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Hearst Hall: Continued Reading

Writing typically hurries one of my interests out of its “all-consuming” phase and into “embarrassed retirement,” but Hearst Hall keeps coming up. I borrowed Kenneth Cardwell’s Bernard Maybeck: Artisan, Architect, Artist from the SF Public Library, and suddenly I’m all-consumed again.

That last post was heavy on my own, uh, sketchily-supported commentary. Cardwell, to my relief, supports a number of those claims. He dedicates the better part of a chapter to Hearst Hall—in Cardwell’s telling of Maybeck’s career, it’s prototypical of his first professional phase: redwood buildings, mixing gothic-evocative forms and prominent structural rhythms (especially of trusses and arches).

The book has its shortcomings. Cardwell praises unrelentingly. When a Maybeck building disappoints, it’s always because the owner had poor taste, or meddled in rennovations, or that Maybeck must’ve been too hands-off. Cardwell refuses to discuss Maybeck in relation to his contemporary architects besides, very briefly, a teacher (Louis-Jules André) and a student (Julia Morgan). Greene & Greene, who built the William R. Thorsen House in Berkeley, are conspicuously absent. John Galen Howard is treated like a bureaucratic gadfly. Cardwell, after all, dedicated much of his career to Maybeck alone: building an archive of Maybeck’s documents for Cal’s College of Environmental Design. Some auteurism is to be expected.

I won’t introduce any truly new ideas. Instead, I’ll string together excerpts (mostly, but not exclusively, from Cardwell, and with emphasis added) pertinent to the arguments in the last essay: that Hearst Hall’s bare structure is notable; that Maybeck’s philosophy stressed the adaptability of spaces, even to the point of accepting their destruction; and that Maybeck exemplifies certain foundational principles of modernism.

Style and Structure

I did my best to argue the prominence of Hearst Hall’s structure—those laminated archies—in its deisgn, but I only had a handful of interior and exterior photos. Cardwell describes that structure, and the means of its production, in finer detail.

“Hearst Hall under construction.”1

The reception pavilion, Hearst Hall, was built on the south side of Channing Way, adjoining Mrs. Hearst’s residence on Piedmont Avenue. It was a building sixty feet in width and one hundred forty feet in length, with its principal axis oriented in a north-south direction on a site which sloped gently to the south and west. The structure—the engineering of which was worked out in collaboration with Maybeck’s university colleague Herman Kower—was an exciting and bold concept that employed laminated arches and diaphragms to create sections of the buildings as independent, movable, and re-assembled units. Twelve wooden arches rising fifty-four feet above the ground floor level were paired to form six structural bays. Single arches were used at the walls of the end bays. These arches were constructed of laminated two-by-eight timbers, formed horizontally on the site by nailing the timbers to a radius of approximately sixty feet. Holes were then drilled and bolts placed which were tightened after erection loads had been imposed. The arches were given lateral stability by the floor of the main hall which was twelve feet above the ground floor. it consisted of a diagonal grid of beams and joists, which was left exposed in the ceiling of the lower room. The arches were further tied, at approximately half height, by a horizontal plane surrounding the exterior of the arches, creating a floor for an outdoor gallery. The exterior walls of the building were curtain walls of stud construction with columns at each arch. These columns were tied at the middle to the arch by horizontal members which extended through the exterior to support planting boxes.2

Laminated timber seems a pretty modern technical decision, but I’ll come to a stronger point about concrete later. The real surprise in this passage is about the ties between the arches and the curtain walls extending to form Hearst Hall’s exterior planters. The ogival arches are outwardly apparent in Hearst Hall’s front elevation—that might suffice to argue its structural frankness—but these planters give outward expression to these ties, these much more obscure structural elements. There’s a similar structural extension through the building in Maybeck’s Outdoor Art Club building in Mill Valley.

