Homage to Founders

A New Modernism

The College of Environmental Design was the product of a vision, held by many of the faculty in the merging departments, of modern planning and design that would stem from interdisciplinary collaboration between planners and designers and from a firm scientific basis in the three professions. This vision can be described as part of a “new” modernism that challenged the tenets espoused by the disciples of the Modern Movement, who insisted on the unity of planning and design. The “new” modernists also worried that with the codification and academization of European Modernism and the focus on the work of Modernist “masters” – particularly Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and Walter Gropius – American architecture would regress to the prewar pattern of eclecticism. Instead they wanted planners and designers to approach each problem “without pre-conceptions” – i.e., without a formal or aesthetic preference, but with the scientific knowledge needed to rationally solve each problem.  Collaboration and a rational scientific method were a way to ensure a creative and continual rethinking of modern planning and design as well a means to ensure that students and professionals would emphasize the social and public good over their own individual, artistic, expression. As Wurster explained:

     'I would hold that architecture is a social art before it is a fine  art. It is a social art because it is for people – it keeps out the rain and the cold; it stands steady to the elements. To be successful in its full sense it must do it beautifully, and when it does it is fine art.  We are at the point of where architecture is broadening its base. When it first considers: Should it build in that location? Will it be economically sound? Should it be temporary? – This means that we have added the skills of social research, political science, and economic studies to those of the building of the structure itself. This implies teamwork and cooperation rather then the lone song of an individual.'

      Wurster “Architectural Education” in Journal of the AIA (June 1948) p. 34-36

Why Environmental Design?

Early suggestions for a name for the new college included “College of Planning and Design,” “College of Architecture and Planning,” and the unwieldy “College of Architecture, City Planning, and Landscape Architecture.” Each of these titles was rejected by at least one of the Departments.  “Environmental Design” was also the subject of quite furious controversy (architects objected especially) but was eventually agreed upon as it symbolized the merger of the three departments and the vision for the new college; it expressed collaboration among the different professions, the  modernity of the college, and the importance of the social sciences as well as natural science and, later, computational science. The name also did not privilege architecture (the largest department) over city and regional planning and landscape architecture .

Modernism, regional planning, and collaboration among the different professions were linked to the term 'environment' in the discussions in the advocacy group Telesis: Environment Research Group, which first convened in 1939. This group was dedicated to the promotion and popularization of regional planning, the development of research programs that would produce new knowledge for the professions, and the crucial role of collaboration among professionals and of "group effort and individual anonymity."

Mid-Century Transformations:  Why Was the CED Established in the 1950s?

The College of Environmental Design (CED) was in many ways the culmination of three decades of discussion among planners and designers in the Bay Area in response to the social and economic upheavals of the 1930s and 1940s. One manifestation of these changes was the national recognition of “the housing crisis.” The 1937 Housing Act introduced a public housing program, taking housing from the realm of social reform to national policy -- Catherine Bauer, a CED founder, was instrumental in this change).

This policy increased the demand for “experts” who could combine scientific knowledge with experience, i.e. city and regional planners. This demand was further accelerated during World War II and with the increased emphasis on large-scale and long-term city and regional planning the planning profession grew from a fledgling profession into a central player in the national scene.

The Depression also brought new opportunities for landscape architects, who also engaged in large-scale projects with the National Park Service, Farm Security Administration, and housing agencies. Landscape architecture educators responded to this change and introduced topics such as regional, state, county and community planning, highway design, and site planning for housing that would eventually evolve into landscape architecture programs.

Architecture was no less transformed. Architects who worked for Federal agencies designed large-scale public housing, schools, and shelters for migrant workers. Through this work they were introduced to a new approach to building, including the “scientific” realm of housing research. Many of these architects espoused the New Deal’s social rhetoric and developed a strong commitment to working “for the people.” Following the war, these converts created a liberal base within the profession that continued to advocate for an emphasis on housing as part of architectural practice.

During World War II, material shortages brought conventional building to a halt. At the same time, the increased demand for housing for relocated defense and industrial workers prompted an accelerated development of new materials, especially plastics, which found their way into the building industry. Housing advocates argued that good living and industrial economy were basic requirements of defense, and defense housing was envisioned as a model for private development after the war.  These trends further established the importance of planning and of a scientific approach to building and design.

--prepared by Avigail Sachs, CED PhD ’09; Lecturer University of Tennessee


We as designers of the new environment, believing that this environment cannot be effectively designed by isolated individual efforts, have organized in the spirit of cooperation and personal anonymity so that by collaboration in our efforts we may encourage scientifically significant work. We recognize that there are basic social and economic forces at work bringing about a new environment and believe that it is our duty to thoroughly understand these forces that we may intelligently interpret their significance in planning man’s environment.

Land and People … these are the basis of an environment. For all human activity is on or for the land – by or for the people. To build a rich environment of these elements, man must act, to research the desired end by intelligent purpose. Thus far concerted effort has been nil – our present environments result rather from a haphazard or ineffectual planning, and as often from unintelligent exploitation ….
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Space for Living. Telesis Group. 1st exhibition. Published by the San Francisco Museum of Art, 1940.
--Environmental Design Archives, UC Berkeley.

Modern Housing by Catherine Bauer (1934)

With increased industrialization and immigration, and with no public or professional oversight, conditions in many American cities became intolerable and were soon the subject of inquiry by social reformers of the Progressive Era.  Decent housing became indelibly linked to health, welfare and productivity. The reformers’ approach was a “scientific” one. They projected a society designed not by custom or historical accident, but according to conscious rational, scientific criteria. In this worldview, both society and housing became the topics of “research,” and the data collected in these studies was perceived as both objective and superior to traditional knowledge.   Housing research received crucial leverage in 1934, when Catherine Bauer published Modern Housing — a clear and concise exposition of European public housing projects that challenged the United States to aspire to a similar level of public responsibility and offered ways to meet this challenge.

The Founders

In 1959, after nine years of discussion, the Department of City and Regional Planning, the Department of Landscape Architecture, and the College of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, which had hitherto been independent academic units, merged to form an integrated college. The proposal for the new college was not only a response to but also a crucial part of a process of specialization and modernization taking place in the three Departments. In reaction to the proposed collaboration the faculty members of each Department had to define their own goals and affiliations more clearly and outline a future for their discipline. William W. Wurster, Dean of the College of Architecture, T. Jack Kent, Chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning and Leland Vaughan, Chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture wrote:
Processes of planning and design are common to each of the three fields . . . . The architect and landscape architect are usually concerned with the development of detailed and specific designs for a wide variety of projects which can be utilized by the client as blueprints for immediate construction; the city planner is usually concerned with the development of a general plan for the physical development of a city or a large urban district which can be utilized over a long period of time but the entity governing body and by individuals for decisions concerning specific projects within the area covered by the general plan.

--“Proposed New College of Architecture, City Planning and Landscape Architecture, May 21 1952.”
Documents Relating to the Establishment of the College of Environmental Design 1952-1959, University Archives (308m.37). The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.