Design Radicals: Creativity and Protest in Wurster Hall

Postermaking
Postermaking, ca. May 1970 Enlarge [+]
The shock waves of the Berkeley’s 1964 Free Speech Movement reverberated within Wurster Hall, transforming the College of Environmental Design into a laboratory for experiments in countercultural art and politics.

Students turned hallways and classrooms into impromptu print shops in the wake of U.S. military incursions into Cambodia in May 1970, producing anti-war posters now featured in graphic arts exhibitions and collected by museums from Oakland to Washington DC. Self-styled “Outlaw Builders” launched hands-on ventures in pedagogy, including a mobile lab for elementary school teaching interventions, a communal settlement built from salvaged materials, and an early iteration of ecologically sustainable, “autonomous” home technology. The story of these innovative enterprises is told in Design Radicals: Creativity and Protest in Wurster Hall, an exhibition in the Environmental Design Library showcasing the rich holdings of the Environmental Design Archives and the privately held Docs Populi poster collection.

1970 Gorilla Graphics poster
Gorilla Graphics poster Enlarge [+]

As alternatives to postwar consumer culture, scavenging and hand-crafting combined a sense of play with the cultivation of new skills, liberated social relationships, and developed ecological consciousness. These qualities pervade the protest posters created by two CED-based graphic arts collectives, Gorilla Graphics and Kamikaze Design, in response to the expansion of the Vietnam War into neighboring Cambodia in 1970. CED Dean William Wheaton endorsed the appropriation of Wurster Hall’s first-floor classrooms and hallways as a “headquarters for… anti-war related activities,” as he testified in a subsequent investigation. The CED became a round-the-clock propaganda factory, with students cranking out press releases and galvanizing silkscreened images. At a donation of one cent for a poster and one dollar to silkscreen a design onto a t-shirt (supplied by the customer), Gorilla Graphics raised as much as $500 dollars daily –corrected for inflation, an amount over $3000 today. The phenomenal ease with which money was raised for student anti-war activities conveys the scale and popularity of the CED’s graphic arts insurgency.

Amerika is Devouring its Children
CED Poster Enlarge [+]

Anti-war protest was a high stakes pursuit, however. Incensed by campus faculty and administration support for student activism, the Regents of the University of California, at the behest of Governor Ronald Reagan, launched an inquest into the “possible misuse of University equipment, facilities, funds or personnel time.” The San Francisco accounting firm of Haskins & Sells was hired to conduct a thorough audit of resources used in protest activities within three hotbeds of rebellion: the School of Law, Eshelman Hall, and the College of Environmental Design. The investigation was no shot over the bow: any diversion of resources “considered to be improper with respect to pertinent provisions of the Constitution and the Education Code of the State of California or University policies and regulations” would establish grounds for the expulsion of student activists and a purge of faculty and staff.

The inquiry failed to produce evidence supporting disciplinary action. Typewriters and mimeograph machines used by activists had been “assigned to students for their own use” or requisitioned from surplus stock. Accountants painstakingly traced the source of paper used for the production of anti-war posters back to the refuse bins of the campus Computer Center. The Regents’ expenditure of taxpayer funds for an investigation conducted by a top-shelf accounting firm did have a positive outcome: it generated a trove of detailed information on the strike of 1970 for future historians of campus counterculture.

The Eagle
“The Eagle” Enlarge [+]
School children with geodesic dome
School children with geodesic dome Enlarge [+]

The power of the handmade to forge a new political and social awareness also infused a series of pedagogical experiments launched at the CED in the early 1970s. In a studio course dedicated to “freeing up the classroom for learning by doing,” architecture students working with Professor Sim Van der Ryn collaborated with teachers and elementary school students to restructure classrooms and playgrounds. The standard phalanx of desks made way for flexible spaces in which to build things. Children learned geometry, measurement, and simple construction skills using salvaged materials. Jim Campe, an enthusiastic CED lecturer, spearheaded an initiative to transform a surplus mail van into a nomadic platform for one-day classroom makeovers. A handmade, self-published record of the school reform venture, The Farallones Scrapbook, quickly sold out of its print run of 5,000 copies. Picked up by Random House, it became a “West Coast lifestyle” bestseller, and helped fund the CED design collective’s next enterprise.

