Wednesday, February 1, 2017

USC Student Days (1962-1964)

This post is the first of a three part series remembering the three architecture schools I attended in the 1960s.  There seem to be very few surviving records of these times and I would like to touch upon some highlights.

I was about to start my junior year of high school before the notion of going to college even occurred to me.  In the early 1960s there were only two accredited architecture schools in California, USC and Cal.  Almost every aspirant in Southern California went to USC, every aspirant in Northern California went to Cal, and there was an ingrained bias and prejudice between the two.  I applied only to USC, was accepted, and found myself in Emmet Wemple’s first year design class.  I remember him telling us to look at the students to our left and right, that one of us would not be going on to second year, and that we had better be serious and work hard.  Emmet was like a father figure for some of us and my first born son is named after him.

Two of the great things about the old school were that it was small and that it was physically interconnected with the school of fine arts.  The two story building had a double courtyard and a common library and the interchange between students could sometimes be quite enlightening. Exhibit cases located around the courtyards might have Bruce Goff collages and Rico Lebrun drawings on display simultaneously.  I remember Bill Tunberg tweaking a sculpture in the middle of the courtyard and asking me what I thought of the alarm clock he had incorporated into it.  All this was a strange new world for an eighteen year old from Reseda whose only aesthetic exposure had been seeing copies of Pinky and Blue Boy hanging in his parents’ bedroom.

The greatest value of all my student days was the inspiration and exchange that took place with other students.  John Aleksch and Jon Jerde were two years ahead of me, but both were to play important roles in my development.  I had always excelled at architectural drafting and John’s great drafting ability caught my eye immediately.  We became friends, later worked together, and John was best man at my wedding.  Jerde was well beyond other students (and faculty members) – he was both an outstanding artist and architect as well as very convincing verbally.  From Jerde I broadened my horizons and came to realize the notion of potential.  Although our thinking and careers took very different courses his influence was significant

In my second year I won the Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall Mentorship Award which was a full architectural scholarship, and I was really psyched going into third year design.  Unfortunately, the school administration and overall approach changed overnight and a rigid, narrow mind set was thrust upon the students – one which I was unwilling to accept.  I received a D in design, an F in planning, and my scholarship was placed on probation.  I opted to transfer to Cal.

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