Southwestern College has something most colleges lack, but is in danger of losing — a unified architectural theme.
Architecture is more than building a fancy box to work or live in. It should blend art, history and science to create structures that help to define the people within.
Ivy League universities like Harvard and Yale feature Gothic architecture that invokes the intellectual energies of the European Renaissance.
SWC established its faux-Mesoamerican style when the college completed construction in 1964. Similar to the Mayan Revival architectural movement of the 1920s and 1930s, SWC architecture uses concrete facades to blend different pre-Columbian cultures from Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica
San Diego State University may not have a unifying architectural style, but it has Hepner Hall. Built in the Mission Revival style that takes inspiration from late 18th and early 19th century Spanish missions found across California, Hepner Hall was completed in 1931 and has become the face of SDSU.
SWC should embrace its connection to the ancient civilizations of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica through art and architecture instead of phasing it out with each new building. Ideally, stepping onto the Chula Vista campus should be like visiting an alternate universe where Hernán Cortés never reached the New World, but with less human sacrifice.
Future buildings should draw more inspiration from the Mayans, Aztecs and other cultures than this batch does.
Too many folks are unaware of the intellectual achievements that allowed some ancient cultures to build massive pyramids that align themselves with astronomical phenomena and instead focus on the gory aspects of these civilizations.
Proposition R and Proposition Z allowed SWC to fund the construction of a number of projects, including a new Aquatics and Wellness Center, a Math, Science and Engineering building, and a Performing Arts and Cultural Complex, but none of the designs fit the historical aesthetics of the Chula Vista campus. There may be some token iconography in the form of hieroglyphs and sun disks, but the new buildings themselves look nothing like the rest of the campus.
Designs lack the Teotihuacan/Tikal talud tablero-like roofs, the geometric designs reminiscent of the step frets found at the Zapotec Palace of the Columns and the concrete buttresses that help sell the illusion that classrooms and offices are akin to the pyramids found across Mesoamerica.
It may be too late to inject more culture into the newest additions to the SWC campus, but in the future more attention should be put into making the campus more unified architecturally. SWC should also make sure to consult cultural experts that can take inspiration and make accurate references without alienating the original source material.
While the Spanish Conquistadors may have tried to erase the native cultures and religions of Mesoamerica, the decedents of those people still exist and their history should be celebrated just as other campuses use their architecture to celebrate specific cultures.
SWC should try harder to help keep these civilizations alive.