Royce Hall Seismic Renovation, UCLA

Barton Phelps & Associates - Royce Hall Seismic Renovation, UCLA
"Royce Hall was not preserved in the conventional sense. It has, rather, been saved and transformed. Phelps says his goal all along was to make Royce Hall what it would have been if David Allison, its original designer, had known what is known today about how to help buildings survive earthquakes... That's why, even though Phelps immersed himself in the study of the Lombard Romanesque while working on the design, he bristles if you call it a historic preservation project. “It's not preservation, its architecture,” he says. Oakley [the campus architect] agrees: “On campus, everything is always changing. But the good buildings have many lives."

Hine, Thomas, Project Diary, Architectural Record. October 1998

Royce Hall Seismic Renovation
University of California, Los Angeles

Royce Hall was completed in 1929, the largest of four original structures that frame the historic core of the four hundred-acre UCLA campus. Designed to function as its main classroom and faculty office facility, the building presents a lively brick and tile essay in the Lombard Romanesque Revival style that makes reference to famous university cities of northern Italy to symbolize the academic and cultural aspirations of the new institution and to respond thematically to the Mediterranean climate of Southern California. Today, the twin-towered front remains the most recognized UCLA landmark. The 1800-seat auditorium was designed acoustically for lectures and drama, not for musical performance. But, by the late 1980's it had emerged from successive remodelings as a regionally important concert hall and the premier musical performance venue of the university.

History and Strucure: Damage as Stimulus for Improvement

Royce Hall suffered severe structural damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake and its towers verged on collapse. Our team directed an emergent project of repairs, strengthening, and exterior restoration.  At the same time, alternative approaches for the rest of the 200,000 s.f. building were prepared to evaluate historic impacts and cost.  Royce Hall's eligibility for listing on the National Register prompted FEMA to require earthquake resistance well beyond normal life/ safety levels and triggered close design scrutiny by federal and state preservation officers. The selected structural system consists of six-story, concrete shear panels surrounding the “big box” of the auditorium and connected by concrete beams to the building's historic exterior brickwork. In all it nearly doubled the mass of the building.

Demonstrating that temporary closure of the building and the enormous collateral damage seismic correction would entail presented an unexpected chance for major functional improvements rather than simply a “quick fix”, BPA was commissioned to design a program of structural strengthening, compliance and systems upgrades, and functional reorganization of spaces for ten university departments affected by the work  as well as a reconfiguation of the auditorium and support facilities - a comprehensive scope that ,in effect, inserted a new building within the old.

The new “soft” structure responds in unison with original masonry infill panels to provide sufficient lateral resistance to protect the building's historic fabric from damage. Analysis of earlier renovations led to the discovery of non-historic routes through the build from its foundations to the roof. This route allowed us to hide the massive new concrete structure which, in the end, is almost entirely invisible.

Rethinking a Monument

Our renovation approach responds to new requirements for life/safety, accessibility, hazardous material removal, and to the significant impacts of new structure on the appearance and acoustic response of the auditorium. It improves performance capability and stagecraft, restores historically significant spaces, and upgrades corridors, classrooms, offices, and building systems. BPA also programmed and designed new spaces for the Humanities – specialized study centers, reading rooms, and conference / audio-visual facilities – as well as new UCLA Performing Arts offices and a multi-purpose lobby area.

Functional Retrofit and Compatibility: New Architecture in Historic Buildings

Over time, spaces in historic structures may have come to be associated with uses for which they were not originally intended. The loss of original character that accompanies successive alterations may allow for a more fully functional reconfiguration provided this can be accomplished in a way compatible with the historic character of the original structure.

Originally conceived as an acoustically dead space for lectures and drama, the Royce Hall auditorium had been remodeled to serve as a musical performance venue ten years before our structural renovation began. In order to provide hard, sound-reflective surfaces and also satisfy federal preservation guidelines for stylistic compatibility, the redesign of the auditorium brought the historic outside of the building inside by using brick and terra-cotta to replace plaster walls removed to make way for new structure. In its abstract application of light and dark masonry, the design of the new auditorium walls reflects the vitality of twelfth century Lombard Romanesque façades.

On the lower level of the auditorium, terra-cotta panels produced at the same clay works that provided materials for the original building, project from the sidewalls in a pattern dimensioned to enhance early sound diffusion or brightness. Above the balcony, slender columns carrying big impost blocks split the openings of the new acoustical galleries in the same slightly unstable way that one observes in prominent Romanesque buildings

Volume and Daylight:
Sectional Change in Retrofit Projects

Reconfiguring significant spaces to accommodate new functions or to preserve or restore natural illumination can heighten appreciation of their original features.

