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UC San Diego now has its own campus guide book, just in time for our 50th anniversary celebration. Written by staff member Dirk Sutro and published by Princeton Architectural Press, "University of California, San Diego: The Campus Guide" covers the evolution of the campus' growth and architecture. Sutro spent months researching and writing the guide, but he's written about arts and architecture for years. He served as architecture critic for the San Diego Tribune and then the Los Angeles Times (San Diego edition) and has frequently written about issues of planning and urban design, including the development of the UC San Diego campus during the late 1980s. He currently works as the Communications Manager of the Department of Music. In this interview, he talks about UC San Diego uniqueness and why he wanted to write this book.

Q What made you want to write a book about UC San Diego's architecture?

Sutro: I thought this would be a chance to help people learn about San Diego's diverse and excellent modern architecture. Over the years, the architecture profession, the media and university architecture programs have been concentrated on the East Coast, and San Diego has not received due credit for the quality and quantity of fine buildings we have here. In an era when there are fewer and fewer writers who are paid to write about San Diego arts and culture, I feel very privileged that I was able to tell the story of UC San Diego, both its academic history and its architectural history.


In your view, what makes the UC San Diego campus unique?

Sutro: The campus is unique because of its oceanview setting and landscape; the amazing collection of modern buildings, from Irving Gill’s Scripps Laboratory to today; and the emphasis on experimentation and innovation in the arts, sciences, engineering, and other areas, which has been a catalyst for some very inventive architecture.  In addition, the Stuart Collection is probably the finest collection of public art on the planet.


Did you come across any surprises while writing the book?

Sutro: I had never actually visited many of the buildings, as I did in the process of writing the book.  So I was surprised by the quantity of great architecture here. 


What is your favorite building at UC San Diego?

Sutro: I can’t choose one because the variety is rich and I like several buildings for different reasons. Irving Gill’s Scripps Laboratory (1910) established a tradition of innovative design accompanying innovative research at UC San Diego, which grew out of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Roger Revelle’s dream of a UC campus in San Diego.  Another of my favorite structures is the bridge over La Jolla Shores Drive that connects two sides of the Scripps campus.  Designed by UC San Diego engineering Dean Frieder Seible, with architect Safdie Rabines, it is visually spectacular and structurally innovative.  Among recent buildings, Atkinson Hall, Natural Sciences and Dining Services are among my favorites.  Unfortunately, the dining building by San Diego’s Studio E Architects was not completed in time to appear in the new guidebook.


What is your favorite piece of art at UC San Diego?

Sutro: I am a big fan of artist Robert Irwin, dating back to interviewing him as host of The Lounge on KPBS-FM, in the late nineties. His “Two Running Violet V Forms,” in the eucalyptus grove southeast of Geisel Library, looks pretty simple, but repeated and prolonged viewings reveal new layers of perception and personal reaction. To me, it is a magnificent piece that changes one’s perspective on the eucalyptus grove and the sky, and also hints at the fleeting nature of perception and even human existence. But then, I have a vivid imagination!


Why are you excited to celebrate the 50th anniversary with the rest of the campus?

Sutro: Corny as it might sound, I am very proud to be a part of the UC San Diego community.  The anniversary is a chance to honor this world-class university: the high academic standards, intellectually stimulating environment, and, from my point of view, the long legacy of fine architecture and thoughtful master planning.

Fun Faves

Favorite place at UC San Diego:  The courtyards near the Art of Espresso coffee cart and in front of Atkinson Hall; Snake Path; Conrad Prebys Concert Hall.

Favorite place on Earth: Swimming in the ocean with my daughter Hannah on Xmas day, visiting California’s missions with my wife Sally, having espresso with my daughter Semira at our favorite espresso place, visiting my parents in the San Francisco Bay Area, in Monclair, where I grew up.

Favorite part of your job:  Interacting with a group of incredibly smart and creative people in the Department of Music

Favorite hobbies:  Collecting books, especially early California fiction.  Exercising on my “Tower of Cardio” — a platform I built in the garage.  Buying and selling things on eBay and Craigslist.

Favorite food:  Mexican

Favorite words to live by:  Live in the moment, it’s all we have.


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