March 30, 1994 - From the March, 1994 issue

UCLA Grad School Reorganization Mimics Reality

The UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning (GSAUP) is no more -- UCLA Chancellor Charles Young has folded the School of Fine arts for a new School of Art and Architecture. Morris Newman, a senior editor of a statewide land use newsletter and a graduate from the defunct UCLA's GSAUP, reflects on the reorganization. Newman balances the potential and limitis of the new division, while ultimately calling for a joint degree program in arhcitecture and urban planning.

The recent decision to split apart UCLA's schools of architecture and urban planning says much about the current state of urban-design education in Southern California - little of it good. The decision, done as a cost-cutting move by the university, seems to confirm the widely-held notion that architecture and planning are two separate professions, each with its own values and culture, which have little, if anything, to say to one another. 

The timing of the split seems particularly unfortunate, because it comes at a time when the architectural profession is showing the more interest in urban issues than it has in decades. As a graduate of UCLA's Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning (GSAUP), I have come to view architecture and planning as interlinked in their essence; I am tempted to say the two disciplines are in reality the same, in which the chief difference is one of scale, i.e. the individual project vs. the city. Even an individual project has regional impacts on planning, as the Environmental Impact Report process has taught us in mind-numbing detail. 

Yet the long-standing rift between planning and architectural professions is being perpetuated by our universities, and continues to degrade the training of both architects and planners. The good news is that many students and educators seem interested in change. 

While I feel strongly that UCLA's schools of architecture and urban planning should have stayed together, I admit it was tough to make a strong case for their continued co-existence. Like a married couple who continue to live in the same house after divorce, the two schools occupied Perloff Hall as if the other did not exist. Students and faculty of the different programs rarely socialized, and almost never attended classes together. (Planning Professor Jackie Leavit’s studios involving students of both programs was a rare exception.) The most damning evidence against the school is that, in 25 years of existence, the faculty never created a joint­degree program, although the planning school had created such degree programs with the UCLA's law school and school of management.

The division between UCLA's architecture and planning programs mirrored the division between the professions themselves. The architectural faculty seemed to regard the planning professors as ideologues and armchair radicals who had little interesting to say about built form. The planners, for their part, seemed to regard the architects as slaves of fashion who had little regard for society justice. 

Although GSAUP Dean Richard Weinstein has worked hard to convince UCLA Chancellor Charles Young to change his mind, the split seems irreversible. The design program will be folded into the School of Fine Arts for a new School of Art and Architecture, while the planning program seems destined to be a keystone of a new "school of public policy" modeled after Harvard's Kennedy School of Public Policy, which itself was formed after that university separated its own schools of architecture and planning. It has been rumored that Chancellor Young may put his name on the new school, as a monument to his years of stewardship at UCLA. 

With the dissolution of the school, UCLA also vaporizes the Urban Innovations Group (UIG), the architecture/planning firm that has been staffed with students. UIG has functioned as both a hands-on design firm and as a laboratory for public-spirited planning ideas. UIG was already in trouble, prior to the split, with Director Paul Curcio’s attempted shift of emphasis away from design and into a consulting practice that largely excluded faculty and students. 

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It would be unfair, however, to flog UCLA's faculty and administration beyond a certain point for the breakup of GSAUP. True, it did too little, and too late, to save the late Harvey Perloffs dream of a school that would combine two disciplines that belong together. Yet GSAUP is not much different from the rest of the world; almost every school in the U.S. promotes the mutual isolation of architecture and planning. The result has been a mutual blindness of the two professions to each other. 

In Los Angeles, the agendas of planning collide with those of architecture, and the upshot are projects that neither function well nor look good. Instead of a design-oriented policy to create beautiful, walkable streets and public spaces, we seem satisfied with mindless planning guidelines which reward developers for destroying streets with parking lots, narrow sidewalks (or no sidewalks at all) and outdated setback rules. Above all, a project's continuity with the rest of a neighborhood and the city is ignored. We live daily with the result: the hodge-podge of Los Angeles' urban form and endless strip development, in which the design of the city depends more on a telephone call from a councilman's office to the planning department than on any forward-looking plan on what the city should look like and how it should work. Into this absence of policy enters the neighborhood group, which cuts a deal with the developer on the final form of the project. with the city councilman's office acting as broker. In this way. a city is built: in "one-off' deals that having nothing to do with one another. 

What is clearly needed is new public policy, based on ideas rather than deals. Design policy, of course, is a political issue far more than one of education. Politicians, however, need to know there is a constituency for good design, and a public discussion that can distinguish good from bad. For this to happen, architects and planners must bring their expertise into the creation of policy, rather than the blind obedience to bad, outdated policy. Architects and planners must lead the discussion in a very public way. Yet for whatever reason, the intellectual leadership that architects and planners should have shown in this area is almost entirely lacking, perhaps because architects are fractious and poorly organized, and because planners may be reluctant to offend the public agencies at whose trough they feed. 

The divorce at UCLA is particularly ironic, because it comes at a time when both architects and architectural schools are showing a renewed interest in both in urban issues and ''real-life" solutions. Every educator interviewed for this article seemed interested in strengthening the connection between design and planning education. Charles Hotchkiss, chair­man of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at Cal Poly's College of Environmental Design says design education "has been an interest among planning students for quite a while," and says he expects to see more inter-disciplinary courses in the core curriculum. Lou Naidorf, Woodbury University's dean of architecture and design, says the school's undergraduate architecture program includes "a significant focus on urban design," even though the school does not yet have an urban design program. Margaret Crawford, a planning scholar who teaches at Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCIARC) says a new interest in urban design in a school that has placed a strong emphasis in recent years on critical discourse and sometimes self-referential design work. SCIARC faculty are also currently studying the creation of a post-graduate certificate program in urban design. At USC, where the schools of architecture and urban planning are located on opposite sides of the campus, architecture students frequently enroll in planning courses, according to Greg Schwann, acting director of the Lusk Center, which is part of the USC School of Urban and Regional Planning. 

All this is encouraging, but we should not be fully satisfied until every institution creates core curriculum for both architecture and planning students, including (but not limited to) courses in urban history and urban design studios. 

For that matter, it's still not too late at UCLA to do what should have been done 25 years ago-to create a joint degree program in architecture and urban planning. Such programs make particular sense now, when the city is engrossed in massive public works projects like Metro Rail and the joint development of transit stations. Students who have background in urban design would be well suited to these projects, and schools should seize the opportunity for leadership while it is still open to them.

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