University Architectures make Dreams for Public Education Concrete


by Curtis Marez

The science fiction film The Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, set at UC Irvine, suggests some of the fantasies and desires about public education supported by the University’s futuristic architecture.

Much of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) was filmed at UC Irvine in order to take advantage of the unique campus architecture. UCI and the planned community of Irvine were designed by noted architect William Pereira. Pereira’s career suggests the intersection of Hollywood, futurism, and public institutions. Early in his career he designed movie theaters and worked as a production designer in Hollywood before ultimately becoming an important California futurist, designing the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, the spidery, space-ship like construction at LAX (“The Theme Building”), the campus design of USC, and the flying saucer like library at UC San Diego. The book Histories of the Future (Duke, 2005) features a photograph of extras from Conquest –some with ape masks on, some with them off–walking through campus buildings Pereira designed. In the introduction the editors, Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding, call the architect a “corporate futurist,” and in Conquest his version of the University becomes the setting for a futuristic authoritarian state—set in 1991!  What does this say about the built environment of public education in California, and the kinds of dreams and desires it has represented?