These Paul Revere Williams Renovation Projects Are Extending the Architect’s Legacy

Paul Revere Williams’s rendering for UCLA’s botany building. 

Photo: Courtesy of Co Architects

Paul Revere Williams’s place in the pantheon of modern architecture—and his role in the story of America—has long been undisputed. The first Black architect to become a member of the American Institute of Architects was a mastermind of Southern California glamour, not to mention an architect to the stars. Later this year, devotees of the pioneering talent will have the chance to reacquaint themselves with one of his most public works when UCLA reopens Psychology Tower after a yearslong renovation.

In 2014, UCLA tapped Los Angeles–based CO Architects to perform a seismic upgrade and overall renovation of the 1967 icon, now known as Pritzker Hall, to accommodate the growth of its top-rated psychology program. “In revamping the building, we spent most of our time and energy on classroom and conference spaces on the lower floors,” CO associate Rachel Jordan Bascombe, who has been part of the project team since 2017, explains to AD PRO. The renovation also encompasses dry labs and targets LEED Silver certification.

The new mural is partially visible from the outside of the building.

Photo: Courtesy of CO Architects

CO’s undertaking will also have an impact on Pritzker Hall’s external appearance, as the project will yield a new curtain wall and atrium lobby. The expanded entry replaces Williams’s more efficiency-minded single-story lobby; its corresponding program will be multifunctional, by housing student amenities and study spaces. Yet, Bascombe notes, “Our overarching concept is to apply some of Williams’s original ideas to the renovation,” rather than plow over that scheme. The windowless dry labs feature recesses that match the visual rhythm of the fenestration, for example, and bronze in the mullion caps and window frames inspired the framing of lobby display cases. Bascombe adds that sculpting an atrium from the existing high-rise also allowed CO to “expose the existing waffle slab as a ceiling element—a reminder and a celebration that Paul once stood here.”

Co Architects’ methodology is already on display at the La Kretz Botany Building, for which UCLA cut the ribbon of a new lobby last year. The lobby features a 285-square-foot wall mosaic with which Williams evoked the banana-leaf wallpaper famously installed in the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Lanai and Fountain Coffee rooms. Williams himself never executed the homage, but CO rediscovered it in the architect’s original drawings and realized the mural using 72,796 glass mosaic tiles. Straddling La Kretz’s threshold, the mural is visible to UCLA’s botany community as well as to passersby. An interior-mounted plaque informs viewers of Williams’s authorship and his wider cultural imprint.

Beyond the La Kretz lobby renovation, CO Architects is overseeing a full upgrade of the 1959 building. In addition to seismic retrofits, the renovation now under way will include learning spaces and state-of-the-art laboratories. Completion is scheduled for next year, and LEED Gold certification is anticipated.

Bascombe says that since day one of both commissions, CO and UCLA have prioritized Williams’s precedents and legacy—balancing reverence, obviously, with a “clear aim to increase and upgrade learning and communal spaces.” As Black Lives Matter and systemic racism and disenfranchisement have increasingly leapt to the forefront of national dialogue, she adds, “even more eyes are opening up to how Black individuals have had to struggle in industries that lack diversity. When these projects are complete, there will be more people who know who Paul Williams was.”

The mural, on view now for passersby. 

Photo: Courtesy of CO Architects

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