The design for the Outdoor Art Club (1904) in Mill Valley added a new roof variation. It has a simple rectangular plan spanned by rafters trussed with a king post and collar ties. The ties extend through the roof covering and join a vertical extension of the wall columns, thereby strengthening the weakest part of the rafter chord between the tie and the support. Maybeck probably adopted this form for two reasons: first, the spaciousness of an uninterrupted vertical volume under a roof plane pleased him; second, the adaptation of a king post truss thrusting through the roof fulfilled his desire to indicate the nature of the building’s framing from the exterior.3

The Outdoor Art Club in Mill Valley. Structural members extend through the roof to the building’s exterior, similar to the extended ties that support Hearst Hall planters. A gabled interior volume nests in—and exceeds—a rectangular structural frame.4

Speaking of exterior extensions, the “weird turret-obelisk” dangling from the Hall’s west face serves a purpose:

The tower at the right contained the flue from the heating plant. It also embellished the terrace roof garden gallery.5

It seems Maybeck didn’t bother moving it—the chimney is bare in all photos of Hearst Hall on campus—and I can’t say I blame him. Hearst Hall’s exterior sillhouette isn’t all that charming (an effect worsened in black and white), but the integration of the original chimney seems slapdash, after-the-fact, like a towering wart. I haven’t been able to find any photos of the “terrace roof garden;” it sounds fantastic.

Cardwell sheds some light on the matryoshka spaces-within-spaces effect—not the round arches of electric lights, but the alcoves and the fabric frozen in mid-air:

The alcoves formed by the spaces between the ribs of the arches were hung with Gobelin tapestries and various paintings from the Hearst collection. When the Hall was used for less formal occasions, such as afternoon teas given by Mrs. Hearst, a large canopy of Genoese rose velvet was suspended from the arches in the middle of the hall.6

Posh! These tapestries (“of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries […] all historic treasures”) were relocated to the Maybeck-designed Hearst manse at Wyntoon, where presumably many were destroyed (with the castle) in a 1929 fire.

Tapestries in Hearst Hall (left)7 and at Wyntoon (right).8 It’s hard to tell in these scans, but the tapestry in the middle Hearst Hall alcove is—post-relocation—alo the far tapestry in the Wyntoon photo.

Finally, and importantly, Cardwell identifies some material decisions that don’t quite read in the interior photos.

The interior of the main hall was finished with redwood barn shakes similar to those on the exterior but treated with a sulphate of iron solution which rendered them a silvery-grey. Light came from clerestory windows covered by grilles of turned wood balusters of flemish derivation, typical of Maybeck’s ornamentation. […] The plain pine floor was covered by two large Chinese rugs of special design executed in grey-blue with a gold border. At night the room was lighted with more than a thousand incandescent bulbs. Two rows of colored lights were mounted directly on each arch of the room, and suspended from each arch were two rows of white lights with milk glass reflectors hung in an arch complementary to the structural members.9

These aren’t frank structural elements, but they’re interesting inasmuch as the interior presented Maybeck a margin of freedom: he could readily have built an interior that elided the Hall’s structure. Instead, the interior surfaces repeat the exterior (shingles! inside!) and lights trace the ogive arches.

Adaptation

My last essay argued Maybeck’s architecture involved a certain openness towards its occupants. I was working from two pieces of evidence: first, that Hearst Hall was primarily a multipurpose social space, and then that Maybeck reflected on the importance of architecture’s “inmates” in his written reflections: “the real interest must come from those who are to live in it.”

Luckily for me, Hearst Hall isn’t a fluke; this openness was a part of Maybeck’s practice in general, a part especially pronounced in his residential architecture.

In addition to technical and business details, he expressed his ideas on the relationship of a house, its owners, and its furnishing [to a Mr. and Mrs. Havens, clients]. “We believe that when you have seen the house and become accustomed to it,” he wrote,

there will be a thousand and one ideas come rushing to your mind to complete it… We therefore are getting an idea of the cost of things and when you have decided what you will do to put life into the rooms, you will make such a success of it that the thing as a whole will have that interest and personality which even as a plain business proposition will be a good investment… We also were under the impression that you could get your own personality into your house better if we stopped at the building proper, so as to leave you unhampered in the final work of furnishings.10

Lewis Mumford remembers not every starchitect was this open-minded:

Frank Lloyd Wright, it is said, once turned upon a client—let’s call him John Smith—who had added a few pleasant rugs and comfortable Aalto chairs to Mr. Wright’s furnishings, and exclaimed, “You have ruined this place completely, and you have disgraced me. This is no longer a Frank Lloyd Wright house. It is a John Smith house now.”11

The physical openness of Hearst Hall’s floorplan isn’t unusual given the project parameters: a subdivided main space wouldn’t have suited music or theatrical performances, for example. Later in his career Maybeck advocated for open floorplans in a setting where they were unusual at the time: in residential architecture.

