I Graduated From a Monkey Prison

Blowhard, Esq. writes:

In 1972, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth installment in the series, was released. When the film begins, humans have enslaved the apes but eventually the apes rise up in revolution against their oppressors. There may be some deeper moral or subtext about racism and bigotry, but I can’t be sure. All I know is, when they needed some buildings to portray a sterile dystopia, they logically chose the recently-completed University of California Irvine campus, which happens to be my undergraduate alma mater. I took some screencaps from the movie then went over there today for a then-and-now comparison.

First, here’s the plaza between the two main libraries. The buildings on the left and right are real, while everything else in the background is a matte painting.

Libraries1, BeforeLibraries1, Now

If I walk forward from the picture immediately above and turn the corner left, this is the view.

Library2, BeforeLibrary2, Now

West of the two libraries is Murray Krieger Hall. I had many classes in this building.

MK Hall3, BeforeMK Hall3, Now

Back east are the two main Social Science buildings.

SS Hall4, Before

SS Hall4, Now

If you go down the stairs and turn to the right, you’re in the Social Science Plaza, which faces the libraries.

SS Plaza5, BeforeSS Plaza5, Now

Now, if I turn to the right, we see the Social Science Plaza itself. You can see that the ape is chained to a concrete pylon in the middle of a planter that is now occupied by trees.

SS Plaza6, BeforeSS Plaza6, NowThank God for those trees, right? They add shade, interest, and hide the aggressive ugliness. The above collection of buildings, designed by a team headed by William Pereira, were built in the mid 60s. They were so delighted with what he came up with that they named a road after him.

Pereira DrA couple decades later, though, trends had changed so a new style was called for. I believe this was built sometime in the 90s.

Social EcologyAnd here’s the new Student Center that was completed just a few years ago.

Student CenterThe new buildings are better, but considering where the school started, the bar was set pretty damned low. Anything that showed the slightest respect for people was bound to be a vast improvement.


About Blowhard, Esq.

Amateur, dilettante, wannabe.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Education, Movies, Photography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to I Graduated From a Monkey Prison

  1. Good Christ, that’s awful stuff. It reeks of midcentury committees and bureaucracies. All very “progressive,” of course.


  2. Will S. says:

    Interesting. Urban Legends: Final Cut was filmed at my alma mater, Trent University. Trent was self-consciously modelled after Oxbridge, in terms of many things (big green sprawling campus; total student body relatively small in number, college system, rowing and rugby), and somewhat, architecturally: residence buildings in at least one college – Champlain, which I belonged to, and at which much of UL:FC was filmed – all have big open courtyards in the centre, so no doubt trying hard to emulate an Old-World feel, to some extent, anyway.

    Except the architecture of Champlain College, and Trent University as a whole (founded 1964), is brutalist, ugly, consisting of modern-architecture concrete monstrosities, which no amount of greenery and open space can can hide. Champlain’s only notable (and not in a good way) architectural feature is its tower: an ugly structure of rectangular grey blocks, towering not unlike multiples of different sizes of the ‘2001’ monolith (except grey), a few stories up; it isn’t a tower you can climb up into (the base of the tower houses Champlain’s student post office / mailroom, and that’s it).

    Yet UL:FC made it appear, for the sake of the movie, that it was a typical tower with an interior staircase leading to the top, which amused me to no end. Also, they had traffic going over the pedestrian bridge over the river, which also amused me. Anyway, it was an ideal setting for a horror movie, IMO. Too bad the movie itself sucked.

    Funny fact: UL:FC starred Joey Lawrence, of ‘Blossom’ fame; apparently he wrapped up shooting at the campus prematurely, because he was disgusted with students seeing him and responding by quoting his Blossom character’s famous, “Whoa!” line, over and over…


    • Will S. says:

      My embedded image of Champlain College’s tower didn’t take, so here it is:


    • Callowman says:

      1964: tough year for mimicking Oxbridge. I like TU’s motto from Corinthians, though.

      As for UCI, maybe it’s the fact that (thank God) they’re not building them like that any more, but I like the monkey prison buildings more than the new student center, which looks like a SoCal mall.

      Vaguely related query: when is it going to stop being a useful rule of thumb that the ugliest building on campus will be the school of architecture? Do any of you know of a recently built school of design/architecture you consider beautiful?


      • Will S. says:

        I like their motto, too. I belonged to a Christian group on campus which took the Excalibur logo and refashioned it as a cross, and simply translated the motto into English (which is too bad, since I prefer the Latin).


  3. Callowman says:

    Those 90s buildings look a lot like the crap they were building in Stockholm in the late 80s and early 90s. Basically miserable 70s barracks, low ceilings and all, but with a slightly jazzed up exterior. Why do they remind me of Members Only jackets? Since the late 90s, the trend, especially in residential architecture, has been neofunctionalist: i.e. rehashing pre-International Style 1920s Swedish neoclassical modernism. These buildings are not exactly groundbreaking, but they’re pleasant and people like them. As far as I can tell, this is a Sweden or maybe Scandinavia only trend.


    • A says:

      I agree that the neofunctionalist buildings in Sweden are quite pleasant; certainly not raging failures like the crap that was built in the 70s. The only problem that anything which is *not* neofunctionalist is derided as being a “pastiche” (note: a pastiche of a Bauhaus building is, in the twisted minds of Swedish architects, not a pastiche). Consider Jakriborg, a development in south Sweden modeled after a medieval town, which received scalding criticism for this.


