October 29, 2012

Photo Essay: Where Old Meets New at Caltech

I'm not affiliated with the California Institute of Technology. I'm not a member of the Pasadena community. But if someone is going to offer an architectural tour of the campus, I'm going to take it.

Caltech's campus (which is divided into four main parts: Early, Modern, North and South) is the epitome of old-meets-new, and the architectural train wreck that can occur when modern buildings are added to an existing group of historic structures. It's where Mayan Revival and Art Deco meet Brutalism. Spanish tile and vaulted arches meet glass towers and Platinum LEED certifications.

But of course, although the original plan for the campus was Spanish Renaissance - which you can see today with a variety of courtyards, patios, fountains and tilework - some of the buildings in what's now known as the Early Campus were built in the 1920s and 30s and were modern at the time...

...utilizing Art Deco decorative elements...

...and indicating the purpose of each building (in some form or another of science) through the design of the building itself, like the biplanes framing the doorway of the Aeronautics building.

The former school of electricity's facade was once ornamented with an ornate Art Deco pattern, the front entryway replete with lightning bolts, but almost all of it was removed in the modernization of the campus as the building transformed into the Laboratory of Mathematics and Physics.

Now, instead of a blue-tiled domed building which was part of the campus' original plans, a hulking tower of reinforced concrete (the Millikan Library, built 1967) now seems to be its focal point.

The styles throughout the campus varied so much between pre-War regional architecture and post-War modernism, Caltech became its own architectural microcosm.

As a result, in 1989, the City of Pasadena incited the development of a new master plan to unify the buildings and to regular future expansion...

...mandating that new buildings be designed in the spirit of Caltech's original campus...

...which is pretty diverse as it is.

Case in point: as a nod to the past, when the Laboratory of Chemical Synthesis was to be built, a plan was hatched to incorporate into the facade Alexander Stirling Calder's arches that were saved from the original Throop Hall (Caltech's first building erected in 1910, nearly destroyed in the 1971 San Fernando earthquake and subsequently demolished).

Other buildings - like some that were built in the mid-20th century as functional boxes - were remodeled and renovated to reflect the architecture of the Athenaeum (where Einstein himself briefly stayed) and the student residences.

How much of the past should be saved, remembered, tributed? Is it possible to maintain two, separate, concurrent existences of the past and the present? Can a former identity persist through the present and future, or must the progression of time eventually either consume the past or be consumed by it?

Related Post:
Photo Essay: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena 

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