In 1923 Sunset Magazine published an article entitled “The Maybeck One-Room House,” in which he proposed the incorporation of house and garden into one entity, concentrating time and effort as well as cost on one handsomely proportioned and beautifully furnished space. Service rooms were to be reduced to such a minimal size that they would become mere alcoves.

Maybeck’s argument in Sunset Magazine is essentially that the “One-Room House” is economical, but it’s predicated on the idea that one “beautifully furnished space” can serve a variety of functions admirably.

Maybeck’s preference—that users should tailor and modify his work—extends to his urban- and campus-planning. A campus, he contends, is eventually “lived in” in the same cozy sense as a house.

Fifty years from now the plan of the University will have become modified and softened; it will be transformed many times, because so easily done. The buildings will have undergone changes, so planned from the beginning that they could grow. This patchwork gives the same feeling to the whole composition as the new stones in a cathedral––the newness becomes tarnished, the monotony of exactness relieved. By that time the gardens will be older, and in places a vine may soften the harshness of perfection.12

Loss as final adaptation

Maybeck saw an astounding portion of his work destroyed by fire. His office, with his early records and drawings, burned in the fires that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Innumerable early “Gothic houses” were leveled in East Bay blazes. Wyntoon burned. Hearst Hall, of course, burned. Twice Maybeck insists on destruction as a sort of final adaptation—a recapture into a different aesthetic scheme, a radical extension of the vine that softens the harshness of perfection.

The Palace of Fine Arts used the impression of ruination to its advantage from the getgo. Maybeck aimed to set a somber mood, to give the impression of a palace that was always already lost.

[…] Frank Morton Todd gives complete technical and physical descriptions of the structure, but when attempting to describe the character of the building in his volumes, he hesitantly states

[…] The theme itself we might attempt to state as the mortality of grandeur and to describe as having some affinity with our eternal sorrows over the vanity of human wishes…

Some such feeling as this, though vague, must have come to every responsive intelligence that looked across the Fine Arts Lagoon and the Palace itself. It represented the beauty and grandeur of the past. A cloister enclosing nothing, a colonnade without a roof, stairs that ended nowhere, a fane with a lonely votary kneeling at a dying flame, fluted shafts that rose, half hid in vines, from the lush growth of an old swamp… all these things were in the picture.

It was evident that Maybeck had succeeded in setting a mood. It was also evident that he had achieved his goal of creating a beautiful building. But all the words and the praise heaped on the building fail to explain what it was about the architectural forms that contributed to its universal appeal. Even when Maybeck wrote about the Palace, not one word refers to the building itself, or even to any of its parts. All of his explanation is devoted to the mood appropriate for an art gallery––which was “a sad and serious matter”––and this is done through repeated allusions to the haunting character of remanants of past civilizations and natural landscape forms. In his small booklet, The Palace of Fine Arts and Lagoon, he writes: “I find that the keynote of a Fine Arts Palace should be that of Sadness, modified by the feeling that beauty has a soothing influence.”13

Eventually, in the decades after the Exposition, Maybeck’s facsimile-ruination gave way to its less picturesque referent: by the early sixties the structure was physically crumbling… which didn’t concern Maybeck much at all.

During the period when funds were being gathered for restoration, Maybeck had his own ideas concerning the Palace of Fine Arts. They ranged from demolishing it in order to create an active community center, to heavily planting its site with redwoods in order that children of the future might find bits of ornament and sculpture of a wondrous ruin of a previous generation among the trees.14

Earlier, in 1947, Maybeck suggested encapsulating a ruined cathedral in a transparent geodesic dome to serve as a memorial rather than rebuilding it:

Several week after the conclusion of Fuller’s stay at the University [Buckminster Fuller in 1950], Annie Maybeck telephoned to report that Ben was most anxious to see me. She said “It has something to do with that man and his domes.” When I arrived at Maybeck’s studio, he had spread before him a copy of Life magazine showing Sir Basil Spence’s proposal for the reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral as a war memorial. Maybeck was visibly agitated. “Look, look,” he said, “a reconstructed Gothic cathedral is not what is needed; what should be done is to preserve the bombed ruins as a memorial.” He then suggested that a large glazed geodesic dome covering the ruins would be the perfect solution and urged me to contact Fuller to initiate such a project.15

Like with the Palace of Fine Arts, the ruins in Coventry had an affect all their own: the walls suggest vaults, the tracery suggests glass, and so on. Rebuilding would mean losing a means of authentically signifying loss. If a memorial gestures at a historic void, its form should gesture at precisely the structure that was lost.