Outlaw Builder
“Outlaw Builder” Enlarge [+]

In the summer of 1971, Van der Ryn and Campe proposed a studio course titled “Making a Place in the Country” that would bring Berkeley students to a remote five acre site in northern Marin county for three consecutive days every week. The design/build experiment tackled the construction of a commune premised upon ecological integrity. According to a student’s journal entry, it was an opportunity to “build a house in which my physical self could exist and… a consciousness in which my spiritual self could exist.” This “living-learning experience” began with a crash course in foraging for forest mushrooms, collecting mussels at a nearby beach, and scavenging redwood from disused Petaluma chicken coops. Students designed and built sleeping platforms and tree houses, a collective kitchen and meeting room, an outdoor oven, a shower and a composting toilet. Participants received a certificate entitling them “to be known to all as [an] OUTLAW BUILDER with all the rights and privileges attached thereto.” A report on the experiment, designed and printed as an underground press-style publication titled Outlaw Building News, sold out at local bookstores almost as fast as they could be printed, providing cash for the next “outlaw building” enterprise.

Outlaw Building News
“Outlaw Building News,” Enlarge [+]

A patchwork tower of timber and machine parts took shape on a patch of grass in front of Wurster Hall in the spring of 1973, the final project for a Van der Ryn studio on “Natural Energy Design.” Built of lumber salvaged from a demolished Hayward barn, the student-designed “Energy Pavilion” incorporated a small wind generator, a homemade solar collector, a stationary bike that alternately drove an electrical generator or a mill to grind grain, steel barrels as rainwater reservoirs, a greenhouse bedded with lettuce and snow peas, and a composting toilet. The odd structure was, in fact, a freestanding service core of an ecologically sustainable autonomous home. After an intensive research phase informed by the few books and journal article available on the topic, students compiled a 150-page document, The Natural Energy Handbook, which, marketed as an underground publication, funded the construction of the Energy Pavilion. Promoted by Bay Area newscasters, the quirky tower was an instant attraction, generating long lines of visitors — as well as the unwanted attention of the Campus Esthetics Committee. Disdaining the notion of “outlaw building” on campus, the Committee demanded that the structure be removed before commencement exercises. It disappeared before the visiting families of new graduates could be shocked into some semblance of ecological awareness: a task accomplished a few months later by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. By the time OPEC’s massive spike in oil prices had produced the first global energy crisis, the CED’s early experiment in sustainable building technology had come and gone like a counterculture hallucination.

Design Radicals: Creativity and Protest in Wurster Hall can be viewed from Thursday 16 October through Friday 5 December in Wurster Hall’s Environmental Design Library. See the UC Libraries website for opening hours.

Re-Imagining CED’s Built Environment

As the College of Environmental Design seeks to understand and redefine how people around the world experience the built environment, we are challenged to look at the ways in which our own spaces influence how we work and learn.

CED’s facilities for studio instruction — the hallmark of a design education — are 50 years old. By rethinking the outdated design models that define our current studio environment, we have the opportunity to create 21st century studios with the technology and adaptable design systems that encourage a culture of experimentation and creative interaction. Smart classroom design solutions that are flexible and foster collaboration are critical to educating future environmental design and planning students and preparing them for a world in which cross-disciplinary team work is essential.

Flex Studio
Flex Studio Enlarge [+]

Flex Studio

The Flex Studios initiative will refashion our existing studio space to provide multiple platforms for creativity, research and design collaboration, and to allow learning spaces to serve as better models for collaborative professional spaces.

The studio redesign will incorporate flexible furniture systems and increased space for collaboration and dialogue, allowing for open exchanges during the design process that reflect the challenges and excitement of professional life. that will enable students and faculty to think about the built environment through different lenses.

The new design will bring together students from multiple departments and promote a cross-pollination of ideas.

