OPINION: The University Village is ugly and gives a false sense of history
The Village is to gothic architecture what Chuck E Cheese’s is to fine Italian dining
When walking the grand pedestrian avenues of President C.L. Max Nikias’ legacy project, the USC University Village, one is unlikely to see patrons donned in 12th century dress; the buildings, however, well that serves to be a whole other situation.
Rising high above the skateboards, shorts, and graphic tees of the USC Village’s daytime population is an architectural travesty the like of which the University of Southern California has never seen. A poor excuse for “collegiate gothic,” the architecture of the USC Village provides an overly bold architectural language in a land where gothic architecture serves to be neither appropriate nor contextual.
USC is neither Harvard or Yale, and nor should it attempt to be. In former USC President Steven Sample's leadership guide, “The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership,” he proclaimed a statement similar to the sentiment, “I don’t want to be a west coast Harvard, I want to be a west coast USC.”
Stealing the superficial marks of academic supremacy in the name of architectural styling is a weak method to bring about real long term university success. While President Nikias claims, “[The USC Village's] looks will give us 1,000 years of history we don’t have.” “Its looks” in the same historic fashion as Disneyland’s main street USA, which gave America an astoundingly fake sense of life we also never had.
The USC village is to gothic architecture what Chuck E Cheese's is to fine Italian dining. One has to wonder what kind of interesting modern building we would have on our hands if they had only stopped construction halfway through.
If we trace this supposed “collegiate gothic” motif, a term rarely – if ever – heard in any architectural history circles, back through its stylistic roots, we can first and foremost look to East Coast Ivy League universities and elite Liberal Arts Colleges. If we look even further we can find their inspiration in English establishments of higher learning most notably at King’s College – University of Cambridge, done in a regal gothic fashion as only the English can.
That is not to say that even Kings College has authentic roots. The architectural gothic style can be traced back to the popularity of gothic architecture in the Christian church and eventually traced back to 12th century French Christian architecture built to replace the dominance of Greco-Roman renaissance architecture thought to be too worldly and pagan.
A favorite architect of mine, and well known contrarian classicist, Robert A.M. Stern might even look to the USC Village’s historic aims with pseudo suspicion. The evolution of architecture in Stern’s eyes is a conversation between past, present and future, not simply a copy and paste of the past onto a modern superstructure.
When 1,000 years of history are shipped in panel by panel on a flatbed truck, you know there is an identity crisis.