Losing Hearst Hall

It’s surprisingly hard to find the precise date for the fire that destroyed Hearst Hall—even Cardwell just gives the year—perhaps because it’s overshadowed by the resulting rush to commission Hearst Memorial Gym (which is altogether better-remembered). Cal’s 1923-1924 yearbook dedicates a page to that project, but at least pauses to give a date:

[Hearst Memorial Gym] has for several years been merely a dream, but at last our dreams have come true because Mr. William Randolph Hearst has promised the women of the University a new Building. The other Hearst Hall was used as a place for gathering as well as for a gymnasium, but the new building will be used mainly for a gymnasium. The former hall was a gift from the late Mrs. Phoebe Hearst to the University, but it was destroyed during a fire on June 20, 1922.16

The June 24, 1922 Daily Californian, on the other hand, more credibly dates the fire to June 20th. William Randolph Hearst promised a replacement, by telegram, the day after the blaze. “In fireproof materials.”17 Hearst specifically requested Maybeck get the assignment.18

Contemporary Blue & Gold yearbooks are the best testament to Hearst Hall’s adaptability. Plays, concerts, pep rallies, banquets, dances, insensitive “Italian carnivals”… the Hall was home to student events of all sorts.19 Cardwell calls it “the center of the campus social and cultural life;” that seems apt.

Modernism

Cardwell works hard to differentiate Maybeck both from the Arts & Crafts tradition and from International Style modernism. Peeling Maybeck away from Arts & Crafts is definitely the harder task, but Cardwell approaches both the same way: he diagnoses phobias in both traditions and finds Maybeck projects that broke from them.

Even though much of Maybeck’s early work received strong acclaim from people who were supporters of the ideas of John Ruskin and William Morris, he was not a proponent of a crafts revival. Maybeck started his designs on premises more sophisticated than those attributed to the Arts and Crafts movement. Exploitation of structural order, application of visual phenomena, and respect for new materials and industrial processes, as well as a firm belief in the expressive qualities of form were the bases for his work. A building was designed in the manner that Maybeck felt was appropriate for the conditions of the problem given. […] The unprecedented laminated wood arch framing of Hearst Hall was designed primarily to solve the problems of dismantling and reassembly and secondarily to provide a Gothic allusion of shape. The fact that Maybeck was ready either to adapt historic forms or to explore the boundaries of current construction technology went unnoticed by others advocating nature-inspired ornament and the infusion of handcrafts into the building process.20

Frankly, it’s a stretch to argue Maybeck’s buildings are just incidentally classics of California Arts & Crafts. Maybe one could argue that A&C was already an established Bay Area vernacular style, and so similarities in Maybeck’s projects (like his monomaniacal respect for wood) are conventional. If he articulated it, this argument would seem a litte too convenient: Cardwell’s happy to attribute just about everything else to Maybeck’s genius.

Maybeck did make certain material decisions that’d make an A&C purist wince (in one episode he orders industrial sash windows for a church, to the manufacturer’s alarm). Nonetheless, Maybeck never strayed far from his crafts aesthetic: heavy redwood beams, corbels, and so on. All his technical innovation is subordinate, in his finished projects, to that aesthetic effect. That’s precisely why Cardwell can’t identify him with modernism: a true modernist would avoid the old, the romantic.

