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Plan bumps up against history

OCC wants to construct new buildings on campus, but that could mean tearing down the work of noted architect Richard Neutra.

December 05, 2013|By Hannah Fry
  • The business education buildings at OCC, designed by famous architect Richard Neutra in the 60's, are slated to be demolished to make room for new classrooms upsetting some faculty at the school.
The business education buildings at OCC, designed by… (Don Leach / Daily…)

Orange Coast College has undergone many transformations in its 65-year history — buildings have been demolished and remodeled and others have been built in their place — mostly without significant controversy.

However, as the college approaches yet another milestone in construction, rapidly moving forward with its Vision 2020 plan for campus development, some longtime faculty members are raising concerns about the removal of buildings designed by world-renowned architect Richard Neutra.

"We can always build new buildings, but to me they are proposing to tear the heart and core out of the Orange Coast College campus," said Dennis Kelly, a former marine science professor at OCC.

Neutra was an Austrian-born modern architect hired in the late 1940s to transform a former Costa Mesa military base into OCC. He previously worked for Frank Lloyd Wright.

He boasted a noteworthy resume in Orange County and Los Angeles, with homes featuring large windows and sliding glass doors based on his philosophy of dissolving the artificial barrier between the inside and the outside. It was a vision he kept in mind at OCC as well.

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The architect designed the still-standing planetarium, business education, reprographics and speech arts buildings — the later now known as the Robert B. Moore theatre — and the football stadium.

The business education building has staggered walls, which not only protect classrooms from the elements but also allow a breeze to flow into the rooms, keeping them cool in the summer, Kelly said.

Many of the buildings also feature large opening windows in the rear of the classrooms that allow natural light to fill the space.

"A lot of the new buildings don't have windows, so you can't look out on the world," Kelly said. "Neutra's buildings are structures with human perspective. They're not massive buildings, which tend to alienate people from the world around them."

However, as the campus population continues to grow and technology advances from the 1950s, the college district's administration has refocused its vision to a campus that boasts a central quad and multistory buildings surrounding the perimeter, said Richard Pagel, vice president of administrative services.

Much to the chagrin of preservationists like Kelly, the district's Vision 2020 master plan proposes demolishing several Neutra buildings, including business education, the planetarium and reprographics.

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