University of California Geisel Library

Added by Solarlab, last update: October 14, 2011, 10:46 pm

University of California Geisel Library
University of California Geisel Library, source:, date: February 3, 2011
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, CA 92093-0401
United States
32° 52' 38.4708" N, 117° 13' 47.0964" W
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Identity of Building / Site
Primary classification: Education (EDC)
Secondary classification:
Federal, State, or Local Designation(s) and Date(s):


History of Building/Site
Original Brief:

The Geisel Library was to be the Central library of the university, housing the majority of UCSD’s collections as well as the central administration offices and processing departments of the library system. It was to serve graduate students enrolled in nonscience programs and satisfy the library needs of undergraduate students.

Dates: Commission / Completion:In 1957, William Pereira & Associates was commissioned to begin site selection studies in San Diego County. In June 1965, Pereira’s firm was asked to design the main library for the UCSD campus. On July 1, 1968, ground was broken for the new library. The building was completed in 1970. Partial occupancy was reached by June of that year when the books were moved in. The first books were moved into the building on June 29, 1970. By September 1970, the library was at full occupancy.
Architectural and other Designer(s): Executive Architect: William L. Pereira Associates; Project Architect: Robert A. Throburn
Others associated with Building/Site: Consultant: Keyes D. Metcalf; General Contractors: Nielsen Construction Company with Swinerton & Walberg, joint venturers.
Significant Alteration(s) with Date(s): In 1993, The Central Library expansion was completed by architects Gunnar Birkerts & Associates, adding 151,413 square feet to the existing 121,839 square feet . The library was rededicated. Birkerts called the project a deepening and extending of the existing structure. UCSD is one of the leading research universities in the country and use of the original library had exceeded its capacity. Audrey Geisel, wife of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), donated $10 million. In 1995, the University Library was renamed The Geisel Library in honor of Audrey and Theodore Geisel. An addition was completed in December 1991, adding 151,413 usable square feet to the existing 121,839 square feet. Designed by Gunnar Birkerts & Associates
Current Use: Library and administrative offices. While originally intended to be used primarily by graduate students, it is now mostly being used by undergraduate students. This is due to the fact that the Geisel library was the first of an intended campus master plan that has yet to see completion.
Current Condition: During 1992, the building was updated and the tower was restored close to Pereira’s original design. This floor plan created more reading room for students. The 1992 renovations included installing a new air conditioning system, updating the two existing elevators and adding a third. The stacks also underwent seismic retrofitting.
General Description:

The library is a concrete and glass structure in the Brutalist style. It is comprised of 8 levels, with the center tower reaching 110 feet in height. The general library collection is contained in the five-level building raised above a two-level platform. The building is supported by sixteen external concrete trusses, which were originally designed to be inside, but were moved outside in order to increase useable space. Like a ziggurat temple, the floors are stepped.

Of the eight levels, the lowest level is subterranean and levels two and three create the dramatic separation between the ground plane and the elevated sphere. Level six, with the most reader stations, is the widest, with level four equaling level eight and level five equaling level seven. The center tower is where all the books are stores, leaving the surrounding windows open to reading space.

Construction Period:


Original Physical Context:

The library sits in the epicenter of the USCD’s 1000 acre campus. The library was meant to a visually striking central part of a larger cluster of buildings. The other buildings were never completed, so the building is isolated, starkly contrasted against the open space surrounding it.

Technical Evaluation:

The sixteen, reinforced concrete beams were formed using six-inch foam boards as opposed to plywood. In order to simplify the process and keep costs down, the corners were treated with chamfers. The 360 degree windows are floor to ceiling, glass and metal frame.


The Geisel Library was intended to be the cultural and social focal point of the University. The architects originally wanted it to serve as the gateway connecting the University with the surrounding community. The Forum level is an open plaza with movable plants and benches, intended for multiple uses. It was designed in a way to create either large or intimate outdoor gatherings, but at the same time, not interfering with the interior use of the library.

Cultural & Aesthetic:
The Geisel Library building has become an icon for UC San Diego. Pereira called the building “powerful and permanent hands that are holding aloft knowledge itself.” Because of the building’s striking exterior, it has appeared in some sci-fi films and television shows. Film: 1991 - Exterior of a research lab in Killer Tomatoes Strike Back. 2003 - Funky Monkey - Filmed at Geisel. 2011- California State of Mind is a documentary about former Governor Edmund "Pat" Brown. TV: 1981-1988 Simon & Simon - Exterior was featured in the introduction to series, and some filming was done inside as well. 1998 - Push - series showed Geisel Library in the credits. The library was also visible in the background in episodes of Veronica Mars and John from Cincinnati.

Although the library was considered a symbolic center of the University, its visual impact was quickly overshadowed by several issues related to functionality and use. The interior space that resulted from the building form was inefficient when it came to book storage and user circulation. In addition to that, the clear glass surrounding the entire structure didn’t protect the interior from ultraviolet rays and later had to be tinted. Public opinion varied in all directions, some calling it impractical, others finding it inspirational.

General Assessment:
Text references:

Banham , Reyner. AR 1955 December ? Essay: The New Brutalism| Archive | Architectural Review. Web. 03 Feb. 2011.
Britton, James. Evaluation: Lantern-like library held aloft on concrete fingers {University of California at San Diego}. 66 1977: 30-5. 02 Feb 2011.
Pereira & Associates, William L. Original Report. Central Library, University of California at San Diego. Print. Aug. 1967.
Steele, James. William Pereira. Los Angeles: University of Southern California, Architectural Guild, 2002. Print.
Vitta, Maurizio. "Un Perimetro Di Cristallo per L'Università Di San Diego." Arca 37 (1990): 42-47. Web. 31 Jan. 2011.
Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext) 26 Sep. 1995,Los Angeles Times, ProQuest. Web. 2 Feb. 2011.
Los Angeles Times (pre-1997 Fulltext) 5 Mar. 1992, Los Angeles Times, ProQuest. Web. 2 Feb. 2011.

Recorder/Date: Samantha Labrie / February 3, 2011
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