The immediate reaction was to look at Maybeck as a forerunner of the modern movement. It is true that some of his architectural innovations broke with the immediate past and used products of a machine technology in fresh and imaginative solutions to building problems. However, in the sense of “out with the old order and in with the new,” Maybeck was not a revolutionary. The architect’s primary function, he reasoned, was to fulfill one of man’s greatest yearnings––to be surrounded by beauty. As an architect he strove to produce, with modern materials and techniques, an architecture as beautiful and meaningful at that which had been created in past times and for past cultures.21

Their respective phobias aside, I’m not the first to claim there’s an intersection between Arts & Crafts and modernism. Cardwell invokes Nikolaus Pevsner (Pioneers of Modern Design, 1949) to claim “in architecture, particularly in the domestic field, [Arts & Crafts movement] architects produced designs with a basic simplicity and functionalism that have been identified as the beginnings of modern architecture.” Some of their efforts are “euphemistically called ‘rustic,’” but Maybeck’s are simple and functional.22

The best argument I found (by far) is Lewis Mumford’s, cited in passing. Pevsner worships Gropius; Mumford loathes Gropius, and absolutely roasts Gropius’s imitators from his column in The New Yorker (1947). For Pevsner, Arts & Crafts posed modernism’s original problem (the unity of structure and decoration); for Mumford, on the other hand, Maybeck’s architecture softens modernism’s hard edge, makes it less afraid of comfort.

Certainly Le Corbusier’s dictum of the twenties––that the modern house is a machine for living in––has become old hat; the modern accent is on living, not on the machine. (This change must hit hardest those academic American modernists who imitated Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe and Gropius, as their fathers imitated the reigning lights of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.) Mr. Siegfried Giedion, once a leader of the mechanical rigorists, has come out for the monumental and the symbolic, and among the younger people an inclination to play with the “feeling” elements in design––with color, texture, even painting and sculpture––has become insuppressible. “Functionalism,” writes a rather pained critic in a recent issue of the Architectural Review of London, “the only real aesthetic faith to which the modern architect could lay claim in the inter-war years, is now, if not repudiated, certainly called into question … by those who were formerly its most illustrious supporters.”

We are bound to hear more of this development during the next decade, but I am not alarmed by the prospect. What was called functionalism was a one-sided interpretation of function, and it was an interpretation that Louis Sullivan, who popularized the slogan “Form follows function,” never subscribed to. The rigorists placed the mechanical functionings of a building above its human functions; they neglected the feelings, the sentiments, and the interests of the person who was to occupy it. Instead of regarding engineering as a foundation for form, they treated it as an end.

[…]

Well, it was time that some of our architects remembered the non-mechanical and non-formal elements in architecture, that they remembered what a building says as well as what it does. A house, as the Uruguayan architect Julio Vilamajó has put it, should be as personal as one’s clothes and should fit the family life just as well. This is not a new doctrine in the United States. People like Bernhard Maybeck and William Wilson Wurster in California, always practiced it, and they took good care that their houses did not resemble factories or museums. So I don’t propose to join the solemn gentelmen who, aware of this natural reaction against a sterile and abstract modernism, are predicting a return to the graceful sterotypes of the eighteenth century. Rather, I look for the continued spread, to every part of our country, of that native and humane form of modernism which one might call the Bay Region style, a free yet unobtrusive expression of the terrain, the climate, and the way of life on the Coast. That style took root about fifty years ago in Berkeley, California, in the early work of John Galen Howard and Maybeck, and by now, on the Coast, it is simply taken for granted; no one out there is foolish enough to imagine that there is any other proper way of building in our time. The style is actually a product of the meeting of Oriental and Occidental architectural traditions, and it is far more truly a universal style than the so-called international style of the nineteen-thirties, since it permits regional adaptations and modifications. Some of the best examples of this at once native and universal tradition are being built in New England. The change that is now going on in both Europe and America means only that modern architecture is past its adolescent period, with its quixotic purities, its awkward self-consciousness, its assertive dogmatism. The good young architects today are familiar enough with the machine and its products and processes to take them for granted, and so they are ready to relax and enjoy themselves a little. That will be better for all of us.23

I’m surprised that Mumford never mentions Arts & Crafts, either as a name for what he calls “the Bay Region style” or as a movement. Does he identify Maybeck with it? If not, does he share Cardwell’s reasons—that Maybeck wasn’t puritanical enough about manufactured elements?