  4. Someone posted this link on reddit. Here’s a nice comment from coffeeisking:

    “I spent 40hrs a week in one of them. They are horribly designed inside. They are not conducive of a good work environment or social environment and this problem is due to their floor layout. Their facilities are inadequate for the research groups in them, namely the ET building.

    It’s one thing to destroy buildings of cultural worth but these have as much significance as Soviet block apartments. If those were a vanishing commodity some of them should be conserved, but not ones taking up locations with so much higher potential.

    Oh and if you don’t work in one of them you shouldn’t demand it of others.”


  5. Steve Sailer says:

    I bet architect William Pereira felt fulfilled by having a sci-fi movie made at his design:

    “Remarkably prolific, he worked out of Los Angeles, and was known for his love of science fiction … Though his buildings were often quite stark and sterile in their appearance (owing largely to the science fiction of the era), they were noted for their functional style with a certain flair that made them unmistakable. He took pride in the concept of designing for the future.”

    He’d also worked as an art director on Hollywood movies during WWII.

    Nothing looks more dated than old sci-fi movies.


  6. Steve Sailer says:

    The bottom picture is (probably intentionally) reminiscent of the courtyard at Grauman’s Chinese Theater where stars get their footprints in cement.


  7. Kennymac says:

    Firstly, I have to say that “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” remains one of my favorite movies from childhood. I was too young at the time to appreciate the classic mid century modern architecture used in the film, much like the author of this piece is now. “Aggressive ugliness”? Please. William Pereira was a renowned architect whose timeless works have included the LAX theme building and the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, not to mention these U of C Irvine buildings. These new campus buildings the author is so fond of look like nothing more than generic outlet malls do.



    • >>I was too young at the time to appreciate the classic mid century modern architecture used in the film, much like the author of this piece is now.

      I enjoy MCM architecture too, just not these ones. I was around these buildings for over two years and had numerous classes inside them. What can I say, they never worked for me. Their forms are lifeless and heavy, the repetition is dull.

      >>William Pereira was a renowned architect whose timeless works have included the LAX theme building

      Love the LAX theme building. Yeah, Pereira’s firm built it, but credit for the design goes to James Langenheim. I’m not sure who came up with the initial designs for UCI’s buildings.

      >>These new campus buildings the author is so fond of look like nothing more than generic outlet malls do.

      Fond of them? No, I don’t really like them either, I just said they were better. I agree they look pretty lame, but the brick is a big improvement over whitewashed concrete, IMO.


  8. logomach says:

    I’ve never been on a university campus that felt so inhuman and ugly as UCI. Kennymac, ‘aggressive ugliness’ is precisely the term for these buildings— you really don’t get to appeal to an artist’s oeuvre in defense of an existing building. Working inside them is suboptimal for a dozen reasons relating to their design and layout.

    I occasionally wander around this campus with my camera looking for anywhere genuinely beautiful, and so far I’ve only run into a couple little spots. A main trouble is that if you accidentally catch any of Pereira’s work, the shot instantly seems corporate and soulless. I know I’m a little too bitter here, but it’s really relieving that someone is seeing these buildings the same way I do. So, cheers, Blowhard.


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  12. MaryMc says:

    I graduated from UCI in 1981, and I totally agree with your assessment of the architecture. Its place in history as a film set representing a gulag where the dystopian police state sent disobedient slaves for re-education pretty much says it all. I got a great education there, and I had a heck of a good time (living at the beach, thank god, not on campus!), but it was definitely in spite of the campus design, not because of it.

    You did, however, leave out the fact that only one original building had any classrooms with windows (I think it was ICS)–the rest were all oppressively sealed to light and air. And all the buildings had these weird, hidden entrances that actively discouraged anyone from actually going inside. And my favorite touch: The Engineering building was eight stories tall, with administrative offices originally located in the ground floor, and classrooms and labs and faculty offices on the upper floors. There were originally men’s restrooms on every floor, but the only women’s room was on the ground floor–for the secretaries. In 1965, when they opened the campus, nobody could envision a day when there would be any women engineering students or faculty to need them above that level.


    • Hey, MaryMc, thanks for the link in the comments of that Slate article and for dropping by. You’re right — I should’ve been more explicit about how averse the buildings are to light and sunshine. Pretty insane, right? SoCal has some of the best weather in the world but you’d never know it from some of those classrooms. What were the architects thinking? Also, another great point about the difficulty finding entrances.

      I was hardly ever in or even near the Engineering building so I didn’t know that. Funny stuff.


  13. MaryMc says:

    And thanks for the great photos!

    I should have posted the link to the Slate article before:
    Were Brutalist Buildings on College Campuses Really Designed to Thwart Student Riots?

    When I was a student at UCI, I did always hear that the campus was designed to repel student riots and occupations. They make a good point in this article: most of these Brutalist college buildings were designed a little too early for that. UCI opened in 1965–just before the student protests really got going. But still…how anybody could look at these buildings and say that they inspired elevated thoughts and utopian visions and positive human aspirations is just beyond me. Those are buildings that only the most out-of-touch architect could love.


    • >>But still…how anybody could look at these buildings and say that they inspired elevated thoughts and utopian visions and positive human aspirations is just beyond me.

      I’m equally baffled. Crazy the stuff people have to be “educated” into believing, isn’t it?


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