Our goal is to reconfigure and upgrade seven floors of studio space in Wurster Hall. The redesign requires replacing outdated furniture, offering ergonomic student workstations, providing functional meeting areas, and expanding digital and traditional pin-up areas. The strategy is based on a flexible “studio kit of parts” that can be reconfigured easily and adapted to any number of potential educational contexts. The kit will include height-adjustable desks, work tables, and ergonomic stools; custom fabricated metal grid studio divider system with power speedway, task lighting, shelf and pin-up space; technology facilities including rendering computers and plotters; collaboration tables for model building, group discussion and information interaction; a kitchenette; and two presentation and review rooms featuring extensive pin-up space as well as cutting edge electronic display technology.

How You Can Help

Give to CED

The estimated costs to update Wurster Hall’s studios will total $8–10 million. Our goal is to update all studio floors by 2020. But we are starting with a pilot program to completely renovate one floor in 2014–15. The cost of completing this pilot floor is $1.5 million.

We have a generous and willing partner in our efforts. Recognizing the importance of this studio redesign project for our students and faculty, campus leadership has agreed to provide a 2:1 match for any gifts to the College of Environmental Design’s new Flex Studio Fund.

Please join us in meeting this critical need and ensuring a first-rate educational experience for our students, by donating a new student workstation, putting your name on a new state-of-the art review room or studio bay — or even an entire studio floor. Become a part of the lasting legacy that will propel the CED studios to the forefront of 21st century innovation in design and planning education.

From the Dean: CED Frontiers

Jennifer Wolch
Jennifer Wolch Enlarge [+]

The College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley was founded in 1959 on the radical premise that the new field of environmental design was fundamental to the future of urban settlement. This premise is as valid today as it was then. But many of the specific challenges facing cities were not on our radar in the 1950s — nor were the sorts of challenges facing public higher education today.

With this context in mind, in 2012 CED launched a collaborative strategic planning project to map a future that inspires us to respond to the demands of our time. This process articulated our vision and values, and created a roadmap for distinction and impact: CED Frontiers. I’m delighted to share the highlights of our plan in this issue of FRAMEWORKS.

CED’s 21st Century Vision, Values and Goals

The College of Environmental Design provides leadership to address the world’s most pressing urban challenges through rigorous research and scholarship, design excellence, innovative pedagogy, open debate, craft and skill-building, critical and theoretical practice, and insights from both the academy and professional practice. Within this broad vision, we value:

  • Excellent and accessible public higher education
  • Sustainable design, planning and urbanism
  • Aesthetic quality, craft, and technological innovation
  • Visionary yet pragmatic design practice
  • Critical pedagogy and cross-disciplinary learning
  • Social, economic, and environmental justice
  • Ecological and public health
  • Local-global engagement and activism
  • Respect for place, community, and diversity
  • Ethical professional practice and research

Moving forward, we aspire to achieve six key goals:

  • 1. Claim the Berkeley difference, building on our heritage of design and planning activism
  • 2. Embrace diverse standpoints, experimenting with new ways to understand and embrace social difference
  • 3. Bridge intellectual fault lines, crossing the boundaries of established disciplines to create new knowledge
  • 4. Span local and global, linking multiple scales of understanding, activism, and practice
  • 5. Assess environmental design performance, related to adaptation, resilience, and sustainability
  • 6. Transform professional practice, from today’s best practices to practices for the future

Six Game-Changing Initiatives

Our vision, values and goals set our course, and concrete initiatives allow us to achieve them. Together, the CED community identified “game-changing” initiatives that are: clear and actionable; mobilize human and physical resources; lead to institutional transformation; and promote recognition of CED’s leadership. They aspire to extend the impact of our research and creative practice, create inclusive and cross-disciplinary pedagogy, and transform our home in Wurster Hall to encourage collaboration and the sharing of new ideas.

EXTENDING THE REACH OF RESEARCH & CREATIVE PRACTICE

Initiative 1: Research Impact

To better support research at CED, this initiative would assist the Center for Environmental Design Research (CEDR) and the Institute for Urban & Regional Development (IURD) to broaden their reach and influence, grow faculty involvement and participation, and improve our capacity to communicate research results and creative accomplishments. Major action: New associate dean for research to coordinate and disseminate research.