Wurster Hall

I haven’t found anything suggesting a direct architectural influence between Hearst and Wurster Halls. This is a little disappointing, but to be expected—Hearst Hall was gone thirty-five years before Wurster Hall was commissioned. Nonetheless, I’m confident in two connections. The first is an indirect connection to that most-publicly-loathed feature of Wurster, its use of concrete. The second connection is direct: the architectural philosophy of William Wurster.

Maybeck frequently used the same materials for his projects’ structures and their interior and exterior textures. For the most part, these were wood—redwood when it was widely available. In at least one tight-budgeted project, the San Francisco Settlement Association’s Boys’ Club (1910), the outer walls and roof were left uncovered in the interior; two sides of the same boards and shingles constituted the outer and inner walls.24 Wurster’s concrete interior is analogous to Hearst Hall’s interior shakes: both buildings frankly reuse their structural materials.

Maybeck even worked with raw concrete interiors. The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Berkeley is highly ornamented, but its enormous carved beams rest on lightly-adorned concrete pillars. Much of the exterior is concrete, hidden as it may be behind quintessentially Maybeck trellises. Hearst Memorial Gym? Concrete. He surfaced his own studio (1 Maybeck Twin Dr, Berkeley) in burlap sacks dipped in the stuff, an experiment in quick construction, and built his son’s house in the Berkeley hills out of pre-cast concrete slabs. “building was designed in the manner that Maybeck felt was appropriate for the conditions of the problem given.”

Maybneck’s bare-burlap-and-concrete studio in the Berkeley hills, now a City of Berkeley Landmark.25

There are strong echoes of Maybeck’s philosophies in William Wurster’s initial dreams for Wurster Hall—most prominently, his dream of a building that will earn its character through use and adaptation.

“I wanted it to look like a ruin that no regent would like… It’s absolutely unfinished, uncouth, and brilliantly strong… The Ark [the preceding college of architecture], for instance, is a ripe building; it has been lived in; it’s been used, it’s been beaten up and everything else. It’s arrived. Our building will take twenty years to arrive.”26

Like the inside-and-out shingles of Maybeck’s Boys’ Club, Wurster Hall’s concrete serves a practical purpose: economy.

The decision to construct it of concrete inside and out reflected both economic considerations and the aesthetic of the times. As often happens within the subculture of architecture, the architects were reacting to another building, the Yale School of Architecture, which had been designed by Paul Rudolph. […] For Wurster such design was anathema; he made his point loud and clear. “I want you to design a ruin,” he would say, pounding the table for emphasis. Wurster’s idea of a “ruin” was a building that achieved timelessness through freedom from stylistic quirks. While Wurster Hall has been categorized generally as a Brutalist design, the architects protest that the Brutalist aesthetic did not cause their preoccupation with consistency in the use of materials and forms.27

Exposing ductwork and piping was similarly economical.

One aspect of the design that has been generally misinterpreted is the exposure of the ductwork and of the other mechanical equipment. Far from being an expression of style, the exposure was a means of avoiding the tunnel-like corridors that a dropped ceiling could produce and to obtain the effect of a high ceiling in the rooms. […] Having the mechanical equipment exposed also made maintenance easier, and was useful, to some extent, in teaching.

Concessions as these might’ve been, Wurster’s architects hardly adhered to Le Corbusier’s “machine for living” stricture. The hall’s courtyard is a sentimental feature, a callback (albeit an economized on) to the brick courtyard of the old John Galen Howard-designed architecture college (“the Ark,” now North Gate Hall) Wurster Hall would replace.

[Wurster] and others also considered a courtyard imperative. One of the most cherished parts of the old Architecture building, called the Ark, was the brick-paved court where social and ceremonial occasions took place. The new court was intended to express continuity with the old setting, to be the symbolic heart of the new college building.28

This all seems like a Maybeckish mix of technical pragmatism and personality, albeit in the colder (and more fire-resistant!) concrete vernacular of the fifties. It’s not whimsical, but it’s honest; it was built to be lived in. Wurster’s comment about the Regents is a little insouciant, and I’m not sure Wurster Hall achieves “timelessness through freedom from stylistic quirks,” but he’s right about how to judge the building: what matters is not the Regents’ kneejerk griping, but how the building “arrives” via the life given it by educators and students decades down the line. As Maybeck puts it, “you could get your own personality into your house better if we stopped at the building proper.”

