In recent weeks, it has become clear that Antoine Predock’s iconic Classroom Laboratory Administration (CLA) Building on the campus of Cal Poly Pomona is likely to meet every building’s nemesis: the wrecking ball. The university claims it is structurally compromised and poorly designed for education. While demolition is not yet scheduled, on September 21 the California State University Board of Trustees voted to construct a new building in its place. Meanwhile, Predock fired back in an interview that the CLA is not only structurally sound but an “irreplaceable” part of the campus.
“In their haste to find a quick solution to common structural problems, university officials have chosen to raze this important visual landmark and, by doing so, will demolish a vital part of the university’s identity,” he told AN.
Designed in 1993 to be what Predock called “the new campus gateway” and “a pivotal, landmark building,” the CLA is composed of an eight-story triangular tower and an attached seven-story rectilinear structure. The tower, with its soaring form, is visible from the I-10 freeway and also doubles as a wayfinding device on campus, helping visitors move through a school that university president Michael Ortiz calls “difficult to navigate.” The structure has been featured in numerous films and television spots, and is even integrated into the university’s logo. Its presence will not be easily replicated.
While Ortiz admits that “the removal of the CLA will leave a void in the skyline,” he contends that “those who have to interact with the structure on a daily basis are not as fond of the structure.” The building, he and other administrators argue, is confusing to navigate, cramped, and plagued with problems. According to Mike Sylvester, Cal Poly’s vice president of facilities, the university was forced to pursue “a latent defect claim for design and construction deficiencies” shortly after the building opened, due to extensive water damage. That damage, he said, has still not been completely fixed.
Renovating the building would mean updating it for new seismic codes, among other things, and the university says it would cost $80 million, the same price they have estimated for a new building.
Predock, who completed his plans for the building under the supervision of a California State University review board, is understandably upset by the news. “It is devastating,” he said, “to imagine that this iconic structure, one of the most important of my designs, might be demolished, creating a void in the Cal Poly campus fabric, an irreplaceable loss.”
Responding to the administration’s charges, Predock staunchly defended the CLA’s structural and figural integrity, calling his building “a project of which I am extremely proud…not to mention the fact that the structure survived both the Northridge and Chino Hills earthquakes unscathed.” He added that the school itself signed off on the building’s design. “During the construction drawing phase, the project underwent intense scrutiny by the university and its peer review panel,” he said, “continuing into the construction phase with a team of university inspectors.”
Cal Poly’s Sylvester differs with Predock about the university’s oversight of his work, revealing some underlying tension. “Although there were reviews during the development of the project, the liability for design and construction is the architect’s, engineer’s, and contractor’s professional responsibility,” he said.
Around campus, reaction to the impending loss seems surprisingly ambivalent. University message boards have been quiet, while local preservation groups have been mum. Said Sylvester: “There are many people in the university community that are disappointed that the building may be demolished, but overall most people agree with the university’s decision and are looking forward to a new replacement facility.”
According to Cal Poly’s Office of Public Affairs, construction on the CLA’s successor is estimated to begin in 2013, and will take approximately 18 to 24 months to complete after groundbreaking. An architect has not yet been named.