Campus: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo -- February 16, 2004
Architecture Student Hopes to Apply Lessons of History
to Former San Francisco Landmark
As Cal Poly architecture student Jonathan Lopez resumes his studies
this year, he is working on how to apply the lessons of pre-Columbian
ruins of Central and South America to an almost-vanished San Francisco
Last fall, Lopez, a fifth-year student from San Diego, traveled to Mexico
and Peru as part of a fellowship he won in a competition for the best
student proposal combining study and travel. He now is focusing those
lessons on the remnants of the Bay city's Sutro Baths to see what use
the site might have in contemporary times.
The Sutro Baths, an enclosed complex of seven salt-water swimming pools,
were built by Adolph Sutro late in the 19th century just north of the
Cliff House on San Francisco's Pacific headlands. Covering three acres,
the baths dazzled the public in their brief heyday, accommodating 10,000
people at a time. The complex also included an amphitheater seating
3,700, restaurants that could feed 1,000 people at a time, and exotic
exhibits of various sorts.
After decades of declining popularity and conversion to a skating rink,
the baths burned in 1966. The site, with only foundations remaining,
is now part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
In choosing the Sutro Baths as the subject of his final undergraduate
project, Lopez said he isn't trying to recreate the grandeur of the
baths as they existed in the late Victorian era.
"I desire to create architecture that reflects the uses of people
of today, as opposed to the people and culture of the turn of the century,"
he said. Among the possibilities Lopez is considering, as part of his
preliminary design work, is combining the architectural elements of
two different uses, a Benedictine monastery and a hospice and palliative-care
Lopez said his travel in Latin America gave him new insight into the
relationship between past and present.
Last year Lopez won the prestigious RTKL Worldwise Fellowship, offered
by the architectural firm of RTKL Associates in Washington, D.C., with
a plan to examine spiritual architecture and the role that procession
-- journey, arrival, departure -- played in ancient spiritual spaces.
The fellowship began with a summer internship in the firm's offices,
giving Lopez valuable experience in several aspects of architectural
The fellowship also included $4,000 to pay for a study trip to the Mayan
ruins of Chichen Itza, the Inca city of Machu Picchu and the ancient
religious center of Teotihuacán near Mexico City.
"I had an opportunity to spend several days at each of the ruins
and study the transformation that structures experienced," Lopez
said. "The modern cities near the ruins also offered insight into
how architecture is an organic, ever-changing entity. Visiting and documenting
these sites enabled me to discover that architecture, whether new or
old, must be responsive to its current context."
"Clearly the RTKL Fellowship was a tremendous honor, and it has
had an enormous impact already in Jonathan's academic career and professional
education as a future architect," said Architecture Department
Interim Director Allan Cooper. "Through the travel experience,
he was able to couple essential topics of architectural education such
as history, theory, culture, building and settlement patterns with his
undergraduate design thesis."
Lopez expects to finish his design proposal this spring and receive
his Bachelor of Architecture degree in June.
Contact: Ray Ladd (805) 756-7432, firstname.lastname@example.org