The Architect(ure) of Cal State Long Beach, Part II: Projects • Long Beach Post

Photos by Katie Rispoli. Scroll through the gallery above.

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This is Part II of a three-part series. For Part I, click hereFor Part III, click here.

We’ve talked about the past, but what has Cal State Long Beach (CSULB) been up to as of late? The University has undertaken improvements on campus ranging from minor to major interventions in the last several years.

These interventions most recently included several projects involving changes to existing infrastructure. Smaller projects have included new flooring, wall decals, and interior furniture in the Academic Services center. Major projects have included the new construction of parking structures, the Wellness Center, the new Molecular and Life Sciences Center, an addition to the University Art Museum, and an entire restructuring of the existing Liberal Arts Buildings.

CSULB is clearly trying to stay competitive in a budget crunch. This means acceptance rates are lower and tuition is higher. To put in perspective, when I was a student at CSULB, tuition started at $1,700 annually, and then jumped to almost twice that by the time of my graduation. If the campus is going to be raising rates, they better make some improvements—right? And so it begins…

The University has begun reevaluating their facilities. Part of this is mandated by the greater CSU system as well as some in-house decisions. Work completed so far has been done with the campus’s vibrant architectural history in consideration, but we can’t always count on that to be the case.

It’s important to take note of the campus’s unique attributes now and encourage the University to be cautious moving forward. Too often buildings that bear historical significance or hold a strong community value are victimized, falling to demolition or changed beyond recognition. Usually, these projects aren’t stopped as efforts against them are started too late in the game.

At CSULB, major projects have been completed without disrupting the campus’s remarkable design. In 2010, the campus’s new Wellness Center created a much-needed place on campus for students to engage in physical activity. The building is a great example of successful, institutional architecture done in recent years. Its indoor/outdoor integration falls in line with the mid-century intentions of the campus’s historical buildings, and creates an inspiring space for physical activity.

Later in 2011, the campus opened its new Molecular and Life Sciences Center. Although the interior only faintly harkens back to the design of neighboring buildings (in that there are classrooms), the exterior is designed with concrete and brick, attempting a design-continuity.

A notable effort for conservation on campus lies in the soon-to-be-underway University Art Museum expansion. The Art Museum, designed by Edward Killingsworth, is often recognized for its ability to be both institutionally assertive and light-as-air all at once. Architects Fred Fisher and Partners have designed a more approachable entrance to the often-forgotten asset, while emphasizing its existing design. The project has been gaining a lot of local attention, highlighting the growing arts culture on campus at CSU Long Beach, which boasts a Museum Studies program, a Master of Fine Arts track, and the nation’s largest public University-based art department.

The University’s iconic Language Arts buildings are still up in the air, currently undergoing heavy alterations. Steinberg Architects, who have been working intimately with CSU Long Beach for several years and have designed multiple buildings on campus (including the Wellness Center), have redesigned Hugh Gibb’s 1955 academic spaces for a more collaborative future. This needed reinterpretation of these buildings has involved gutting the structures entirely to do a seismic retrofit, rework classroom divisions, and refinish the entire interior and exterior of the buildings.

In this project, most any trace of Gibbs is lost in the new design, aside from the parallel positioning of the four buildings (three of which are under construction). That is not to say that the project does not flow with the campus aesthetic. Steinberg has attempted to remain consistent by using aluminum window frames in a like-minded palette while also retaining some brick presence on the exterior. Acknowledging that the historical integrity of these buildings has been lost, we should probably be grateful they still exist. The three buildings undergoing renovations were targeted by the greater CSU system as being seismically unsafe and were allegedly planned for full demolition in 2010.

The original courtyards designed by Edward R. Lovell have, however, been somewhat harshly eliminated. The new design replaces the concrete benches, grassy knolls, and small shrubs that formerly filled the space with more native plant life.

“The plant and tree selection is [geared] toward low watering, indigenous, native species… We are trying to bring the [types of] trees that do well on campus into the courtyards but the ones that don’t we are replacing,” says Sonnet Hui of Steinberg Architects.

These trees are in many ways beneficial—hello, water crisis!—but aren’t otherwise seen on campus. Let’s hope what results from the differentiated landscaping isn’t a lost corner of the greater University footprint.

Elements of original design that once spotted the campus at CSU Long Beach have been slowly altered or removed as the University attempts to streamline these buildings as means of achieving a progressive aesthetic change. The new building design by Steinberg Architects champions the crisp notion of an architectural environment coming forward, and both leans toward and pulls away from the highly-regarded Mid-Century master plan which still holds the campus visual in its grasp.

As the project nears completion, the University Art Museum carries forth its expansion in an effort to further the campus’s arts and meet the needs of its visitors, and as new projects arise, the original vision for the campus will face greater challenges.

In our next and final installment of this series we’ll cover steps we as Long Beach residents, CSULB alumni, contributors, staff, and students need to take to ensure our city’s most expansive Mid-Century asset isn’t lost.

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