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Q&A with Campus Architect Joel King on
Our Extraordinary Transformation

Joel King has spent all 39 years of his architectural career in San Diego County, with 13 of them at UC San Diego. After serving as principal architect, director of architectural services and senior director of project management, he became the assistant vice chancellor and campus architect in 2013 after a competitive nation-wide search.

As assistant vice chancellor and campus architect, King has advised campus leadership on the future vision of the capital improvement program in support of UC San Diego’s mission and strategic plan. During his tenure, he has provided oversight for dozens of major capital improvement projects, including Rita Atkinson Apartments, Marine Ecosystem Sensing, Observation and Modeling (MESOM) Laboratory at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Rady School of Management, Jacobs Medical Center, North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, Gilman Bridge, Franklin Antonio Hall, Design and Innovation Building and Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood.

What is the role of a campus architect?

Fundamentally, the care custody and curation of the built environment. And in that, ensuring that as ideas come forward and as solutions are proposed, that they are consistent with the accomplishments of the university. I’m not designing things, but I am directing design.

We don’t have a palette at UC San Diego. What we tell architects is that the design has to be compatible in context, connected with its surrounds and on a par with the values of the university—and we leave it at that. We are always pushing design forward. For example, why did we choose a three-span arch for the Gilman Bridge? If you look closely, you can see how the curved bridge relates to the curves of the trolley line extension. From the start, the university knew that bridge was going to be special.

Great universities, UC San Diego among them, are supported by the buildings, but it’s really the people that bring the power and vitality to the university. That is what this campus transformation is all about—providing a benefit to students, researchers, educators, health care providers and the community in support of our mission.

When you joined UC San Diego, did you have any sense of the astounding list of projects that you would oversee as part of the Chancellor’s Campus Transformation plan?

In my time with the university I was involved in creating housing for 10,000 students. That is a tremendous investment in the student experience and an investment in the University of California. UC San Diego is making the campus a vibrant place for students to live, learn, study and play. The memories our students make at the university will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

Our campus transformation is also about innovation and engagement with industry, with projects like Franklin Antonio Hall and the Design and Innovation Building. Local industry is interested in tapping into the energy and creativity of students to advance their enterprise. We contribute to innovation, developing talent locally and bringing new ideas to market.

Lastly, our campus transformation creates a destination for the community and makes the university more accessible. The extension of the UC San Diego Blue Line brings a new level of accessibility. The Pepper Canyon Amphitheater will be an amenity to the community and welcome people in like never before. Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood has a connection to arts and theatre, enhancing both the student experience and the visitor experience for theatre patrons. UC San Diego has everything going for it in terms of location, industry, vitality and amenities.

The campus celebrates the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood groundbreaking, campus
architect Joel King is at the far right
Copyright UC San Diego, Credit Erik Jepsen
Could you give us some perspective on the scope and scale of this transformation, still in progress?

Our capital program is one of the largest in the University of California system. The university has invested billions of dollars, and the pace of this is transformation is extraordinary.

Can you talk about some of our 2020 Orchid Award-Winning projects?

The Nuevo West Pedestrian Bridge is an example of innovation and creating connections. It has the longest span of a precast pedestrian bridge, I believe, in the state. The way the bridge is designed and constructed is cutting edge. The design has a little extra having to do with the organic shape in response to the organic landforms around it, so it is meaningful. It really comes together well.

The Center for Novel Therapeutics in the Science Research Park won the San Diego Architectural Foundation’s Grand Orchid for design. It is all about sustainability, materiality—you look at that building and you recognize it as a UC San Diego building. The beauty of the cast in place concrete is on par with the Salk Institute. The pride of workmanship that is put into it makes it really special.

When you think about why architects and contractors want to work at UC San Diego—it’s not the money, it’s that they do their best work here. These are necessarily complex buildings, with complex functions, but the building an architect does with us stands out in their portfolio. We will continue to do that when we seek for the design to be consistent with the values and accomplishments of the education, research and healthcare mission of the university.

When people return to campus in the fall, they will be able to visit North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood. Can you talk about that project and the approach?

It is the cornerstone of student-centeredness and a manifestation of the vision that we will invest in the student experience because it will pay dividends to both our students and the university. North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is the first combined project where we had multiple buildings—academic buildings, housing and support buildings—all constructed at the same time. When you look at the design, there are distinctions and differences between, for example, the arts and humanities building and the adjacent lecture hall. That is what makes it different, it is truly a living, learning neighborhood. Sixth College calls it home, they live there, but we’ve created an environment where many different students from across the university gather there.

What else stands out when it comes to your time on campus?

What is beautiful about working at the university is you are on the campus and get to see the projects in action. Great universities, UC San Diego among them, are supported by the buildings, but it’s really the people that bring the power and vitality to the university. That is what this campus transformation is all about—providing a benefit to students, researchers, educators, health care providers and the community in support of our mission.

Is there anything you would like to say to students interested in becoming an architect?

Go with your strengths and your passion. The majority of architects as practitioners are in it for the impact that they have on the human experience. They seek to heighten or have a positive impact to improve that experience. You have to be good at certain things, for me, it was drawing, geometry and mathematics. Keep showing up and bring your knowledge and experience to every day.