Initiative 2: Design and Technology Lab

To spur design innovation at CED, this initiative proposes a design and technology lab for design experimentation, product and materials research, rapid prototyping, and CAD/CAM innovation. Such a lab would also attract partners and become a venue for professional dialogue. Major action: Establishment of CED Design and Technology Lab.

CREATING INCLUSIVE & CROSS-DISCIPLINARY PEDAGOGY

Initiative 3: Diversity Platforms

This initiative will enhance the cultural life of the College by developing co-curricular programs (such as cultural events, student-led courses, and public interest charrettes) to introduce students to the relational, interconnected and hybrid nature of increasingly globalized identities. Major actions: New curriculum and events focused on diversity, identity, and the built environment.

Initiative 4: Curriculum Crossroads

To promote interdisciplinary work within CED, this initiative will create all-college curriculum, debates, joint research, and curated conversations that span intellectual fault lines, build disciplinary and geographic bridges, and address contemporary and future problems. Major action: Super-studio opportunities for all CED students integrated into curriculum.

BUILDING COMMUNITY SPACES & COMMON GROUND

Initiative 5: Flex Studios

This initiative focuses on redesigning studio space with flexible, movable furnishings and collaborative space, to provide multiple platforms for creativity, research and design collaboration, and to allow learning spaces to serve as better models for collaborative professional practice. Major action: CED Campaign for 21st Century Studios.

Initiative 6: Networked Spaces

Creating additional collective social and public spaces, this initiative will serve to build CED identity; promote cross-unit, cross-cohort, and cross-cultural interaction; curate student and faculty design work; and build shared cultural spaces for intellectual and professional debate, design exploration, collaboration and sociality. Major action: New café/patio space and redesigned review spaces.

The strategic planning process generated a wealth of ideas and proposals, productive disagreements, and new commitments to collaborate and innovate. Stay tuned as the plan unfolds, and CED moves onward and upward!

Celebrating 100 Years of Landscape at Berkeley

California is home to iconic places and canonical landscapes that draw people to the Golden State in search of the American dream. Some are wild or nearly so, like Yosemite, Death Valley, or stretches of the Pacific coast. Others are interspersed with urban settlement, such as oak woodlands of the Sierra foothills, or southern California’s coastal chaparral. Still others form the fabric of the state’s equally well-recognized cities and suburbs.

California’s designed landscapes are no less iconic. Making a radical break from earlier traditions, California’s early landscape architects powerfully shaped American lifestyle ideals that drew people to the state. Framed by wisteria, shingled bungalows offered the opportunity of home ownership. With their sleek patios and biomorphic swimming pools, mid-century modern houses defined the new indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Corporate campuses graced by serene minimalist landscapes attracted pioneering scientists and engineers. Public gardens and plazas, featuring California native plantings, created generous spaces for social interaction.

Beatrix Farrand sitting in her Reef Point Library
Beatrix Farrand sitting in her Reef Point Library. Throughout her professional career she divided her time between creative design and landscape design history. Enlarge [+]

One of the most influential intellectual hubs for this new landscape architecture was the University of California, Berkeley, which began offering degrees in landscape architecture in 1913. Berkeley’s alumni and faculty were leaders in the 20th century’s modernist landscape architecture movements, realized in projects ranging enormously by type and scale. Several were part of Telesis, the influential group of Bay Area progressive architects, landscape architects and city planners who argued for an integrated approach to environmental design.

Cover of Big Fun
An illustrated history of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Design, written and illustrated by Charles “Chip” Sullivan. Enlarge [+]

In 1959, Berkeley’s landscape architecture faculty joined the new College of Environmental Design. Housed in Wurster Hall with lively and diverse architects and city and regional planners during the social and environmental movements of the 1960s and 70s, the department’s faculty and students highlighted social and cultural factors in landscape architecture, participatory public design and community-based landscape projects, and the nexus between larger-scale landscape design and ecology. The role of landscape architecture as a social design practice, on the one hand, and as a branch of environmental planning, on the other, was increasingly recognized. In 1997, the department officially became Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, dedicated to training students in the art of design, the science of ecology, and the pragmatics of planning practice.

