Today it is almost a matter of course that the disciplines of architecture, landscape architecture, and planning are housed together under one academic umbrella.
But in the mid-20th century, no university in the United States had combined the three. Two of UC Berkeley's many game-changing contributions to environmental design were to help develop the actual concept of environmental design, and then to refine it in a college that included all three design and planning disciplines, integrating their knowledge and contributions in a way that helps to shape the larger environment.
William Wurster and the Genesis of an Idea
The idea for such an integration at Berkeley came largely from William Wurster. An architect married to a nationally known housing expert and later professor of city and regional planning — Catherine Bauer Wurster, for whom Wurster Hall is also named — he was influenced, among other things, by a Bay Area group of architects, landscape architects, and city planners called Telesis that had formed in 1939 with the goal of using “a comprehensive planned approach to environmental development, the application of social criteria to solve social problems, and team efforts of all professions that have a bearing on the total environment.” While not a member, he liked their approach.
As a fellow at MIT in the early 1940s, Bill Wurster was instrumental in persuading MIT's administration to recognize the School of Architecture's city planning division as a full-fledged and equal department, with the new entity being named the School of Architecture and Planning. He joined UC Berkeley in 1950 as dean of the School of Architecture imagining taking this one step further and adding landscape architecture to the mix. Wurster imagined a college that strengthened each department through joint appointments and interdisciplinary courses, giving students the opportunity to combine studies in the different departments while also focusing on a chosen core area of study.
CED Takes Shape
This idea was radical for some, and University president Gordon Sproul, when approached with the idea, wondered if it was really necessary, when things seemed to work just fine as they were. Committees formed, discussions stretched on and on, departments fought to keep a level of independence from one another while combining forces. The final approval from UC Berkeley's Academic Senate came in 1959. In the meantime, the name “environmental design” was agreed upon only because no one could come up with a better option that kept all three departments on equal footing. Both Bill and Catherine Wurster initially thought the name was pretentious, but in the end it stood.
A New Building for the New College
The new entity with its new name needed a new home. Planning for what would later be named Wurster Hall began in the late 1950s, although the building was not completed until 1964. Bill Wurster championed the idea that the building should be designed by members of the architectural faculty, as hiring an outside architect would indicate a lack of faith in the faculty's skills. Distrusting unanimity, he relished the idea of having three architects with totally different points of view. His choices were Vernon DeMars, Donald Olsen, and Joseph Esherick.
For two years, from 1958 to 1960, the architects met with a faculty building committee and Louis DeMonte, the campus architect. As many as 20 schemes were developed as departments explored circulation and orientation and quibbled over space allocations and locations, while the different architects argued from their varying perspectives. One point of agreement was that the new building should have a courtyard, as a carryover from the cherished courtyard in the “Ark,” the previous architecture building (now North Gate Hall).
That was where similarities with the old building ended. Bill Wurster wanted the designers to design what he called a ruin, a building that “achieved timelessness through freedom from stylistic quirks.” The idea of using concrete reflected both economic realities and aesthetics of the time — the Yale School of Architecture had recently been finished and was also built of concrete. While the architects deny they were following any particular style, the building's design has commonly been labeled Brutalist.
Bill Wurster had hoped that no University regent would like the building when it was finished, and he got his wish. Although he had proposed not naming the building right away, upon his retirement it was named for both him and Catherine.
Historian Sally Woodbridge neatly sums up both William Wurster's ideals and the building that was named after him: “As Wurster Hall weathered without mellowing, it reflected Wurster's opinion that a school should be a rough place with many cracks in it. Perpetually unfinished, Wurster Hall was an open-ended and provocative environment for teaching and questioning.”
This history is distilled from “The College of Environmental Design in Wurster Hall,” by Sally B. Woodbridge, which appeared in CED's Spring 2010 issue of Frameworks. Download the full article [PDF].