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The Architect

In June 1965, William Pereira & Associates was asked to design UC San Diego’s Central University Library (also referred to as Central Library), now known as Geisel Library. Pereira, known for high-profile works such as the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), aimed to design a library that would go beyond functionality and “convey to future generations the idea of the power and permanency of the knowledge contained inside it.”

The Design

In order to establish the library as the centerpiece of campus, Pereira combined various architectural schemes to develop the Library’s unique exterior. After researching the architecture of other university libraries, he decided a spherical shape would be the most functional, due to the library’s need to house the largest proportion of books and number of readers simultaneously. It would also maximize library patrons’ access to several areas at any given point, compared to a conventional tower shape which would have limited interior mobility to some degree. Most noticeably, however, the spherical shape of the library would make for a visually-impactful structure that would become iconic for UC San Diego as well as the wider San Diego community.

The exterior of the building was initially designed to be steel-framed, but due to rapidly rising costs from major commitments in national defense at the time, the design had to be reevaluated to stay within budget. Pereira developed another structural scheme that used only reinforced concrete and eliminated as much structural steel as possible. The new design proved to be advantageous; not only did concrete supplement the unique architecture of the library more than the earlier systems explored, but unlike structural steel, it could be left in its natural state and eliminated the cost to fireproof structural steel and apply plaster to achieve architectural details.

Furthermore, the design of the interior of the library was just as critical as the exterior. Pereira noted that in addition to the basic essentials of shelter, light, and comfort, the modern reader also needed accessible stacks of books, a comfortable reading area, and reasonable privacy. To achieve this, the library was designed to have diversified, free-flowing space and a mixture of book stacks and reading areas to support active learning and put a heavier emphasis on transmitting knowledge rather than storing it away.


Browse the original 1969 Central Library building report prepared by William Pereira & Associates.

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Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library (Rare folio Z697.2 .U54 W7 1969)