The Annals of Urban Design: Kresge College

by Matthew Pinsker
University of California, Santa Cruz
Daniel Matthew Silvernail Architect Intern

The assemblage of buildings known as Kresge College at UCSC supports social interaction through its Italian hilltop village design, where dormitories overlook the narrow streets and flow of the community. Architects Charles Moore and William Turnbull appear to have considered solar orientation in the college’s design, allowing students to temporally occupy warm and cool zones appropriately with their social interacting needs.

Map of Kresge College  Provided by the UCSC website

Map of Kresge College
Provided by the UCSC website

The L-shaped armature comprising Kresge College located on the west side of campus consists of narrow streets lined with dormitories, classrooms, and community murals acting as a nexus guiding students toward areas of assemblage located at each end. According to the Kresge Housing Guide 2011-2012 (as cited in Kaitlin Ryan’s Master’s thesis 2012), “The college prides itself in being ‘a scheme based on a model of a traditional Mediterranean village, with doorways and walkways that open into winding pedestrian streets allowing for easy conversation from balcony to balcony and along the streets of the college itself’” 56.

Modeling the assemblage of buildings after an Italian hilltop village suggests students were intended to live within close proximity to one another to increase a sense of unity. The dormitory positioning allows residents to face and observe the streets, permitting association with and responsibility for the community. As residents proceed through the streets and recline in permitted zones of Kresge College onlookers can extrapolate how the architects understood the use of sunlight or lack thereof to manage social interaction.

Upper Street leading to Owl's Next Cafe Taken at 12 PM

Taken at 12 PM

Upper Street leading to Owl's Next Cafe Taken at 9 AM

Taken at 9 AM
Upper Street leading to Owl’s Next Cafe

Upper Street leading to Owl's Next Cafe Taken at 3 PM

Taken at 3 PM

Personally conducted observations of social interaction within Kresge College were conducted on April 22nd and 24th of 2014 at intervals of 9 AM, 12 PM, and 3 PM.

The least amount of social interaction appears to occur around 9 AM as students travel by one through dimly lit zones to their morning classes. At this time the sun is positioned at about a 60 degree angle towards the east directly behind a set of redwood trees, hindering sunlight exposure and student desire to interact in designated areas. Around 12 PM the amount of social interaction increases as it is lunchtime and students begin to travel in groups ranging from one to four people. The densest and most reliably sunny area is the Owl’s Nest Café located at the north end of the L-shaped College as the sun is at its culmination. At this time social interaction is transient, as students must navigate towards their afternoon classes. Due to the commonality of morning classes the time of day when student free time begins to peak is 3 PM where students divide into groups of about one to three. Less warm zones exist for students to congregate, but are occupied sensibly to unwind from the day.

Moore and Turnbull appear to have realized that warm zones increase the flow of students and delineate areas to inhabit, conversely potential gathering areas are disregarded at the times of day when students are likely to be busy and cannot afford social interaction.

Kresge College was prudently modeled after an Italian hilltop village, incorporating a design offering a pervasive sense of student involvement within the community wherever one resided. Design architects Charles Moore and William Turnbull seem to have understood the need for a layout that would delineate areas for social interaction, signaling how solar orientation affects public space. Students are busy and cannot afford major distractions; therefore the orientation of the college encourages social interaction at appropriate times of day in accordance with the commonplace student’s assumed productivity levels.

To learn more about Kresge College, a helpful resource is About Kresge College and History and Architecture of Kresge College.

For further reading:

Ryan, Kaitlin E. (2012). Preserving Postmodern Architecture and the Legacy of Charles W. Moore (Master’s thesis). Retrieved from Columbia University Academic Commons. (

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