The GTU Master Plan

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The current Graduate Theological Union’s layout as the “God Quad” or “Holy Hill” is a mere shadow of the originally proposed theological complex, a project that was known as the GTU Master Plan. The plan envisioned a significantly different intersection between Ridge, LeConte, and Scenic avenues, with the GTU dominating three square blocks. The Phase III map (see below) provides an idea of the plan for the final campus, which would have broken the straight path Scenic takes through LeConte and ended Ridge in a plaza, with classrooms, office buildings, and research centers arranged in clusters along Ridge as a spatial spine, which in turn would lead to the commercial spine of Euclid running towards the University of California.

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The GTU before 1971

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The proposed plan for expansion of the GTU

This plan is the result of a study from the architecture and planning firm Quinn and ODA, commissioned by the GTU in 1970 and released to the public and presented to the Berkeley Planning Commission in 1971 (see clipping below, “Holy Hill Master Plan Told”). The reasoning behind creating a more interdependent ecumenical theological community was the challenges described in an American Association of Theological Schools report on theological education that the firm cites. Low faculty salaries, limited quality of education, high operation costs outstripping financial resources, costly new buildings and programs, and inadequate library facilities made a case for shared facilities and clustering of theological educational resources.

“Holy Hill Master Plan Told,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, 2/4/1971

“Holy Hill Master Plan Told,” Berkeley Daily Gazette, 2/4/1971

The GTU Master Plan was described as an “environmental study” that presented a strategy for coping with the changes needed to address “questions that are social, educational, political, organizational, economical, technical, urban, architectural, and ecological.” As such, the plan cited 7 issue areas to consider, and established 10 criteria that should be met, described below.

  1. How could the new GTU campus emphasize the shared functions that reflect the ecumenical and communal identity of the GTU, while allowing individual institutions to be identifiable within the full organization?
  2. 2.    How could the GTU create a place that has an identity and life of its own, yet opens its doors to the public? How could the scholarly pursuits of the community be served while allowing the students and faculty the opportunity to be involved with their urban community?
  3. How best could the new GTU campus preserve the existing environmental character, and if impossible to do so, how can new buildings augment, rather than destroy it?
  4. How can the GTU ensure enough flexibility in growth and function to cope with uncertain enrollment, social and political change, and the limits of financial support?
  5. How best to avoid unnecessary duplication of proposals by individual institutions?
  6. Which existing buildings should be replaced or altered, and which should remain? How can the GTU best make use of open spaces to benefit the academic and neighboring communities? How should parking and building density be balanced against this?
  7. How can the GTU acquire enough land to develop the needed facilities, particularly the common library?

Based on these issue areas, Quinn and ODA established ten criteria that the GTU’s master plan for development should meet.

  1. The plan should reinforce the institutions and ecumenical patterns of cooperation at the GTU, increasing the identity of the GTU as a whole, but allowing individual institutions to retain individual identities.
  2. The plan should encourage a closer physical relationship to the UC, especially as increased exchange of library used were predicted.
  3. There should be as little demolition of existing buildings as possible
  4. There should be minimal disruption to existing functions and activities during construction
  5. The plan should maximize the use of existing open spaces and increase their value to the local community.
  6. The library site should be suitable in area, visibility, and buildability.
  7. The site and plan should allow for the future expansion of the library and other facilities.
  8. Land acquisition should be economical in cost and degree of difficulty. (This would prove to be the stickiest thorn in the GTU’s expansion plans, as will be described in an additional post).
  9. Street-closing and utilities relocation should be economically realistic.
  10. All phases of construction should have a sense of completion, rather than create a sense of a partially completed institution.

The finalized plan would become far more contentious than the GTU had anticipated, particularly the design and placement of the library, dragging the institution into prolonged legal battles for the rest of the decade, ultimately diluting the plan to its contemporary shadow.

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One comment

  1. [...] being presented to the public in 1971, the key to the GTU’s master plan, and the anticipated core to the campus, the library, would not be completed and dedicated until [...]

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