On sources

My access to resources on Maybeck are more or less limited to what’s available online—Google Books and the Internet Archive have been indispensible—and in the collections of the SF Public Library (which includes Cardwell’s book and reference copies of vintage Blue and Gold yearbooks). The Berkeley Library Digital Collections have scans of Daily Cal papers dating back to 1898.

UC Berkeley holds several collections that might be of interest to someone who really wants to dive deep.

Berkeley’s libraries have been closed because of COVID-19, and won’t reopen until the fall.

One more text stands out, which deserves attention but doesn’t fit neatly into this essay: Ursula K. Le Guin wrote an essay, “Living in a Work of Art”, about growing up in Maybeck’s Schneider house. She covers a lot of the same ground—even borrows some of the same quotes from Cardwell, whose book she recommends—but she tells of growing up in the house, really living in it, before she understood its architectural significance. “I have trouble distinguishing the ethical from the aesthetic,” she writes,

Is it not fair to say that every building has a morality, in this sense, and not merely a metaphorical one, in the honesty and integrity of its design and materials, or the dishonesty expressed in incompetence, incoherence, shoddiness, fakery, snobbery?

I think I absorbed this morality of the building as I did the smell of redwood or the sense of complex space.

I think the moral conception of the building was as admirable as its aesthetic conception, from which it is, to me, inseparable.29


  1. Cardwell, Kenneth H. Bernard Maybeck: artisan, architect, artist. Santa Barbara and Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith, 1977. (48)↩︎

  2. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 46–47.↩︎

  3. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 86.↩︎

  4. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 86.↩︎

  5. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 47.↩︎

  6. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 48.↩︎

  7. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 49.↩︎

  8. Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:American homes and gardens (1905) (17963343698).jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository (accessed July 6, 2021).↩︎

  9. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 48.↩︎

  10. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 106.↩︎

  11. Mumford, Lewis. “The Sky Line: Status Quo.” The New Yorker, October 11, 1947. (104-110)↩︎

  12. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 189.↩︎

  13. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 144.

    Todd’s picture of “a cloister enclosing nothing, a colonnade without a roof, stairs that ended nowhere” reminds me of a very abstract explanation of a cube with a missing octant from Peter Eisenman:

    Traditionally architecture, let’s say the last 400 years of architecture, has been defined by what I call a humanist architecture—that is, that man took the forms of his building and related them back, and gave them some meaning, by virtue of their relationship to some ideal, or more pure state. Something that was symmetrical, something that was contained, something that was whole. Something that was understandable as a more perfect condition than the reality of which man lived in.

    Now, my argument is that that ideal state that we can refer to and get meaning from no longer exists. Man’s position relative to God and nature has changed. Man has unwittingly unleashed natural forces of terrible proportion which threatened to extinguish the civilization. We have no model of architecture which defines that condition that is the opposite of ideal. It is the negative of an ideal state. And I want to try and say, “alright, what would a design process be that starts with the negative of an ideal?”

    Take these two objects. These are two partial cubes. They each have an octant cut out of them. They could be seen to be in the process of growing toward something ideal, or disappearing to a point; that is, they are in a state of instability. And I want to try and suspend the architecture between the former classical ideal notion of what architecture was, and this negative which may represent man’s destiny today—that is, the future which is, uh, nothing.

    I’m not convined Eisenman’s example. He calls his cubes, well, “partial cubes”—they, like referential humanism before them, certainly refer to some ideal (a platonic solid, no less!). I suppose Eisenman isn’t arguing against all reference, but rather the inheritance of humanistic principles… but then the cube’s missing octant seems superfluous: does the missing octant make it less humanistic or more? This seems to be of grave importance to Peter.

    In any case, Eisenman and Maybeck are using geometric form similarly to signify loss. We imagine the cube’s missing octant, we imagine a roof on the PFA’s colonnade; in both cases, we realize an absence. The rise of a staircase-to-nothing and the slant of a cube’s edges towards the vertex opposite the void (Eisenman touches it to punctuate “disappearing to a point”) function similarly: they imply a motion towards an end.

    For Eisenman’s view of architecture and cubes, see Michael Blackwood’s Beyond Utopia: Changing Attitudes in American Architecture (1983), 47:36–49:27. I found it on Kanopy.↩︎

  14. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 152.

