Shaping A Library

Early in 1970, a San Diego newspaper headline announced “Unique Library Taking Shape.” The paper was referring to UC San Diego’s Central University Library, now Geisel Library, then under construction.

Architect William L. Pereira was invited in 1965 to design the Central University Library, seen as the flagship building for the UC San Diego campus. It had taken the architect and campus staff almost eight years to decide on the site, located at the geometric center of campus, at the head of a small canyon. When his firm was commissioned to design the main library for the campus location, he was asked to create “something that was to be more than a building. It was to underline the center of campus forever.”

Ground was broken for the new Library in 1968, and by September 1971, the new Central university Library was dedicated. At the dedication ceremony, Pereira acknowledged his triumphant structure: “If it appears to some that the design of this library building conveys the idea that powerful and permanent hands are holding aloft knowledge itself, and offering to future generations wisdom and hope with conviction…I can only say in all humility that is what we meant to do, as a dividend of spirit beyond the Library’s practical capacity as a functional building.”

Since the Library opened, it has undergone many renovations and transformations: the name, from Central Library to University Library to Geisel Library; the expansive addition designed by Gunnar Birkerts and opened in 1992; the incorporation of all branch libraries into Geisel; the 2022 renovation to the main floor, to mention a few. All of these changes, and all of the changes to come, demonstrate the Library’s ability to adapt to the evolving needs of its campus and community users, while Pereira’s iconic structure remains, boldly “conveying the power and permanency of the knowledge contained inside it.”