Continuum Home Page - University of Utah Home Page - Alumni Association Home Page
Questions, Comments - Table of Contents


"I neither am nor will be obliged to tell your lordship….[w]hat I intend or ought to do for this work: your office is to procure money, and to take care that thieves do not get the same, the design for the building you are to leave to my care."

—Michelangelo Buonarroti

Notes On Making s p a c e

Producing good architecture is very difficult. Producing great architecture is almost a miracle.

Why? It requires not only a good architect but also an enlightened client. A good client is well-informed, open-minded, and progressive, with long-term vision. Construction of a new building is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; it will be a part of its environment for a long time. So the responsibility of the client and the architect to the community is considerable.

The University of Utah constructs many buildings that are funded either by state funds (taxpayer money appropriated by legislators) or by generous donors. Recently, there has been phenomenal growth in construction on our campus, partly due to Olympic-related facilities. Campus construction costs for the past four years total more than $300 million, of which only about six percent come from state funds. As a result, the notion of "client" at the University becomes quite complicated; in addition to the users of each building—including students, faculty, and staff—the State Facility Division is also involved.

Good architecture is about the thoughtful making of space; it demonstrates a clear idea and encompasses a sense of the present. Fortunately, there are some good buildings on our campus. Walk around, observe, and think about the different structures at the University. But before expressing your likes and dislikes, study architecture critically. Start with some basics.

In the education of aspiring architects, the beginning design class asks students to throw away their preconceptions of architecture. All new students have opinions about what buildings they like and dislike. Their opinions have little to do with good or great architecture because most students really don't have any idea of what architecture is. (Arata Isozaki, an internationally known Japanese architect, once said to our students during a visit here, "I began to have some understanding of architecture when I was about 40 years old.") After six years of intensive study, they begin to gain some appreciation, and their opinions change dramatically. They become enlightened.

Above all, I believe that architecture should express "our time" as well as the challenges of the future. We tend to feel comfortable with the traditional and familiar. But at the U, we not only teach the past but also try to discover new frontiers of knowledge. Sometimes innovation is disconcerting, but it can also lead to new discoveries.

Many think university buildings should have a uniform look in order to create a cohesive campus. This is an outdated notion of the university environment. Today's university is a multifaceted laboratory where all kinds of views are explored. In fact, our common goal is the desire to explore. Why should an engineering building look like a communication building, or a law building like an art building? The idea of cohesion can be stifling. The University of Virginia, for example, designed by Thomas Jefferson, has a completely uniform appearance. As great as it is, it is a product of another era reflecting a very different ideal of unity. By thriving in the present, we can become a part of history.

In any case, we should never create a mediocre building, one without any stance, position, or idea. There is one large building being constructed right now in our city that is visible from everywhere and yet so wretchedly mediocre, it is a disastrous eyesore to our cityscape. How can a client and an architect be so shameless as to flaunt their mediocrity?

Louis Kahn, one of the leaders of 1960s modernism in institutional architecture, was fortunate to have Jonas Salk as his client. A world-class scientist, Salk recognized Kahn's talent, creativity, philosophy, and integrity, and encouraged him to do his best. There was mutual respect. The result is the Salk Institute, a great piece of architecture of our time.

On the other hand, a museum project at the University of Texas was recently aborted because of objections by the administration to the design by Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland, one of the most brilliant and progressive contemporary architectural firms. The dean of the College of Architecture resigned in protest.

The University is a place where talent is sought out and encouraged. Our campus is lucky to have many world-class scientists, scholars, and educators—and we can have great architecture if we wish. It takes a combination of enlightened patrons, adequate funding, talented architects, progressive support, and the will to challenge.

Great architecture is a miracle; however, it can happen anywhere.

—Kazuo Matsubayashi is a professor in the Graduate School of Architecture.

Continuum Home Page - University of Utah Home Page - Alumni Association Home Page
Questions, Comments - Table of Contents

Copyright 2001 by The University of Utah Alumni Association