The tower is the signature element of a multi-part complex designed by the architect Antoine Predock and opened with considera
ble fanfare in 1993. Officially, it’s known as the Classroom/Laboratory/Administration Building, but everyone here calls it the CLA. In fact, that’s what the university’s trustees called it when they decided last fall to tear it down sometime in the next few years and replace it with a building that will cost less to maintain, be safer in earthquakes, and be easier to find your way around.
I can see their point—especially when they say that renovations necessary to correct the complex’s endemic leaks and seismic weaknesses would cost $80-million. And while the CLA is in many ways beautiful—in southern California’s pristine winter light, the exterior stonework is dazzling—the complex’s walkways and plazas and roof decks were almost empty the afternoon I visited. It doesn’t seem to be a complex in which people are eager to spend their time.
The lesson, I guess, is that it’s easy to like the building if you don’t have to work in it. A friend who does has nothing good to say about the place, but she’s an enthusiastic fan of the Japanese garden that has been constructed along the CLA’s west side in recent years. The garden centers on a spring-fed pond and a tiny, winding stream that flows from it, slipping under a footbridge and gurgling past a stone bench and a walkway. The garden’s intimate scale sets up a striking contrast with the vastness of the CLA.
The university is still several years away from demolishing the CLA, by the way, so it’s not too late to visit. Try for a day with good light. If you’re any kind of a fan of sculpture, or architecture, you’ll be glad you did. Just don’t go inside.
This is the view toward the CLA from the south.