Thomas Church as a landscape student learning surveying
Thomas Church as a landscape student learning surveying, 1922. Enlarge [+]

2013 marks the department’s centennial anniversary. This is cause for celebration, especially when those 100 years have such a rich record of creative accomplishment, design innovation, and social purpose. It is a history to be shared and rejoiced, as well as (in good academic fashion) interrogated and critiqued. The new book, Landscape at Berkeley: The First 100 Years, offers a retrospective on the remarkable history of the Department of Landscape Architecture & Environmental Planning, through remembering the pioneering work of its faculty and students.

But a centennial celebration is also an opportunity to take pause, and thoughtfully consider prospects. No academic institution can rest on its laurels. So, what should an academic department, whose historical mission has been to rigorously train landscape architects and environmental planners and to pursue significant research, take as its central orientation for the future?

Robert Royston critiquing a student project
Distinguished alumnus Robert Royston was a lecturer in the department for a time and often participated in design reviews. Here he is critiquing a student project, c. 1964. Enlarge [+]

Berkeley’s department is addressing this question through deliberation, evolution, and radical moves. The faculty spent the 2012–13 year in discussions about strategic directions, while simultaneously building a new research center on resource-efficient communities, and recruiting extraordinary new faculty and students who will help propel the department toward its new goals. Their directions are ambitious, and spring from a recognition that climate change and the imperatives of urban sustainability, adaptation and resilience place their integrated approach to design and ecology at the center of planning for the future of cities and metropolitan regions.

Katelyn Walker presenting Masters Thesis
Katelyn Walker (MLA) presenting her 2013 Masters Thesis — Devil’s Postpile National Monument Campground and Day Use Area Restoration and Redesign Enlarge [+]

In particular, the department seeks to train landscape architects and environmental planners to master the arts, crafts, and sciences of landscape design and ecologically-based design. Students are increasingly expected to integrate their diverse talents to create landscapes that are at once aesthetically compelling and performative. But the department also intends to innovate in six key areas of research, teaching and service:

  • Urban landscape regeneration: The need to retrofit, reuse and restore obsolete or degraded urban landscapes is fundamental to urban sustainability. New methods of project delivery and construction based on new technologies, materials and sensors are critical for understanding the lifecycle, long-term maintenance, external costs, and values/services, of designed landscapes.
  • Landscape infrastructure: Landscape infrastructure, from block to regional scale, is increasingly recognized as a crucial approach to contending with extreme weather events involving flooding and storm surges. Designed estuaries and wetlands, stream embankments, urban infiltration networks and even barrier systems require an ever-stronger integration of ecology and design research.
  • Resource-efficient and healthy urban landscape design: Planning dense, walkable, mixed use urban places that minimize resource use, protect ecosystem services, promote health, and encourage walking and bicycling can reduce the urban ecological footprint. Creating such resource-efficient districts requires thoughtful analysis of density, innovative use of urban forest and green cover resources, strategies to integrate food production, and water/energy efficient street and open space design.
  • Social and environmental justice: Although concerns about justice are deeply embedded in department culture, climate change is apt to exacerbate the vulnerability of disadvantaged populations and increase risks associated with temperature and weather extremes and associated pollution problems. Redesigned urban landscapes as well as environmental hazard planning are important ways to address these heightened risks.
  • Designed landscape performance: The increasing use of landscape strategies to promote urban resilience and resource conservation implies the need to measure how they perform, in both social and ecosystem terms. This will require the development of new models and metrics to sense and track resource utilization, ecosystem service delivery, and social acceptance.
  • Collaborative practice: As urban governments, community organizations, and private firms around the world grapple with the implications of climate change, landscape architecture and environmental planning practitioners will play increasingly central roles — as members of large, multidisciplinary teams that work closely with local stakeholders. Collaborative practice and international collaboration will be central to the success of the field and its practitioners.

As dean of the College of Environmental Design, I am proud of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning’s first 100 years of achievements, inspired by its ambitious goals, and confident that we will witness even greater achievements in the century to come.

Students demonstrating
Students holding a demonstration against the Vietnam War in the courtyard of Wurster Hall, 1968 Enlarge [+]

Photos courtesy of the Environmental Design Archives, University of California, Berkeley.