As they rise on the side walls of the Royce Hall auditorium, new concrete shear panels are offset like masonry corbels to avoid historic brickwork on the exterior. While visually accommodating-
dated, their bulk threatened to reduce volume and diminish acoustical character. Our design creates 40,000 cubic feet of new volume to enhance musical response. New openings in the side walls connect with an abandoned areaway that needed to be strengthened by a new structural roof deck. Functioning as a series of resonant chambers, they form acoustical galleries on the long sides of the room. Heavy wood doors in the galleries can be opened or shut to alter reverberation time. Skylights with sliding covers give the option of restoring the hall's original natural lighting during daytime events.

Absorptive panels in the galleries and fabric banners in the new ceiling coves can be deployed to deaden the response for speech and dramatic performance giving the hall, for the first time, a variable acoustic. The expanded space of the auditorium and its Renaissance-inspired ceiling are given new importance by their crisp illumination from banks of indirect lighting concealed in the balcony railing and ceiling coves.

The sidewalls of the auditorium are reconfigured to hold foot-thick concrete shear panels that could have lessened its reverberant character. New wall openings, cut into abandoned rooftop areaways, are enclosed by new structure to form operable acoustic galleries that increase auditorium volume and allow variable acoustic responses. Skylights in the gallery restore natural light to the spectacular coffered ceiling. Unlike the former plaster interior, the new walls are clad in brick and terra cotta identical to the original exterior of the building. The uneven texture of projecting blocks improves sound diffusion. Its pattern is abstracted from northern Italian Romanesque sources.

New and Old Together: Hybrid Design

In areas of historic structures not slated for major programmatic change, our approach to renewal begins with establishing the primary interpretive period and then removing layers of alterations that have accumulated since that time.

In architecturally significant spaces, new systems often can be juxtaposed with restored historic surfaces in a distinct, straightforward way that conforms to the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation and, at the same time, enhances the users' perception of the significance and beauty of the original space.

At Royce Hall, corridors (like the one shown here) were redesigned to display the restored rhythms and appearance of their original, doorways, walls, and floors. Restored and replaced finishes include hand-trowelled plaster, wood doors, bronze hardware, and linoleum flooring.

Overhead, new acoustically absorptive, ceiling vaults accommodate up-to-date systems for HVAC, alarms, fire-suppression, and telecommunications. Recessed coves at each bay combine with a new indirect lighting system to give a new sense of lightness and expanded space without compromising original architectural form. Classrooms and faculty offices have undergone similar transitions.

Reorganization: Discovering and Liberating

Internally, large institutional buildings can take on the characteristics of small towns where alterations have been going on for years behind departmental doors. The variety and sequence of spaces that once comprised the original building may no longer be clear to users.

When rediscovered as part of an overall reorganization, forgotten spaces can be reallocated for use by the broader community.

The Humanities Reading Room:

At Royce Hall a remarkable truss-roofed space - crammed with teaching assistant cubicles when we first saw it – has been redesigned as the new Humanities Reading Room. Our proposal to centralize individual language department libraries into this space allowed existing library rooms elsewhere in the building to be opened to different uses.

The new reading room is intended to be a quiet study center in an updated version of early 17th century English collegiate libraries (Oxford's Corpus Christi College Library and the Arts End of the Bodleian Library were the models preferred by the faculty). Ten foot-high shelving forms small reading areas with adjacent carrels and allows seldom-used volumes to be kept with the rest of the collection. Computer jacks at tables connect users of this limited access library with the current century.

The Morris Humanities Consortium

The most prominent windows on the exterior of Royce Hall are located in the central loggia above the main entrance. They light a tall, elegant space that for years was sealed off and little known in its former role as the library of the German Department. Remodeled and reopened as the Herbert Morris Humanities Consortium (shown at right) it is now heavily booked as a pre-eminent conference space on campus – the new living room of the university, we like to think. A new raised floor makes the historic loggia accessible for the first time (the front porch?). Above the loggia, restored ceiling paintings on canvas by the noted New York muralist Julian Ellsworth Garnsey track the history of western thought.

Design Awards
AIA/Los Angeles, 2000
California Preservation Foundation, 1999
U. S. Institute for Theater Technology, 1999
Los Angeles Business Council, 1999


International Architecture Yearbook, 2000
Architectural Record, November, 1998
Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1998
Architecture, December, 1995

Photography: Tom Bonner