely recognized project on the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC). Plans for what was originally called College 6, named for its order in the construction of the university’s ten existing colleges, were developed in the office of MLTW (Charles Moore, Donlyn Lyndon, William Turnbull Jr., and Richard Whitaker) beginning as early as 1965. The design emerged as a sophisticated response to challenging site conditions, an experimental academic curriculum, and the imperatives of a new and unprecedented campus situated on 2,000 acres of partially forested coastal terrain formerly utilized as—and substantially transformed by—the Cowell Ranch lime works. The campus site was situated at the edge of Santa Cruz, then a small tourism-focused coastal city of 25,000 people.
UCSC’s first Long Range Development Plan, completed in 1963 under the direction of the landscape architect Thomas Church, set out a number of guidelines aimed at facilitating the creation of buildings and infrastructure expressive of the university’s founding academic mission as conceived by its president, Clark Kerr, and UCSC’s first chancellor, Dean McHenry. Fifteen to twenty small residential colleges with a range of individual identities were to encircle an academic and cultural core anchored by a central library (designed by John Carl Warnecke) and containing laboratories, professional schools, and administrative buildings. While these projects were predominantly built of concrete and planned with aspirations to formality and monumentality, the surrounding colleges, to be designed by a variety of architects and with little requirement for formal cohesion, were envisioned as more intimate settings befitting an informal type of student and teacher camaraderie.
Of equal importance in the context of Moore’s design for Kresge College was the way in which the development plan wove the university’s nascent academic identity into the campus’s dramatic topography, with all its impediments and opportunities. Rather, for example, than centering building activity on the sloping expanse of the “Great Meadow,” with its unobstructed views out to Monterey Bay, development was concentrated in wooded areas and along the line of the “ecotome,” where second-growth redwoods and oaks meet the meadow. Buildings, whether in the academic core or the colleges, were not to reach more than two-thirds the height of a redwood tree. In this sense, landscape features were envisioned not just as ingredients for a picturesque backdrop, but also as key architectural elements.
Planning for Kresge was part of a second wave of college building at UCSC. Following the four “founding colleges” on the east side of the campus, four additional colleges were envisioned for the ravine-carved landscape of the west side. In addition to Kresge, these were Hugh Stubbins’s 1969 Porter College, Gerald McCue’s 1976 Oakes College, and an unbuilt design by Edward Larrabee Barnes for College 8. The Kresge site, a narrow wooded knoll with an elevation change of over forty feet from one side to the other, presented a topographical challenge that exacerbated other constraints posed by an extremely tight budget. The site’s difficulties, however, lent themselves to Moore’s preexisting interest in exploring the potential of the street as a defining compositional element. In contrast to traditional campus spatial hierarchies, which often centered on a formal quadrangle, Kresge took shape around the spine of a meandering pedestrian street that reconciled elevation change and facilitated water drainage at the same time that it anchored Moore’s vision of an academic village.
The street threaded together three programmatic zones—the lower, middle, and upper streets—composed of a mixture of private and public areas. Residential buildings were set amidst working spaces such as classrooms, faculty offices, library, and dance studio, as well as living support spaces including areas for mailboxes, telephone calls, and laundry. A commuter lounge and fountain plaza at the bottom of the site and a town hall at the top functioned as community gathering places. They also established formal endpoints that punctuated movement from one end of the college to the other. All of the street-facing walls at Kresge were covered with bright white stucco. Whether or not this was originally intended as an allusion to the image of an Italian hill town, as many writers have claimed, it had the effect of giving coherence to the design’s variegated shapes and programs and stimulating a feeling of inward, community-oriented focus. On Kresge’s outward-facing elevations, by contrast, walls were painted an ochre color that dissipated into the hues of the surrounding redwood groves and softened the incongruity between the crisp, sharply angled volumes of the college and its natural setting. These formal cues were reinforced through a number of playful and theatrical conceits that Moore integrated into the design, including triumphal arch shapes at the college’s entry points, a waterworks that recalled the tradition of Spanish gardens, a laundromat in the form of a village well, a speaker’s rostrum with a space for garbage collection beneath, and telephone alcoves reminiscent of an altar.
Underlying Moore’s interest in the village concept was a desire to cultivate an array of informal interactions that were hindered by more rigidly organized campuses. In collaboration with the landscape architect Dan Kiley, for example, Moore planned a variety of spatial eddies along the street’s axis that sometimes allowed pockets of the forest to penetrate inside the college’s stockade-like walls and at other times provided areas for performances, small gatherings, and chance encounters. Staging interaction was also a central concern in the design of individual residence buildings. When it opened, Kresge offered three main residence types: suites, flats, and octets. The suites were organized with four single rooms, two double rooms, shared bathrooms, and a combined kitchen and living area. Flats housed four people with a living room, kitchen, bathroom, and two shared bedrooms. Some of these units, nicknamed by students the “zoo cages,” opened straight onto the space of the upper street with large numbers indicating individual apartments. The octets were the most radical of the three types, featuring a split-level plan with bathrooms located downstairs and a sleeping-living area upstairs. These units were intentionally left almost completely open, with limited opportunities for conventional ideas of privacy and only a bank of downstairs lockers for securing personal belongings. Students were given the unusual opportunity of partitioning the space themselves with curtains, furniture, and other design interventions. Only a couple of years after their completion, the university transformed the octets into sextets as the repercussions of such cohabitation became evident.