    Cardwell mentions the October 16, 1915 “Preservation Day” and subsequent formation of a PFA preservation league, but plainly says they failed and that the Palace fell to “forty-five years of disintegration and decay;” (151) he skips, or misses, updates made in the thirties.

    As a part of the process of permanent rehabilitation of the Palace of Fine Arts, [painter Frank Joseph] Van Sloun was commissioned in the spring of 1936 to execute eight large murals in the ceiling of the octagonal rotunda […] His works are destined to be viewed by countless tourists, for the lagoon and lovely building are always sought by the sight-seer.

    Van Sloun’s murals were destroyed in the Palace’s 1962 demolition and reconstruction. The above quote is from California Art Research, Volume 8 (1937, pages 117-118), which describes them.

    Van Sloun’s “Jupiter” panel. Baird, Joseph A., Jr., photographer. Ceiling of Rotunda Dome, 1956. Photograph. From Wikimedia Commons, (accessed July 10, 2021).
    ↩︎
  15. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 10. Spence’s design did preserve the footprint of the old cathedral, which now encloses a courtyard; the new cathedral sits adjacent.↩︎

  16. 1925 Blue & Gold: A Record of the College Year 1923-1924. United States: University of California, 1924. (336)↩︎

  17. “W. R. Hearst to Rebuild Woman’s Gymnasium Given by His Mother.” The Daily Californian. June 24, 1922. (1, 6)↩︎

  18. “Will Choose Site for a Quadrangle of Women’s Halls.” The Daily Californian. June 27, 1922.

    This article mentions plans to develop a whole women’s quad, and Robert Gordon Sproul (then Comptroller, later President of the University of California) reports that the Regents are “extremely anxious, according to Mr. Sproul [Robert Gordon, then Comptroller and later President of the University of California], to embark as soon as practicable upon a policy of supplying dormitories than women.”

    Cardwell mentions that Maybeck had grand plans too (his early sketches included a complex of buildings—not just a gym, but also a domed auditorium, museums, etc.). The University reined in Maybeck and only built the gym. Maybe the Regents were more anxious about the project’s soonness than its scope…↩︎

  19. 1918 Blue & Gold: A Record of the College Year 1916-1917.  United States: University of California, 1917. (56) “Insensitive ‘Italian carnivals?’”

    The main floor was arranged with numerous booths, decorated with chili, garlic, and onions, in which artists and fortune-tellers were busily engaged. Italian peasant girls in bandanas, bright-colored aprons and skirts, sold balloons, flowers, and candy. Organ grinders, singers, tarantula and dagger dancers afforded entertainment, and in the gaily decorated annex there was dancing. Down-stairs, peasant girls sold fruit, spaghetti, raviolas, and tamales.

    Yes, tamales.↩︎

  20. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 83.↩︎

  21. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 236.↩︎

  22. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 84.

    I’m a little skeptical of Cardwell’s characterization. Pevsner seems to be praising C. R. Ashbee, and only because he renounced William Morris’s “intellectual Ludditism;” “the true pioneers of the Modern Movement are those who from the outset stood for machine art.” His description of Morris is blistering, though Morris gets some credit for emphasizing stylistic unity. See Pioneers of Modern Design: from William Morris to Walter Gropius, pages 24–26.↩︎

  23. Mumford, Lewis. “The Sky Line: Status Quo.” The New Yorker, October 11, 1947. (104-110)↩︎

  24. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 160.↩︎

  25. Cardwell, Bernard Maybeck, 215.↩︎

  26. Woodbridge, Sally. “Reflections on the Founding: Wurster Hall and The College of Environmental Design [Two Place Tales].” Places 1, no. 4 (1984).↩︎

  27. Woodbridge, Sally. “Reflections on the Founding: Wurster Hall and The College of Environmental Design [Two Place Tales].” Places 1, no. 4 (1984).↩︎

  28. Woodbridge, Sally. “Reflections on the Founding: Wurster Hall and The College of Environmental Design [Two Place Tales].” Places 1, no. 4 (1984).↩︎

  29. Le Guin, Ursula K. “Living in a Work of Art.” Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week. Small Beer Press, 2016. (61–62)↩︎