Sunday, November 28, 1999

Q & A with architect, dean

        CCM Dean Robert J. Werner and design architect Henry N. Cobb discussed the immense challenges they faced with the construction of the CCM Village.

        Mr. Cobb is a founding partner of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners in New York and former chairman of the Department of Architecture at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design.

        QUESTION: Mr. Cobb, what attracted you to the project?

        Henry Cobb: The life that goes on at CCM, the extraordinary mix of activities and the young people who are pursuing so many different areas of the performing arts. There's a kind of enthusiasm that bubbles up from that mix.

        What struck me at the same time, was that all this wonderful life was taking place in an absolutely miserable physical environment.

        Although I can't hold a tune, I really love what these people do. The performance at CCM is to be made by the performing arts, and architecture is a background to that.

        Q: How does your work fit in with that of other signature architects on the UC campus: Peter Eisenman, David Childs, Michael Graves and Frank Gehry?

        Mr. Cobb: The other so-called signature buildings on the campus seize the opportunities of each site and each program that they address. They each have a distinct personality ... but by nature, they are self-contained.

        CCM is the opposite. CCM is about making a place. That place engages buildings that already existed.

        The purpose of our new Mary Emery Hall is to provide a quiet frame for that space. If you stand in that space, you'll see that the real star performer is the tower of Memorial Hall. I love the fact that we were able to make that tower mean something now.

        Q: How did the idea of a “campus village” evolve?

        Dean Werner: Harry (Cobb) is probably best known as an urban design architect, and this was an urban setting. One thing led to another. The interest of (Louis and Louise) Nippert to preserve older buildings made it possible to reconstruct Schmidlapp Hall; Mary Emery Hall needed extensive renovation.

        Memorial Hall was not up to code, but it looked like a great place for teaching studios and practice rooms. When Harry Cobb looked at it, the concept of a village began to take hold.

        Q: How will the CCM Village tie in with the campus?

        Mr. Cobb: Once the bridge from CCM to Tangeman University Center is built, the CCM courtyard and building add a great deal to the campus. What used to be a miserable and inconvenient walk from the dorms to the center of the campus has now become very eventful. ...

        It's a very important path. It connects CCM and the life of CCM into the larger university. ... It's about making a place that really will attract people from outside CCM to come there.

        Q: Tell us about the significance of the pyramidal skylights in Mary Emery Hall.

        Mr. Cobb: The one big gesture that Mary Emery Hall makes is an internal gesture in the form of College Hall (a spacious corridor). The purpose of that is to make people feel they're part of a larger life in this building, which has three floors of classrooms, offices and practice rooms.

        Those pyramidal skylights draw your eye up, because light comes down through them. They dramatize the verticality of those spaces, with bridges crossing along the way. The placement of them creates a definite rhythm or beat. There's a kind of rhythmic game — an architectural analogy to music — going on in that space.

        Q: The bollards (short posts) and balls on the courtyard seem whimsical. Was that the idea?

        Mr. Cobb: Yes. We needed to allow cars to enter that plaza. But we also wanted to make it clear that this is a pedestrian space. The whole idea was to do it in a way that is whimsical, a little bit witty. I was pleased at the festivities in September to see students lean and sit on them.

        Q: What were some of your biggest challenges?

        Mr. Cobb: In my 50 years of practice, this was, from a construction phasing point of view, by far the most complicated project I've done.

        It was a kind of musical chairs situation. We had to finish one phase, move people in, move people out of another place to start another phase, and that's why it took so long: seven years. It's the complexity of it rather than the size.

        Q: How do you feel now, as you look at the finished project?

        Mr. Cobb: For me, the exciting thing is to see these new performance spaces in use and to see the school humming with activity.

        I'm very much looking forward to using the Robert J. Werner Recital Hall ... The lobby of the recital hall has the best view of the football stadium on the campus (laughs). I love the idea that these two seemingly disparate activities are somehow joined by this lobby.

        Dean Werner: The vision is to be able to have a professional training program in all of the areas, that complement one another, that work together. That will be something that I don't think is duplicated anywhere else, worldwide.

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