Students were originally assigned to residences according to their membership in “family groups” (later called “kin groups”) usually composed of fifteen to twenty individuals and a faculty member. These groups were organized around a wide variety of themes and were modeled on the concept of the “encounter group” (or “T-Group”), derived from sensitivity-training techniques developed in the field of human relations. The application of T-Group principles to a college environment was the work of Kresge’s founding provost Robert Edgar and the psychologist Michael Kahn. For both, the T-group provided a mechanism for assuring the kinds of open and direct relationships that would, they thought, lead to individual cultivation. In this sense, the Kresge community itself constituted the form of the academic program. In 1970, the year of the college’s founding and three years before Moore’s design was completed, Edgar and Kahn led forty students in a course called “Creating Kresge College.” The course helped select Kresge’s first faculty members, designed the structure of orientation week for incoming students, and reflected on the substance of the college’s core course, entitled “Man and his Environment.” Perhaps most importantly, “Creating Kresge” also featured workshops with Moore and his office aimed at translating the college’s unique academic vision into an architectural plan. In these ways, Moore’s design emphasized participation not only by providing places for interaction, but also by emerging through a process of participatory design.
Owing in part to the radical, and sometimes uncompromising, notion of community that underlay the development of Kresge College, Moore’s design has had a complex legacy. Within a few years after the college’s founding, both the core course and the kin group system became steadily diluted. In some ways, this was symptomatic of a basic tension between Edgar’s idealistic vision of a residential community and the reality of the modern student, which often necessitated an off-campus residence. This was already legible in early design phases. In a published plan for College 6 that appeared in a 1967 issue of the journal Perspecta, much of Moore’s academic village was to be placed on top of a parking garage for commuting students. The feature would be scrapped in subsequent iterations due to excavation and construction costs.
The same financial constraints would also have an impact on the buildings’ construction. Most of Kresge was built with simple wood framing (what Charles Jencks called a “cheapskate” material) covered by an outer coating of plaster. The college’s projected forty-year lifespan was therefore not conducive to the kind of deep historical patina that made its vernacular village counterparts, built of more long-lasting materials like stone, so alluring. It should be noted, however, that in an interview with a student, Edgar himself would later criticize the plan not for its impermanence, but rather because the buildings were not ephemeral and malleable enough. While these difficulties, combined with periodic complaints by students that the college’s shade-covered streets were not as conducive to public gathering as was intended, have compromised Moore’s original vision, Kresge nonetheless remains a functioning and vital academic environment.
Within architectural literature, Kresge’s importance is often ascribed to its illustration of postmodern design principles. Books such as C. Ray Smith’s Supermannerism and Charles Jenck’s The Language of Post-Modern Architecture emphasized Moore’s rejection of modernist campus planning dogma, his use of vague historical allusions and personal memories, his deployment of supergraphics, his fascination with irony and whimsy, and the insubstantial, billboard-like quality of the buildings’ layered facades. Seen through this rubric, Kresge marks an evolutionary point in Moore’s work. At the same time that it maintains the geometric language and attention to site developed in his contributions to The Sea Ranch in the mid-1960s, as well as the spatial complexity of the 1968 University of California, Santa Barbara Faculty Club, the project also anticipates Moore’s unfettered embrace of public metaphor at the Piazza d’Italia in New Orleans, completed in 1978. Beyond its connection to a short-lived architectural style, however, Kresge’s more enduring legacy stems from its embodiment of a vision of architecture that saw the campus not simply as a neutral backdrop, but rather as the fabric through which the college’s innovative academic culture would take root and unfold. In the words of one juror who awarded Kresge a Progressive Architecture design award in 1970, Moore’s plan reflected the overarching spirit of the university at that time, which was “one big happy protesting family.”
Banham, Reyner, and Taina Rikala. The First 20 Years: Two Decades of Building at UCSC. Santa Cruz: University of California Press, 1986.
Grant, Gerald, and David Riesman. The Perpetual Dream: Reform and Experiment in the American College. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.
“How to Make a Place: Kresge College, University of California at Santa Cruz.” Progressive Architecture, May 1974.
Jencks, Charles. The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. New York: Rizzoli, 1977.
Pastier, John. “U.C. Santa Cruz: Kresge College.” AIA Journal68, no. 9 (August 1979): 42–55.
If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.
SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.