They had part of Mesa Road closed a few weeks ago. Nothing important, but they posted no signs at the Ocean Road interchange – just a couple of good ol’ boys with a barrier and a smile in front of the hazardous waste facility. Later, as I walked to my office barely controlling my laughter at the gulag architecture and at the mess that passes as landscaping, I wondered: How did the University of California turn a billion dollars worth of real estate into something only a mother could love? What a dump!
Think, for a moment, of the landscaping here at UCSB. Has there ever been any constructed thing with as little effort put into it? Does the administration really think that stones and eucalyptus mulch provide aesthetic quality? The landscaping here can be described as poorly conceived, poorly executed and poorly maintained. Crap, crap, crap. Coming in from Highway 217, I can’t help but wonder: Why is the natural environment on my right so appealing – in its “shaggy,” unkempt state – while the landscaping on my left is so weedy, so… junky?
The architecture is no better; perhaps it is worse because we inhabit it. Why is it that the Mesa Parking Structure epitomizes Vitruvius’ essence of architecture – commodity, firmness and delight – better than any other building on campus? A parking structure is what passes for architectural quality here at UCSB? Not to criticize the Mesa Structure – I actually do think it is the best building on campus. The rest could all be laid to waste. Both Ellison and Campbell halls were painted a few years ago. From the outside, they look a lot better now – but the area is still a dump.
Of course, a big part of the problem here isn’t just the poorly conceived buildings or lousy landscaping – it’s the parking. People have real separation anxiety regarding their mode of transportation. If it’s a car, it needs to be next to the building the owner works in. “As a safety issue I want to park right here – always!” If it’s a bike, it needs to be in the hallway where the rider’s office is. “I have this bike, and I am afraid it will get stolen, but I don’t have a lock or the common sense to get one.” If it’s a skateboard – you get the picture. The domination of space for transportation makes the development of a coherent “campus” for people a real dilemma. But let’s face it, if there ever was a place where personal transportation (i.e., foot, wheelchair) could and should predominate, it is here: Santa Barbara.
If I were Benevolent Dictator for Life for the state of California, my third irrevocable decree would be to demolish almost every building here at UCSB and push the landscaping up over the debris. I’d save the Mesa Structure and the little mobile art cart with the weird TV dress in it. I’d demolish every other building and leave them as heaping, rat-infested piles of rubble.
And I would make classes go on. The daily life of the university would continue as it did before. Publish or perish, meetings at the water cooler, library research, community service, term papers, multiple choice exams, staff meetings, crazy bagel Wednesdays – all of it.
And all of it would take place in giant tents – tents situated in the open spaces of the parking lots. It would be like a religious revival. Classes: in tents. Offices: in tents. Coffee and lunch: in tents. Bathroom breaks: in tents. The Mesa Structure would be our city on the hill. Our library: the repository of our thoughts, our knowledge, our goals. We would come to it and realize what could have been, what should have been.
And we would grow humble. We would eschew the parking space. We would forsake efficiency and expediency for quality, loveliness and naturalness. We would believe that a building could be uplifting, useful and strong, as well as economically sound and viable. We would change.
And we would create the place that we know exists in our hearts and in our minds. Our university. Our community. Our UCSB.
Alex Keuper is a Ph.D. candidate in the Geography Dept.