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Summer 1999
That Human Touch
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campus, even though it and its neighbors are very different from the UCLA signature of Royce Hall, huge trees and grassy courts to the north."

There was little attempt to constrain the vision of the architects. "We wanted I.M. Pei at his best - his abstract elegance and his ability to articulate a box," says Oakley. "We didn't want to discourage him from doing his own thing, as the Getty did with Richard Meier." Materials bridged the gap between modern and traditional architecture. Pei pointed out that redbrick cladding would be oppressive at this scale and would never satisfy the stringent seismic code. Instead, he created a "carpet" of buff-toned concrete banded by brick and enhanced by a pool and luxuriant landscaping. A curtain wall of travertine panels (which can move three feet without splitting off in a quake) recalls the buff stone used as trim on the early buildings.

Medical expertise, state-of-the-art equipment and material comforts all drive up costs. But UCLA is determined that, as before, admission to the new Medical Center will be determined by need, not wealth. And, thanks to Dr. J. Michael McCoy, an internal-medicine specialist who also serves as the Center's chief technology officer, UCLA is creating what he calls a "virtual hospital," employing the most advanced computer technology to share the benefits of medical practice and research with everyone in the building, and with hospitals and schools across Southern California and around the world. The building's capacity is limited, but electronic access is available to all. And there should be a tangible benefit to the sick. As Dr. McCoy explains: "Instead of allowing technology to make medical care seem more sterile and impersonal, the new hospital uses technology in an invisible way to speed the delivery of care and make patients even larger partners in their healing."

It's a heady prospect. The UCLA Medical Center has been designed to last 100 years and to remain operational after a magnitude 8.4 earthquake - an event that might level most of L.A. Planners and architects can only guess at where medical science will be when it comes time to replace this building. A century ago, the Wright brothers had yet to make their first flight and the future of air travel seemed to lie with rigid airships that required huge hangars. A half century back, it took roomfuls of equipment to perform the calculations now possible on a handheld computer - devices that will be used by doctors to access patients' records and to prescribe and monitor treatment in the new hospital. What is unlikely to change as long as the human race survives is our physical vulnerability and emotional needs, our response to nature and to the feelings of others. The Peis, father and son, were right to emphasize those values in their design, and to realize that technology - however advanced it may become - can never be a substitute.

Michael Webb is the author of 14 books on architecture and design and is a regular contributor to UCLA Magazine.


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