All Part of the Plan

The first campus plan in 1963 certainly acknowledged the need for flexibility. Some ideas never made it, however, like damming a canyon to create a forked pond. Other concepts, such as clusters of colleges that share central amenities, held relatively true. The initial concept of 12 colleges—three clusters of four colleges each —is here envisioned north, south and east of a massive plaza and grand, rectangular fountain. Two major pedestrian thoroughfares radiated from the main plaza in this first plan: one positioned east-west, and a north-south path on what is now known as Ridge Walk. These walks will soon come to fruition. “A monumental sculptured communication tower at the center of the plaza” (model pictured left) is highly unlikely, however, as is the round structure shown on East Campus, an arena “suggesting this might be the first campus of the University boasting a bull ring.” Maybe only in shape, at least.

View the original 1963 Long Range Development Plan (LDRP)

Browse the retrospective book on LDRPs over time



The growth of UC San Diego has been a long game from the beginning. And in the beginning was architect Robert E. Alexander, who in 1963 turned a vision for the university into the first Long Range Development Plan. While some of his elements weren’t realized (no aerial tramway to the beach—sigh) some held true: our library is certainly “a great form as compelling as a Mayan pyramid,” and other parts of the plan have likewise served as guideposts for growth, from the 1960s to ground being broken right now. Here’s how the latest campus developments fit in with the original outlook.

 “Twelve jewels strung together on a necklace of promenades…”

This was Alexander’s eloquent analogy for a total of 12 colleges at UC San Diego. This total would fluctuate through the years and over subsequent plans, with the equation growing more complex as enrollment projections, space efficiency and land use considerations became major factors.  Still, the college system has made great strides in the past year alone—here is the latest news on colleges six, seven and a proposed eight:

Sixth College now has a permanent home at the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood, the first instance of a bold new campus dynamic.

Sixth College now calls the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood home, a striking new district that’s risen between Muir and Marshall Colleges. It’s the first manifestation of a new design model that blends student housing with classrooms and administration (Arts & Humanities and Social Sciences) along with many other enrichment amenities. The newly reborn Craft Center is a part of the complex, now offering surfboard shaping in addition to lasting crafts, like ceramics and glass-blowing. A wealth of local dining options and outdoor relaxation spaces are in the neighborhood as well.

“As we were planning out the neighborhood, students we interviewed wanted more of a real San Diego experience built into campus,” says campus planner Robert Clossin ’95. “This not only factored into the design but continues to evolve the project even after its opening.” A new program at Sixth College turns the neighborhood into a living lab—sophomore Elinor Oren, a real estate and development major, is the neighborhood’s first Live-Learn Fellow, currently producing a study of how she and her fellow residents utilize and experience the new environment. “This process of discovery and learning fits in very well with our college motto of being innovative, interconnected and aware,” says Sixth College Provost Lakshmi Chilukuri.

Seventh College recently moved into The Village, two towers and the neighborhood buildings seen here, all on North Campus.

Seventh College is the university’s newest, housed at The Village, two towers and assorted neighborhood buildings on North Campus. While The Village originally housed transfer and international students, a forthcoming housing complex near the new Pepper Canyon Transit Station will soon bring those students closer to all San Diego has to offer.

With the theme of “A Changing Planet,” Seventh College will address pressing global issues, including the climate crisis, mass migration and rapid cultural and technological change. Provost Kate Antonovics has convened professors from across campus, including Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Rady School of Management and the School of Global Policy and Strategy—programs whose faculty previously had only limited engagement with undergraduates. The newest college in 19 years, Seventh is situated at the northernmost point on Ridge Walk, which all these new college projects will unite as a continuous pedestrian path that spans campus, creating what Alexander once envisioned as “a north-south Champs-Élysées.”

Eighth College is proposed to be housed in the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood depicted here, now taking shape between Revelle College and the La Jolla Playhouse.

An Eighth College is now being proposed for the Theatre District Living and Learning Neighborhood, currently taking shape on the southwest corner of campus, once just parking lots between Revelle College and the La Jolla Playhouse. This Living and Learning Neighborhood will have an urban energy similar to Sixth, yet still hold to Alexander’s founding principle that each college neighborhood has a distinct atmosphere. In this case, its atmosphere will draw upon proximity to the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Theatre District, with the performing arts being a cornerstone for the essence of the neighborhood.

Having just broken ground this January, the Theatre District development is the first project in which the pandemic had a bearing on its design. “It made us rethink the utility of having things like a 500-person, fixed-seated lecture hall,” says university architect Joel King. “We ended up shifting course to allow versatility and flexibility in our spaces. With the lecture hall, for instance, instead of a sloped floor with stage and screen, we made it flat with movable partitions, allowing for multiple uses in accommodating educational or environmental factors.” 

“A grand plaza rivaling the Piazza San Marco in scale…”

This was Alexander’s idea for an expansive and wide-open gathering place—a concept most analogous to the Triton Pavilion, future home of university administration, student services and the Alumni Center. That project, however, was paused by the pandemic so that student housing and more classroom space could be given priority. But this plaza vision will soon find an immediate realization with UC San Diego’s newest “front door” at Pepper Canyon.

Digital image of proposed build out

In the center of Alexander’s plaza vision was “an amphitheater seating up to 6,000.” Such a space has been in mind for our campus ever since, especially given that our abundant natural canyons could accommodate such a design. In planning Pepper Canyon developments, the topography yielded a prime bowled area, and the prospect of broad community access via mass transit made the space perfect for the Pepper Canyon Amphitheater, a place equally usable for formal performances and concerts or impromptu outdoor classes or discussion sessions.

Though planned well before the pandemic struck, a large, open-air space promised even more benefits in the era of social distancing, as the outdoors is more likely to be where mass gatherings would someday resume. “Enhancing the public realm between buildings was already on our mind,” says Clossin, “but the pandemic emphasized the importance of really maximizing our outdoor space—not only with regard to the virus but just for general health and well-being.”

Red trolley on a rail way

Instead of Alexander’s “aerial tramway between the beach and College I,” how about a trolley that goes all the way downtown and to all of San Diego from there? The UC San Diego Blue Line Trolley Extension will be an important connection point in welcoming the San Diego community to our campus. Beyond providing access to compelling research, excellent patient care and world-class performances, the trolley will offer a safe, reliable and inexpensive alternative to driving once it begins running—now slated for operation in late 2021.

“There will be more work to do even after it opens,” says Clossin. “It’s important to restore the area as a canyon—canyons are a part of San Diego, and they should be included in the amenities of the space we’re making. So we will replant trees and natural vegetation, as well as put in pathways and lighting to make it active, but still a canyon. We’re even looking into the feasibility of a trail network throughout campus—in the open space north of Geisel Library and through the historic eucalyptus groves that wind throughout the grounds.”

Building under construction

The Design and Innovation Building was deliberately placed at the Blue Line Station to showcase the enterprising and inventive spirit of UC San Diego. Opening this summer with multi-disciplinary labs, studios and maker spaces inside, viewers from the trolley will be able to look in through trackside windows, while the building’s open ground floors allow work to flow out into the public realm, putting creativity front and center from the first step on campus.

And from that first step onward, the entire Pepper Canyon project continues Alexander’s theme of “precedence of pedestrian movement over the automobile,” as improvements to Rupertus Lane will create a main east–west pedestrian corridor. The new Rupertus Walk will not only integrate a new Stuart Collection piece but will eventually lead to the forthcoming Triton Pavilion and on toward Library Walk and finally Ridge Walk, connecting the westernmost college neighborhoods.

What kind of campus evolution did you see in your time here? Share your stories and photos with us at