The Towell’s mission was to temporarily serve the comprehensive functions of UCLA’s Towell library while a five-year seismic retrofitting operation was underway.
Our Towell Library project on the UCLA campus marked the first application of a tensile fabric structure to the complex issues of this critical academic resource. The design of the 36,000 square foot building was largely founded on observations of student life, which convinced us that it was important to maintain traditional library values in a "temporary" building, even if time and budget constraints placed the emphasis on "practical" issues.
Severe time and budget constraints, together with the stipulation of no permanent disturbance of site at the foot of Janss Steps, and a formal staircase ascending along the axis of the historic quadrangle were all factors that dictated the use of a proprietary tension structure. Acoustical balance, climate control, and physical movement were successfully solved without compromising fundamental campus priorities, and the building was completed in a nine-month period.
Flanked by the men’s gym and the dance building, the Towell’s curvaceous profile and audacious primary colors starkly contrasted with the historic faux-Romanesque red-brick buildings at the heart of the campus, with their porticoes, cortiles, and loggias. Seemingly casual and boldly asymmetrical, the Towell was nevertheless tightly woven into the architectural fabric of its surroundings
Lightweight, with a skeleton akin to that of an aircraft, the Towell's regularly-spaced aluminum ribs were covered with a stretched-fiberglass membrane that was in turn anchored with laced cables to surrounding masonry walls. On the inside, a cavernous space was criss-crossed by angled struts and the muted light admitted through pressed fiberglass panels at each end of the building.
With playful homage to the school colors blue and yellow, and subtler references to the curving balustrades and banded masonry of the existing buildings. Despite its ephemeral nature, this jubilant building rapidly became an icon on the campus, with its inviting and luminous nighttime presence.
"The curse of monumentality infects architecture with the need to reaffirm existing social, economic and physical relationships. Towell, like any good circus, wanders through these oppressive structures, pokes fun at them, reveals itself and accomplishes seemingly impossible feats of free-flying exuberance with the utmost of ease." - Aaron Betsky