Aerial black and white image of UCR in 1954.
February 19, 2019

UCR’s midcentury architecture to be showcased during Modernism Week

Photographs, including images captured by Ansel Adams, will be featured during a free exhibition open to the public

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
February 19, 2019

The University of California, Riverside, will participate in Modernism Week for the first time, showcasing photographs that illustrate its unique midcentury architectural style. 


The photographic exhibition, which includes many black and white images, will be accompanied by a presentation and film on Feb. 21 at the UCR Palm Desert Center at 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive. The event, titled “The Midcentury Modern Campus of UC Riverside,” is free and open to the public.  


Leading it will be Jacqueline Norman, UCR campus architect; Uma Ramasubramanian, UCR principal physical planner; and Kelly Comras, an author and landscape architect from Pasadena. Comras authored “Ruth Shellhorn,” a book that captures Shellhorn’s career as an influential Southern California architect. Shellhorn also served as UCR’s supervising landscape architect for eight years and was known for her distinct design and integration of horticulture. 


The exhibition, which will be on display until April 12 at the Palm Desert Center, will include rarely seen images captured by photographers Julius Shulman and Ansel Adams. The Adams photographs are part of the Ansel Adams Fiat Lux Collection at the California Museum of Photography.  


Since construction work began on UCR’s first buildings in 1952, the midcentury elements in planning and design were very intentional, making UCR the first UC campus to be planned using modernist design principles. Midcentury architecture is unique for its use of glass, steel, and reinforced concrete, which combine to highlight the beauty in minimalism. The styles emerged post World War I and became dominant after World War II. 


At UCR, the architecture is enhanced by the scenic backdrop offered by the rugged, semi-arid mountains that surround the campus. 


“Modernism Week is largely focused on residential architecture, but UCR also has a lot to contribute. It allows us to share UCR’s midcentury design in an academic setting; we bring something unique,” Norman said. 


The presentation will include discussion of UCR’s originals plans, philosophy, and the core principals behind those designs. The campus’ first five buildings: Watkins Hall, half of Tomás Rivera Library; Webber Hall; Athletics; and Geology, retain their original midcentury concepts.


“Over the past 50 years, we’ve managed to keep that and strengthen those spaces, keeping the trees, open space, all that makes UCR unique and beautiful,” Ramasubramanian said.


One of the most recently erected buildings, the Multidisciplinary Research Building, is an example of UCR’s intentional midcentury design, which includes the historical “UCR brick,” as well as core design principles, such as large class windows and an arcade to allow for shaded walkways. 


“We hire designers and builders who can interpret that and integrate these principles,” Norman said. “These principles are timeless, but we want buildings designed to meet today’s needs.”


The Midcentury Modern Campus of UC Riverside

Date: Thursday, Feb. 21

Time: Presentation and talk at 3p.m.; Reception and exhibit from 4-6 p.m.

Location: UCR Palm Desert Center, 75080 Frank Sinatra Drive, Palm Desert

Details: Free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged.  

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